Last weekend I attended the second annual Shaky Knees Festival in Atlanta, GA. It’s a relatively new festival, and this year they had some fantastic artists for what really was one of the best lineups of any North American festival. Last year’s was a rain soaked and muddy affair, but this year moved to a new larger location and thankfully did not rain nearly as much as last year, though it did rain and I will get to that later.
Day 1: Friday
As I pulled up to the festival on Friday to claim my wristband, The National were sound checking, and you could hear Matt Berninger’s voice echoing through the parking lot. I followed the voice and checked out the festival grounds from the garage and saw it was all concrete. I was a little worried for my feet, but that meant there would be no mud if it did rain. The wristband pickup was really fast and easy, though I never expected to pick up a festival wristband inside a Dillard’s.
The first thing I caught was “Songs For Kids” a charity out of Atlanta that plays songs in children’s hospitals throughout the US. They played a cover of The Black Keys’ “Little Black Submarines” and a sloppy but fun version of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” before they got cut off because they ran over on time.
Next up was Mutual Benefit, one of our five bands to check out at Shaky Knees. It was a beautiful way to truly kick off a festival. This was Mutual Benefit’s first festival, and their lineup consisted of Jordan Lee on guitar and keys, and another keyboardist, a violinist, a guitarist and drummer.
Next, I caught Blood Red Shoes who are coming off the release of their self-titled album. They brought a lot of rocking energy to Shaky Knees and showed why they also made our list of bands to check out. The audience really got into their set and started singing along during “Light It Up” off of their 2010 album Fire Like This.
Another one of our bands to check out was up next. Wild Belle are incredibly popular, apparently, as they had the largest crowd of the festival so far. They played an excellent set and Natalie Bergman’s voice was just as incredible live as it is on record. Atlanta is hot, and the band wore suits, I am amazed they made it through the set.
I caught White Denim next and enjoyed their set, a lot of talent and jamming. I did leave their set early to catch Charles Bradley who is a truly incredible performer. Bradley’s energy was so positive and he was full of love, coming down into the crowd at the end of his set to hug audience members. After Bradley’s set I walked back over to the main stage area and caught Dropkick Murphys while scouting out a decent spot for FOALS.
The setup of the main stages made it convenient to catch one band while getting a good spot for a band playing on another stage. There was no downtime between sets, either, one band would hit their last note, say thank you as it resonated and the other band would start up on the other stage. This was an incredibly well run festival.
As FOALS took the stage, the skies opened up and it started pouring. This created one of the most fun atmosphere’s I’ve ever experienced at a show. FOALS put on a high energy show, the rain cooled us down and we danced in that pit like never before. My friend Kyle spent the show out of the rain in a covered, elevated VIP tent and said it looked like we were having a lot of fun down there, and we sure were. A great set of new and old FOALS songs and I am happy I finally got to see FOALS, who gained a spot on my “great live bands” list with their performance.
After FOALS, I bounced around a bit, between Cage The Elephant and Graveyard, then worked my way up to a decent spot for The National while Spoon were playing on the other stage. I found myself surrounded by some die hard National fans from all over, they told me they were from Maryland, New York, and Illinois. The National’s set was a great festival set, playing a lot of stuff from Trouble Will Find Me, but also some cuts from Boxer, High Violet, and Alligator along with a fairly deep cut “About Today” that they’ve been playing pretty often recently. It’s hard to argue that the National aren’t the best band in music right now. Their live shows have only gotten better and better, and their albums have been consistently amazing.
After The National we headed over to The Masquerade and caught Deer Tick’s aftershow. As I said when I listed them as a band you have to check out, they are truly one of the finest live bands in the world right now. My friend who is a huge Deer Tick fan said it was a great set, and I’ll have to agree, they always put on great shows. It was a perfect ending to what I believe was the greatest single day of music I’ve ever seen at a festival.
DAY 2: Saturday
I roamed in a little later on Saturday since I didn’t need to pick up a wristband and got myself a good spot for Gregory Alan Isakov. He was playing on one of the smaller stages and behind me Packway Handle Band was playing some great folk music on the other stage. Earlier I said one band would start playing the instant the other ends, and that was supposed to be the case here, Gregory Alan Isakov and band took the stage at the scheduled 2:15, but Packway Handle Band played one more song, Isakov and band seemed a little upset and a tech came out and said “we can overpower them!” and that’s when I knew that tech had never heard Isakov’s music. They politely waited until Packway finished their last song and started their set.
