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Big Ears Festival presents Suttree’s Knoxville: A Hymn to the Past in Music & Film

June 8, 2021

An archival film with live score based on Cormac McCarthy’s Knoxville novel Suttree

Cormac McCarthy’s iconic novel, Suttree, set in Knoxville in the 1950s, chronicles four years in the life of Cornelius Suttree, who has abandoned a life of privilege, lives in a dilapidated houseboat on the Tennessee River and spends his days exploring the gritty underside of the city amidst its outcasts and eccentrics.

On Thursday, July 8, the Big Ears Festival invites you to free presentation of Suttree’s Knoxville: A Hymn to the Past in Film & Music, an outdoor multimedia experience at beautiful Lakeshore Park, where the Tennessee River and the Smoky Mountains will serve as a stunning stage set for the evening. Tennessee Archive of Moving Image and Sound (TAMIS) archivist Eric Dawson has drawn from TAMIS’ extensive collection of film footage and photographs from Knoxville in the 1950s to create a riveting 70-minute silent film that mirrors the scenes, places, and character of McCarthy’s landmark book.

“Knoxville is fortunate to have a novel such as Cormac McCarthy’s Suttree as one of its defining works of literature,” says Dawson. “The semi-autobiographical novel serves as something of a map of mid-century Knoxville. Real people and places are recognizable throughout the book, some bearing their authentic names, some slightly disguised. TAMIS holds a remarkable collection of films and photographs that capture images of the city around the time Suttree takes place. The film compiled from those images for this project is not meant to replicate the narrative of the book, but instead give a semblance of what Knoxville might have looked like through Suttree’s, and by extension McCarthy’s, eyes at the time.”

The film will be projected onto a 40-foot-wide screen and scored live by an all-star gathering of musicians, including Knoxville’s inaugural poet laureate RB Morris with guitarist Greg Horne and bassist Daniel Kimbro; jazz singer and ukulele player Kelle Jolly with saxophonist Will Boyd; balladeer, guitarist, and folklorist Jake Xerxes Fussell; and guitarist and composer Bill Mackay with banjo player and old-time music expert Nathan Bowles. RB Morris will read key passages from the novel during the performance.

The performance takes place on the main lawn at Knoxville’s Lakeshore Park and is free and open to the public; music will start at 8 p.m. and the film with live score will begin at 9 p.m., just as the sun is setting. There will be ample free parking on-site. Sweet P’s Barbecue will offer food and beverages, along with Captain Muchacho’s and Fai Thai food trucks.

Suttree’s Knoxville: A Hymn to the Past in Film & Music is made possible by the generous support of the Aslan Foundation.

Big Ears Festival

The mission of the Big Ears Festival, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, is to bring artists and audiences together to create and share transformative experiences with a borderless mix of music, film, and conversation. Described as “one of the most quietly earth-shattering, subtly luminous festivals the world over” by the Oxford American and “one of the world’s greatest music bashes” by The New York Times, the Big Ears Festival has established itself as one of the most exciting and imaginative cultural gatherings anywhere. The festival brings together a Who’s Who of established and acclaimed iconoclasts, innovators, and luminaries with inspired younger artists who are making fresh, new creative work. Big Ears occurs in the heart of downtown Knoxville, Tennessee, taking place in over a dozen historic theaters, intimate clubs, majestic churches, and unique alternative performance spaces. Substantial support for the festival comes from the donors and sponsors the in the Knoxville community, as well as across the country.

Tennessee Archive of Moving Image and Sound

The Knox County Public Library’s Tennessee Archive of Moving Image and Sound (TAMIS) at the Calvin M. McClung Historical Collection is dedicated to collecting, preserving, and providing access to the moving image and recorded sound heritage of the region. With thousands of reels of home movies, news film, documentaries, features, and industrial films, TAMIS houses a unique cultural record of the people and places of East Tennessee. Free public screenings have always been an important component of the archive’s mission, sharing moving images and audio with the community in which they were created.

Lakeshore Park Conservancy

The Lakeshore Park Conservancy is a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation whose mission is to manage, preserve, and enhance Lakeshore Park and to build a community dedicated to conserving the Park for the future. As the caretaker of Lakeshore Park, the Conservancy provides operational funding for daily maintenance including landscaping and custodial services as well as conservation and preservation efforts.

Knoxville History Project

The Knoxville History Project (KHP) is an educational nonprofit whose mission is to research and promote the history of Knoxville. Knoxville’s only city-focused historical organization, KHP covers the city’s historic center, but also neighborhoods throughout the county, to the north, south, east, and west. KHP offers educational talks and tours to the public and through schools, museums, churches and other groups. We support numerous other historical organizations in their work and partner with Knoxville Walking Tours to expand the range of history education in the community.