It's difficult to disagree with Big Ears. It backs you into the proverbial corner – you either like the music or are labeled musically ignorant, too close-minded to enjoy the much overused word "experimentation."
This is not to say I did not enjoy Big Ears, nor that I didn't learn from it. I entered the weekend holding my ears as wide as they could go, ready to "inhabit" the music, as AC Entertainment founder Ashley Capps instructed attendees to do at Friday's launch party. I stuffed myself with shows – Dean Wareham, Susanna, Jenny Hval, John Cale, Television – determined to like everything I heard in order to prove myself intellectually musical enough to attend a festival that largely depends on high musical IQ.
However, my open mind turned self-deprecating during less enjoyable performances. "Is this bad music?" I questioned myself. "Or are my listening ears defective?" The musicians at Big Ears were put under the aformentioned moniker for a reason – they did crazy things vocally and instrumentally in the name of expanding their art, things that didn't always sound perfect.
By Sunday, I had covered my ears a little bit, my brain itching for a mainstream I had not known I wanted, a mainstream I had condescended to pre-festival.
Then, I heard Steve Reich and Brad Lubman perform "Clapping Music."
Their hands were the instrument, creating rhythmic patterns out of touch, bringing together chaos and order and building into a highly-impressive cadence that had my heart beating faster.
Then, I heard Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood perform Steve Reich's "Electric Counterpoint."
He took the stage, dark hair flapping around, shredding the guitar in his hands and holding it like a child.
Their music was alive, moving here, surely, in this most beautiful of venues – the Tennessee Theatre. I could feel it within me the same way I felt at other concerts I had attended with bands I loved, bands like Switchfoot, St. Paul and the Broken Bones and Regina Spektor.
And then the title clicked. Big Ears is not about loving all the music you hear – it's about wanting to hear music that isn't on your Spotify playlist, music that challenges you a little. It may challenge you to form an opinion that can be negative, but it may challenge you to listen a little closer to artists you have written off.
Music is a funny thing – controversial and peacemaking, soothing and upsetting, divisive and universal. Most everyone has an opinion, whether that's a hatred for top 40 or a love for minimalist neo-classical. It can build festivals that are engaging and atmospheric, yet loaded with popular favorites, like Bonnaroo, or festivals that at first seem a little unapproachable, but offer a rich experience of musical culture, like Big Ears.
I may never be able to discuss with any intelligence the tonal qualities of a minimalist piece from Steve Reich, but Big Ears has showed me that's OK. There's no harm in listening – in fact, there's a lot to be gained.
Plus, I can always go back to my Beyonce afterward.
Claire Dodson is a junior in English. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.