It’s a wonderful time of year. As the calendar flips over to May, it brings with it warmer weather, sunny days, vacations, and a plethora of other great things. A large amount of people celebrate this wonderful time by jumping into the music festival season. I have never been one of those people. I never understood the fascination with festivals. I never understood the willingness to pay an exorbitant amount of money to see a handful of bands I like from a mile away surrounded by people that “ironically” wear Native American headdresses and definitely think Mumford and Sons are a good band. If I’m being totally honest, that’s actually my worst nightmare. But something clicked this year and I decided to take the plunge into my first true music festival. I’m not sure if it was the curiosity or the appeal of Atlanta or the words “Brand New” at the top of the poster (who am I kidding, it was most certainly that last one), but it seemed like the right time and Shaky Knees Fest seemed like the right place. So I hit the road for what would prove to be a fantastic first foray into the world of music festivals.
To recap my whirlwind of a weekend, I thought that I would hand out some awards for the best and worst things I encountered.
*All photos are courtesy of aLIVE Coverage*
The “UPDAPUNX” Award – Wavves
Having seen these California-based surf punks a few times before, I didn’t expect too much out of their set. Every performance of theirs that I’d seen was sloppy and somewhat lackadaisical. I wasn’t sure if that was a part of their “Let’s drop acid and surf” aesthetic, but it had been a bit of a turn-off. But this set was far different. The band was on-point and ripped through a hurricane of high-octane jams. The highlight was undoubtedly the furious double-time rendition of their herbal love song “Green Eyes”. Theirs was both the most punk set of the weekend and the most likely to lead to the group of high schoolers next to me going to Zumiez and buying Huf socks.
The “Six-To-Midnight” Award for the moment that got me the most excited for a set – Manchester Orchestra
Coming into the weekend, Manchester Orchestra were one of my most anticipated sets. There simply aren’t many bands around that are as deeply affecting live as Andy Hull and company. I settled into my spot in the crowd, trying to piece together in my head what their perfect setlist would look like, as the set started with a single, sustained note. But it wasn’t just any note. It was the opening to note to “Pride”, the band’s best song off of their best record. I promptly started freaking out. I looked around and no one else was reacting, leading me to believe that either A) I was mistaken and it wasn’t “Pride”, B) I’m a weirdo for recognizing and getting stoked by the first note of the band’s 25th most popular song, or C) Both the band and I were ghosts the whole time and were living out The Sixth Sense. Whatever the reason was, it didn’t matter, because the band kicked in with the song and the Earth opened up and swallowed me whole. From my catatonic state at the Earth’s core, I witnessed Manchester Orchestra masterfully craft a behemoth of a set spanning their entire discography, but the true high point was the realization that they were opening with “Pride” and the unending joy that brought me.
LVP – The Sun
I’m from Texas. I’m used to the heat. Or at least I was, until North Carolina made me soft, with it’s ice and snow and nice weather and such nonsense. I thought I would be right at home out in the Georgia heat. I was wrong. I am weak. I also do this thing were I convince myself that I’m dark enough to not get sun burnt so I don’t put on sunscreen and then I get really sun burnt and turn the same shade as a Solo cup. Learn from my mistakes, kids. It’s too late for me. Save yourselves.
The “Crack Of Noon” Award for the band that got stuck opening the day – Kevin Devine and the Goddamn Band
Opening the day at a festival is a tough gig. Granted, “opening” the day meant a 12:30 p.m. set, but still, it’s not ideal. At that point, only a fraction of the crowd has made it to the park, and the people who are there are either hungover or still drunk or – well, no, those are the only two options. But despite the thin crowd, Kevin Devine commanded the attention of all those within earshot. While his acoustic tunes are perhaps what he is most hailed for, combining with the Goddamn Band adds a whole other element to his music. That was never more evident than the set-closer, a stirring performance of “Brother’s Blood” that cemented Devine’s spot among my favorites of the weekend.
The “Rookie Of The Year Award” for the band I hadn’t heard before that blew me away – METZ
While the first day of the festival was stacked in terms of bands I was interested in, Saturday proved to be much more open. There were only two bands that I pegged as must-sees (Kevin Devine and Neutral Milk Hotel), so I spent the majority of the day checking out some of the indie acts that my friend wanted to check out. Only one really caught my eye, however, and that was METZ. Unlike most of the other bands I was unfamiliar at the festival, the Toronto natives brought an edge that really drew me in. They were loud and abrasive in an interesting way, striking me as an angry, aggressive version of the heaviest parts of a Cloud Nothings’ record. I didn’t discover a ton of music during my stay at Shaky Knees, but METZ certainly made an impact on me.
