Skip to content Skip to main navigation Report an accessibility issue

PhD Candidate Researches the Shared Emotional State at Big Ears

Music To Their (Big) Ears: Exploring Collective Effervescence and Well-Being at Big Ears Festival

Vanessa Slay, CEHHS student news reporter, Class of 2023

Originally from Memphis, the home of the Blues and birthplace of Rock’n’Roll, third-year PhD candidate Jack Babb grew up as a music lover. He attended the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, for his undergraduate degree in Hospitality, Resort, and Tourism—now Retail, Hospitality, and Tourism Management (RHTM) in the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences—before attending the University of Memphis for his master’s degree.

Jack Babb sits at a table in a restaurant setting. His forearms and hands are on the table. He has fair skin, dark brown hair, a beard and mustache. He is wearing a light tan sport coat and light grey shirt.

Jack Babb

Babb recalls his time at the University of Memphis as a music lover when he had the chance to work at the Beale Street Music Festival, the largest music festival in Memphis. That experience allowed him to see the process that is involved in putting on a large festival and cemented the desire to incorporate music into his future research. He jokes that all he cares about are “music and food.”

Now back at UT, Babb is in the process of writing his dissertation on collective effervescence. “Think of it like when you go to a football game at Neyland Stadium,” Babb explains. “Everyone is excited, focusing on the football game, cheering, and booing the other team. [Collective effervescence is] a shared emotional state that people feel when they’re involved in the same event.”

Photo of performers at the Big Ears festival. They on a stage in front of an audience. The lighting on the stage is red and there are five performers on stage.

Preformers at the 2023 Big Ears Festival in Knoxville

Babb saw the opportunity to examine that same emotional state at the annual Big Ears Festival in downtown Knoxville. “It’s different from other festivals…people are here to learn something, whether that is socially or sonically.” Big Ears’ slogan is “Listen.” Babb interprets that to mean coming into the festival with an open mind and experiencing something that you might not have otherwise gravitated towards. In essence, it is making your ears big.

He used a qualitative study of culture broken into “three arms” of research. The first arm focused on participant observation. Babb took notes on what the participants at Big Ears were experiencing, collected symbols such as wristbands, and gathered his own pictures and videos. The second arm, Participant Produced Images and Videos, required him to coordinate with the staff at Big Ears to recruit attendees whom he would interview about what pictures and videos they believed embodied the idea of collective effervescence. Then the third arm involved another series of interviews in which participants would further explain their experiences in general.

With the Festival just days behind him, Babb is still sorting through his research and preparing it for his dissertation.

Babb is thankful for his faculty at RHTM. “They are unique and diverse in their research interest and expertise. It’s nice to have a wide range of people you can talk to about what you’re interested in; they give me the freedom to research what I want to research.”

Through its eight departments and 12 centers, the UT Knoxville College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences enhances the quality of life for all through research, outreach, and practice. Find out more at