By Brandon Pownall & Sara Frank
The weekend of May 13th 2016, music lovers from all around the country convened at the fourth Shaky Knees Music Festival. This year’s lineup included an array of talented musicians, ranging from 80’s classic pop legends to rising Americana artists. As fans raced from the “Peachtree” to the “Piedmont” stage, it became evident that no two fans had the same experience. Depending on the road traveled, festival goers enjoyed disparate sounds housed under the downtown Atlanta sky.
Here’s two of our top writer’s experiences.
Since its founding in 2013, Shaky Knees has been trying to integrate itself into Atlanta. Instead of using the names of corporate sponsors, the stages at Shaky Knees (Peachtree, Ponce, Buford) have always been named after famous Atlanta streets. This year, downtown Atlanta became key to the festival experience. It spanned Atlanta’s Centennial Park and International Plaza, an area large enough to require a fenced-in walking path to connect the two. Anyone there will remember the rickety, shipping-container bridge over Marietta Street, endearingly nicknamed “The Shaky Bridge.” Thankfully, I have no major injuries to report.
Shaky Knees had the idea to partner with local venues for late night shows, a great way to be a part of the larger local scene. The idea is you could see a festival set at Shaky Knees and a full set at the late night show. It was a true Atlanta festival based on location, but a quick look at the line-up reveals there is not a single local band present.
While I did not see any acts from Atlanta or even Athens, highlights from the weekend start on Friday with Slowdive closing the Ponce Stage into the sunset. The shoe-gazing legends from Reading blew away everyone’s expectations. Even Ryan Graveface (founder of Graveface Records) was standing on the rail to watch and transcend.
Other mind blowing sets from Friday include Philadelphia’s up and coming Alex G. They closed the smallest stage, Buford Hwy, with a stadium show. The real headliner that night, Jane’s Addiction, lost my interest when women on stage began pole dancing to near 60 Perry Farrell’s singing.
Even though the sun was beating down all weekend, Saturday night was cool and windy, as Shaky Knees founding favorites My Morning Jacket closed with the longest set of the weekend. The festival borrows its name from their song, “Steam Engine,” so you might expect something wild like their legendary 4-hour, special-guest filled 2008 Bonnaroo show. The setlist was standard, one similar to what you might have heard back in 2013 when they performed the exact same venue, Centennial Park, for the Final Four concert series. Upgrading of course from their free afternoon slot before Zac Brown Band to headliner position. The only major addition to their set was a cover of Prince’s “Purple Rain” and some pyrotechnics, it was certainly no different in any other respect than their set list from the 2015-16 tour. Still, Jim James and Carl Broemel are quite possibly the best combination of guitarists performing in 2016.
In the same spot Slowdive played the night before, The Decemberists took over the stage. I could hear a tinge of competitiveness in Colin Meloy’s voice as he joked about My Morning Jacket playing after them and Huey Lewis and the News before. Like My Morning Jacket, if you saw them on their ’15-’16 tour you would have seen essentially the same set which includes all their theatrics and witty banter. It’s not a bad thing, I could see the band get eaten by a whale during “Mariner’s Revenge” every night.
Sunday was the day of conflict and under-card acts. With performances from Parquet Courts, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, and Diet Cig all scheduled at once with a half mile walk between them, it was rough. Another odd scheduling move was putting Ought so early in the afternoon on the main stage. They could have certainly closed the Buford Highway stage after Nothing’s face~melting set.
Besides the few scheduling conflicts, Sunday was a peaceful day, not noticeably crowded or hot. Texas rockers At The Drive-In (Featuring lead singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala of The Mars Volta) closed the secondary headlining spot with the same set they have been doing at every other festival. There isn’t a problem with that, but I would love some of these big name artists getting big bucks to put in the effort to rehearse a diverse set. With their sharp organization skills, some local flavor and original sets will make Shaky Knees truly an Atlanta festival people flock to from across the nation.
“Music, it makes you feel good, makes you feel understood. Like you’re not alone, you’re not a rolling stone, not the only one on the road.” Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors couldn’t have sung it better. On a sunny Saturday afternoon, Shaky Knees gathered thousands of music lovers around five central Atlanta “roads,” and made Centennial Olympic Park a home.