I was really looking forward to Isakov’s set, and yes, I named him one of the acts to check out, and they did not disappoint. Isakov’s music is breathtakingly beautiful, and paints gorgeous portraits of americana with his voice and guitar. He was joined by a great backing band of a violinist and another guitarist who also played banjo. After Isakov’s set ended, they had a few minutes left over and the audience stayed and applauded, Isakov and band came back out for one more song, which is a bit of a rarity for non-headlining bands.
Next, I turned around and caught young up and coming band The Districts. They brought some great energy and a crowd slowly but surely started to build as the set went on. Next was The Lone Bellow. I didn’t expect much from them, and was planning to split time between their set and Lord Huron. Good thing I stuck around, they were absolutely fantastic, and exceeded all expectations exponentially. Like Charles Bradley on that stage the day prior, the Lone Bellow brought such an incredible positive energy to their live show.
Next, I caught Portugal. The Man because I was trying to get a good spot for The Replacements. Portugal. The Man was great, and reminded me of when I saw them at one of the tiny tents at Bonnaroo years ago. I caught all of Conor Oberst’s set as well, and he was great with Dawes. I’m not the world’s biggest Dawes fan, but they really helped flesh out Oberst’s songs.
Next up were The Replacements. I had been waiting for this since high school when I started listening to them, and I know some of the people with me in that pit were waiting even longer. They came on a little late because of rain, but they came on and they absolutely ripped it up. They opened up with “Takin’ A Ride” and from there they just took off. Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day joined the band after the fourth song, “I’m In Trouble” and hung around for the rest of the set. They played covers, of Chuck Berry’s “Maybellene” and The Ramones’ “Judy Is A Punk” and Paul Westerberg forgot lyrics to “Alex Chilton”, and it was just as I had hoped a ‘Mats show would be. It was a lot of fun and I got to hear so many songs I never thought I’d ever hear live.
After The Replacements, I hung out way in the back and listened to Modest Mouse from afar. They sounded great, and played a lot of songs I was hoping to hear, but I was so pumped from seeing the Replacements it almost fell flat, but it’s not their fault. After Modest Mouse we headed over to Center Stage and caught The Lone Bellow at Vinyl, which was even more incredible than their show at the festival. Playing a cover of Edwin McCain’s “I’ll Be” and silly Boys II Men covers, and a few new songs they just made it a great way to end another great evening of music.
DAY 3: SUNDAY
Sunday was another fantastic day. I came in around 2:00 when San Fermin were ending their set, and they were great, I caught Langhorne Slim from the other stage while waiting for Deer Tick. Deer Tick came on and turned in a fun and rowdy performance, even though it wasn’t as great of a set as two nights before at Masquerade, which had a lot to do with being limited to 45 minutes. Frontman John McCauley made some funny comments about his voice and couldn’t quite get the name of the festival right, calling it “Spicy Milkshake Festival” and “Shakeweight Festival”. Deer Tick never disappoint, though and they rocked pretty hard for 3:00 on a Sunday afternoon,
I spent the next hour running between Jason Isbell and Blitzen Trapper. I had never seen Jason Isbell, and have wanted to for a long time, and he was just excellent, and I can’t wait to check him out next time he’s over here and finally see a full set from him. Blitzen Trapper is one of my favorite live bands as well so I had to check them out, and they were great as well, and covered Joe Walsh’s “Rocky Mountain Way” and Led Zeppelin’s “Ramble On”.
I then caught a bit of Jackie Green on the way to Iron and Wine. I really dug Iron and Wine, and so did the audience. It was a great performance and even though I was pretty far away, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I then caught the opening of The Hold Steady before running to grab some food, they were awesome and had a lot of energy, but I was hungry and had to pry myself from the performance. I came back to see the end of Trampled By Turtles’ set, and checked out Local Natives who impressed me with their great live show.
I then scoped out a great place to watch Violent Femmes, who performed their first album in its entirety before playing a bunch of songs from their discography. They closed with “American Music” and in my opinion were one of the best sets of the whole festival. Alabama Shakes closed out the show and played a great set. They played a bunch of great stuff from their album and Brittany Howard’s voice is just something to behold live.
Last weekend was incredible, a fantastic weekend of music at what may have been the best run festival I’ve ever been to. I look forward to possibly going back next year, and I’ll always remember May 9th as what may have been the greatest single day of music I’ve ever experienced at a festival.
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