The fifth time seems to be the charm for Shaky Knees Music Festival. After a few different venue changes, and a new configuration within its current venue, Olympic Centennial Park, the organizers of Atlanta’s premier music festival appear to have found the formula for a successful weekend.
The condensed configuration compared to last year never felt overcrowded. Sight lines among all three stages were nearly perfect no matter where one was standing. The main stage, aptly named Peachtree, was actually set on the bottom of a slight hill, making it easy to see from anywhere. Sponsorship activations were engaging and plentiful, and truly added to the fan experience. I mean, who can turn down a free Coke (or 12) in 85-degree heat? Food vendors were abundant, and represented the best that Atlanta had to offer, making it hard to leave the festival grounds.
These cherry-on-top factors combined with the festival’s strongest overall lineup ever made for the best year of Shaky Knees in its five-year history. Even better was that that every artist actually played instruments. Mason James, front man of Zipper Club and one of the first acts to perform on Friday morning, said in an interview I did with him that day, “I’m legit hyped for this lineup, you guys. There are bands actually playing instruments, it’s pretty cool.”
There will always be pros and cons to any event of this magnitude, but they were minimal last weekend. With only three stages crammed within a relatively small space, there was some annoying sound interference for those who were towards the back of the crowd. Because of the decreased amount of stages, there were slight overlaps between at least two artists at a time. This lead to some conflicts, but they weren’t too big of a problem. The worst was probably Ryan Adams overlapping with The Shins, but the stages were so close to each other that it only took 30 seconds to walk in between. Nonetheless, it was still completely viable to not miss an entire set all weekend.
While the entire experience was positive, there were several moments that stood out above the rest. Below are the 10 best moments of Shaky Knees Festival:
I was a little skeptical of seeing them pop up on festival lineups in 2017, especially after playing almost every festival known to man last year. When it seemed as though Coachella had them pinged for a unique booking in 2016, they exploded back onto the scene. One year later, the result I feared was burnout. But, after releasing new music, something that almost seemed impossible a couple of years ago, James Murphy and company carefully sliced and diced their way through a nearly two-hour show Friday night at Shaky Knees. The perfectly scripted set had the entire crowd at Centennial Park jumping, bouncing, and jeering at all the right times. James Murphy’s brilliance was on full display, as he put on a clinic of how to make damn good music. Two hours quite frankly wasn’t enough. I left wanting more.
Anyone with an ego would have been disappointed with having to play the smallest and most often overlooked stage of a music festival, especially early on a Sunday. Add to the mix numerous Juno awards, chart topping records, and the ability to sell out venues in Canada at the drop of a hat, and rest assured that this placement might seem disappointing. No, I’m not talking about Drake or Arcade Fire, but rather The Arkells, and it’s a great thing that they don’t have an ego. Front man Max Kermen threw a party for those in attendance, joining the crowd at one point, and even inviting a fan on stage to play guitar during “Private School”. The exuberance on Billy’s face and the fan’s won over the crowd and cemented The Arkells name in their heads. I got the chance to chat with Max and lead guitarist, Mike, just before their set. Learn more about them HERE.
Nothing at the festival was as tight as Anderson East’s horns section on Saturday afternoon. The incredibly talented 28-year-old southern soul singer from Alabama, won’t be creeping under the radar much longer, and he proved that at Shaky Knees. Any other artist with a similar style, on a hot afternoon like it was, could easily have come across as boring, but Anderson East’s billowing vocals and cool composure radiate energy throughout the crowd.
I would not have included Bishop Briggs as a must-see act considering this year’s impressive lineup. She honestly struck me as a one (or two) hit wonder pushed onto us by a record label whom would quietly fade away into a perpetually bottom of the bill act after the success of “River” wore off. My perception of her changed quickly at Shaky Knees. It changed even more so when I met her. You can read that interview HERE. Her stage presence reminded me of Florence Welch or Tyler Joseph, as she feels every lyric she belts out in front of a thumping band, which includes both of her producers Mark Jackson and Ian Scott. Her energy and passion is infectious. I don’t see a reason why she won’t continue to build a fan base, mature to larger venues, and creep up higher upon festivals lineups. The 24 year old London-born, Japan/Hong Kong raised, LA-based, alt pop singer is a star.
Phoenix’s stage production
I’ve never seen a production quite like that of Phoenix’s on Sunday night. The entire floor was a giant LED screen fluctuating between trippy graphics, colors, and real images. A giant mirror spanning from the back of the LED screen to the top of the stage only enhanced the light show that we experienced as the show built. The 30-minute wait, and thus shortened set, was offset by the spectacular show. Frankly, anybody could have been performing on stage, but on that stage, it didn’t matter.
Portugal. The Man
The Alaska natives had one of the largest crowds of the day at the main stage, albeit an early evening set. It rivaled the size of LCD Soundsystem’s crowd, all the while with two competing bands playing at the same time. Their career has been primarily propelled by a grassroots effort of constant touring and almost annual album releases. Despite only limited commercial radio success, those efforts were objectified on Friday evening. There’s a reason such a large crowd gathered… to hear them play “Dayman” from It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. Well, maybe a little, but otherwise for a flawless set.
From the opening note of “It Was a Sin”, The Revivalists had the large crowd gathered around the second stage in the palm of their hands. They’ve been around for nearly a decade, but recently got a jolt of energy thanks to the radio success of “Wish I Knew You”. That song, despite being excellent, doesn’t do the band full justice. Lead by David Shaw, they appear to be taking that song’s success in full stride. The countless miles and shows logged in their ten-year existence only added to their high octane performance. This was probably many fans’ first time seeing them live, myself included, and certainly won’t be the last.
The indie electronic duo from Charlotte tore through their late afternoon set on Saturday. From afar, all I could see were heads bouncing and arms flailing to no end. I was almost certain that there had to have been a few more people on stage, because there’s no way only two people, one of whom was restricted to an instrument, could fill the main stage with so much energy amid the dreary near summer temperatures of the south. But, after further examination, it was just Amelia Meath and Nick Sandborn leading the charge. The brilliance of their latest album, What Now, was on full display, which included one of the most enjoyable song of the set, “Kick Jump Twist”.
Catfish and the Bottlemen
Van McCann is a rock star, and Catfish and the Bottlemen is one of the most exciting rock bands in the world right now. They proved that on Saturday afternoon in front of an impressive crowd on the main stage at Shaky Knees. They still don’t get the same respect within the U.S. as they do in the U.K., but that has to change eventually. While they mostly play small and medium sized clubs in the US, their sound is totally ready for arenas.
Third Eye Blind
I was tempted not to include them on this list. Quite frankly, their sound wasn’t at their best. Front man Stephen Jenkins admitted that they for, all intents and purposes, dropped in on a whim, lacking backing tracks and borrowing equipment. Just 24 hours before their gig, he was on a surfboard in Fiji. However, what made this a memorable moment was the fact that the nearly once dead 90s outfit from San Francisco has found a new breath of wind. They are carrying that momentum into an impressive summer tour with Silversun Pickups, and this Atlanta show was just a warmup at best. It didn’t matter to the massive crowd gathered around the main stage, because they were there for nostalgia, and they got it.