The morning began with the neighborhood singing along with Drew Holcomb and his three band mates, as we listened to the true “American Beauty.” Standing around “Ponce De Leon,” we waited as the music was supposed to flow seamlessly from the Americana Tennessee band, to the Americana Texas musician, Alejandro Rose-Garcia, otherwise known as Shakey Graves.
Twenty minutes gone by and my friends and I were anxiously checking the Shaky Knees phone app for any update. After guessing all possible reasons for a delay, Shakey Graves finally appeared on stage and shouted out to the crowd, “There is a power outage!” However, these Shakey Graves’ fans didn’t move an inch. Instead, we all began to “ooo” together to the tune of one of Shakey Graves’ popular songs, “Dearly Departed.” Minutes later, Alejandro walked to the front of the stage with his guitar and played acoustically with us. Overjoyed, the crowd sang along with appreciation and excitement. Thinking it couldn’t possibly get better, when the power went on, Shakey Graves lifted his guitar high in the air and said, “I apologize for the delay! To make it up to you, I now sacrifice this guitar to you the people.” In total shock, we gasped as Shakey Graves smashed his guitar and threw out the crushed pieces to the audience. Even though we didn’t hear the full band play “Dearly Departed,” everyone felt satisfied and no one was ready to depart when the set was over.
Feeling shaky from the incredible act before, we laid out our towel and relaxed to Huey Lewis accompanied by saxophones, percussion, and rhythm guitars. We then made our way to The Decemberists, featuring the first women we had seen that day. After we crossed the bridge to Walk the Moon, we were greeted by their lyrics, “This is why, this is why.” We ended the night shouting and dancing to the anticipated, “Shut Up and Dance,” then watched as the masses sang their way to their Ubers.
We began Sunday with the harmonies of Unknown Mortal Orchestra, whose voices truly came together in an orchestral manner. Their sound surprised me. Despite their band name and five giant silver speakers set up on stage, the band, originally from Portland, Oregon and New Zealand, had a quite diverse and dynamic set of music, ranging from soft singing to long, electric instrumentals. Continuing the day filled with Murder by Death, Frightened Rabbit, and Eagles of Death Metal, we strolled over to St. Paul and the Broken Bones, and watched as the former pastor laid down on the stage, spiritually belting out to the audience.
Immediately after, we edged closer to the stage in preparation for The Head and the Heart. Even though the lead vocalist Josiah Johnson was unable to attend, the cohesive band guided the audience, who had traveled from all around the country, from “Down in the Valley” to “Rivers and Roads.” We truly got “lost in the music for hours.” The sound of Charity Rose Thielen’s violin and the sight of Tyler Williams passionately beating his drum kit with a maraca and tambourine, left the crowd hungry for more new songs soon to be released on their upcoming album.
From one great indie rock band to the next, we rushed back to Ponce for my teenage-self’s favorite, Young the Giant. The colorfully dressed band engaged each other and the crowd. We all swayed to “Strings” and smiled and sang to the classic and loved song, “Cough Syrup.”
Finally, the time for Florence and the Machine had arrived. Florence Welch gracefully appeared in fog, glowing in a sheer lime dress. She took us on an emotional and musical roller coaster as she bolted back and forth on stage and dived into the crowd and up the soundboard. She even had a physical fight with herself for an entire minute, dramatically slapping her left cheek and then her right cheek – over and over again. While she slowed down some of her usually upbeat songs, she had the crowd getting on each others shoulders and taking off articles of clothing and raising them in the air. Florence alone was an unforgettable spectacle. She ended her show instructing the audience to literally “run fast for your mother, fast for your father.” While we all patiently waited for an encore, the only people left on stage were the takedown crew.
Overall, the weekend was filled with musically compatible artists that greatly varied each day. Every person had an extremely personalized weekend with up to three choices of performances every hour, providing something for everybody. Depending on which street you chose to walk down, two people – while at the same festival – could have completely different, but equally incredible, memories, moments, and music.
Check out the full festival photo album here : Shaky Knees Photo Recap !