Grayson Currin offers the most reflective (and maybe the most insightful) look back at Big Ears in his piece at Vice from yesterday. He considers the delicate balancing act of the first two tests in 2009 and 2010 (""For one long weekend, can you truly balance the experimental and the accessible and let neither suffer?" Big Ears seemed to wonder that weekend in real-time," he writes of the lineup in 2010. "For the next four years, while the festival took an extended break, the answer seemed to be, flatly, "No."") and praises this year's "unerring steadfastness and vision."
Currin also gets at another specific peculiarity of Big Ears--the fact that it's in Knoxville. The festival would pretty obviously be different in New York, London, or Berlin, but it would also be different in Asheville or Portland, Ore. Here, the festival itself is big enough to be self-contained and the city is just the right size to hold it. Or, as Currin writes, "Knoxville somehow forsters the sort of community that Big Ears demands by simply being itself."