Some can't-miss highlights of upcoming Big Ears Festival

— Your ears might not need to be as big as you would imagine to enjoy the Big Ears Festival. The term is meant to describe a person who hears more than the typical listener - sometimes a listener who can hear the direction of music of the future.

Certainly many of the artists participating in the event have made (and are still making) music that's ahead of its time; some of the music artists of Big Ears look backward for inspiration.

One-of-a-kind collaborations and spontaneous improvisations will be rampant at the festival. The best bet is to spring for a full weekend pass, catch the essentials and take some chances, but here are some of the probable highlights, not including the Terry Riley performances:

Iva Bittova, the Calder Quartet and Sam Amidon, 5 p.m. Friday, March 26, Knoxville Museum of Art, $15

Classical violinist Bittova, adventurous classical group the Calder Quartet, and Amidon, who brings new life to folk songs often with a gentle touch and, often, with string arrangements, should open the show on a sweet note.

Andrew W.K. performing with Calder Quartet, 11:55 p.m. Friday, The Square Room, $21.50

An absolute collision of styles as the classical Calder Quartet backs up "party hard" piano rocker Andrew W.K. Scary.

The Ex and Buke & Gass, 8 p.m. Friday, The Big Ears Annex, 125 E. Jackson Ave., $15

Punk rockers turned musical explorers The Ex perform on the same bill with a New York duo who build their own instruments and equipment and perform music that is both melodic and chaotic.

Dirty Projectors, DJ/rupture and William Basinski, 2 p.m. Saturday, March 27, Tennessee Theatre, $22

Acclaimed experimental rock group the Dirty Projectors with the ever-adventurous DJ/rupture and tape-loop master William Basinski.

Adrian Belew + Shortwave Society, 2 p.m. Saturday, Square Room, $15

Electric guitar virtuoso Adrian Belew will perform a new solo set with Knoxville-based opening act Shortwave Society.

Clogs with Shara Worden, Matt Berninger, Aaron Dessner and Sufjan Stevens, and Gyan Riley, 4 p.m. Saturday, Bijou Theatre, $21.50

The Clogs, who mix an almost baroque sound with pop, will welcome guests, including college-radio favorite Sufjan Stevens, in a show that is guaranteed to be filled with surprises. Guitarist Gyan Riley (son of Terry Riley) will open the show.

Joanna Newsom and Jens Hannemann,10 p.m. Saturday, Bijou Theatre, $26.50

Harpist/art-pop singer Joanna Newsom has been the talk of indie music since the release of her album "Ys" in 2006, and her new album "Have One On Me" is one of the most anticipated discs of 2010. Drummer Jens Hanneman is actually an alter-ego of comedian Fred Armisen, who will teach the crowd a thing or two about "complicated drumming."

St. Vincent, Nico Muhly and Doveman, 4 p.m. Sunday, March 28, Bijou Theatre, $21.50

Sweet vocalist-songwriter Annie Clark (St. Vincent) with classical composer/keyboardist Nico Muhly and eclectic group Doveman, a collective fronted by Thomas Bartlett.

The National and My Brightest Diamond, 9 p.m. Sunday, Tennessee Theatre, $32.50

The National, one of the decade's most acclaimed indie rock acts (which features Big Ears co-curator Bryce Dessner on guitar) will conclude the festival. My Brightest Diamond, led by Shara Worden, will open the show.

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