The “Holy Crap, Am I The Only One On Earth Who Doesn’t Like This Band?” Award – The Strokes
Shaky Knees employed an interesting strategy in their scheduling: each night, the main headliner would be not only the final band of the night, but they would be the only ones playing at that time. All the other sets finished several minutes prior to the headliner set, essentially funneling everyone to the main stage. While that certainly inflated the crowd size a bit, there was no denying the sheer draw that The Strokes had over people. Their was a staggering amount of people taking in their set, overflowing into the far corners of the park. And they weren’t just bystanders either. They were fully engrossed, dancing and singing along to every boring note slurred out by Julian Casablancas. I get that they’ve been around a long time and have a ton of hits, but I had no idea that many people were so unabashedly into them. Come on, guys. I thought you were better than that.
The “Legends Never Die” Award – Neutral Milk Hotel
There was obviously one band that was my clear-cut most anticipated coming into the festival (more on that in a bit), but Neutral Milk Hotel was up there. Not just because of how great they are (which is really great. In The Aeroplane Over The Sea stands as one of my favorite records ever), but also due to the mysterious aura that seems to shroud them. I never expected to be able to witness them live, but when the opportunity presented itself at Shaky Knees, it didn’t disappoint. Jeff Magnum turned in one of the most picturesque performances I’ve ever seen, churning out hit after hit on stage, rarely even pausing in between his legendary tracks. The full band experience, which includes an orchestra of horns, accordions, synth, and even a saw, is something that truly has to be seen to be believed. I will certainly remember it until the day my ashes fly from the aeroplane over the sea.
MVP (Frozen refreshment division) – King Of Pops
The concessions situation was superb at Shaky Knees. Instead of the run of the mill food you’d normally find at a festival, Shaky Knees brought in dozens of food trucks from all across the country. They spanned all types of food and were commendable in not only their products, but their puns (looking at you, On Tapa The World). But the real refreshment MVP was undoubtedly King Of Pops and their gourmet popsicles. They had four or five booths set up across the park, offered several enticing flavors like raspberry-lime and Arnold Palmer, and were delicious. Think about it this way: for $3, you could either get a bottle of water or a bomb-ass popsicle. It’s no contest. King Of Pops over everything.
MVP (Non frozen refreshment division) – Brand New
If you’ve ever met me, or listened to our podcast, or ran into me on the street for 15 seconds, you know my feelings about Brand New. They are the greatest band to have ever graced this Earth and it’s not even close. That’s a proven fact and not up for discussion. So when I saw that they were on this festival, I was sold. I would drive anywhere in the country to see them, so four hours away didn’t seem too unreasonable. But as I stood at the front of the crowd Friday night awaiting their set, a thought crossed my mind: what if I had hyped this up too much? What if they weren’t as good as the first time I saw them? What if outside at a festival isn’t the ideal setting to see them? And then the band came out, ripped straight into “Mene”, and knocked all of that nonsense out of my head. Brand New is the best and they proved it that night. With a slightly shorter set than their normal headlining tour, there were a few notable cuts missing from the setlist (*cough* “Limousine” *cough*), I couldn’t do anything close to complaining about their performance. No other band can translate the loud/soft dichotomy as well as Brand New, and as they tore through tracks like “Luca” and “Sink”, there was no denying that fact. From Jesse’s signature screaming-into-his-pickups move to Vinnie recklessly throwing his bass through the air, everything about the set was awe-inspiring, and I think I can say with confidence that it was one of the best live performance I’ve ever seen.
The Gracious Host Award – Atlanta
Simply put, Hotlanta rules. The park in which the festival was located was the perfect spot. It was big enough as to prevent any sound bleeding over to other stages, yet small enough to make trekking back and forth reasonable. The Midtown area had lots going on, including Gladys Knight’s Chicken and Waffles, in which I sat at a booth next to a picture of Rick Ross on the wall and feasted like the Boss himself. My one complaint is that I didn’t run into a single rapper. Not one. I was under the impression that you couldn’t turn the corner without running into Ludacris, but I was sadly mistaken. If you were really that scared to freestyle battle me, Luda, you could have said something.
The “Mind-Changer” Award – Shaky Knees
I came into the weekend with an overwhelming distaste for music festivals. While it didn’t necessarily turn me completely into a festival-goer, Shaky Knees showed me that, when run the right way, festivals can be great. Nearly everything about the festival was a total win, and I can absolutely say that I will be back next year. But only if Ludacris agrees to battle me.