"Big Ears is just fun like that," Son Lux's Ryan Lott said, thanking trumpeter Adam O'Farrill for joining them on "Easy" at their set on Friday night at Mill & Mine. This is the biggest Big Ears to date, but it's still a relatively small festival and most artists play a few different shows over the course of the weekend, or at least hop onto other shows, and you just see lots of the performers hanging out, catching music or just walking around Knoxville.
Son Lux's set had a bunch of guests. Shara Nova joined the trio (Lott, guitarist Rafiq Bhatia and Ian Chang) for opening song,"Vacancy," and Bill Frisell came out for a song later in the set and then stuck around for another featuring Arooj Aftab on vocals. A lot of people expected David Byrne, who gave his "Reasons to Be Cheerful" talk earlier in the day and had come out during Terry Allen's set the night before, to join the band for "This is a Life," their Oscar-nominated song from Oscar-winning film Everything Everywhere All at Once, but alas he did not. Son Lux did, however, perform "Unbind" from the film's score to close things out and its glitchy, orchestra drama was undoubtedly the highlight of their set.
Arooj had performed earlier on Friday, as part of one of Big Ears 2023's headline events, a performance of Love in Exile, her collaboration with Vijay Iyer and Shahzad Ismaily. It was a packed house at the historic Tennessee Theatre at 5 PM, and the room was hushed and mostly free of aloft cellphones as they mesmerized with their ethereal soundscapes. It's music that benefits from being heard in a big room with pristine sound like the Tennessee where most of the weekend's must-see shows are happening. The serious mood of their performance was only broken when Arooj asked for a sound adjustment...and a glass of wine. Two were delivered to her from different directions simultaneously.