Shaky Knees nails its niche, knows the bands its fan base wants to see, and is one of the best organized festivals on the landscape.
The organizers at Shaky Knees keep changing the location within Atlanta, looking for the perfect fit; this year, they may have found it in their move to Centennial Olympic Park. Even amid the changes in locale, several things have not changed: Shaky Knees nails its niche, knows the bands its fan base wants to see, and is one of the best organized festivals on the landscape. With a plethora of festivals for concertgoers to choose from, Shaky Knees continues to find a way to stand out.
Shaky Cashless, which allowed festivalgoers to purchase anything in the park with a simple scan of their event wristband, worked well for everybody in our group. There was a variety of tasty food trucks, merchandise tents, drink tents, and water stations designed to help us beat the heat (which actually wasn’t that bad this year). The makeshift bridge allowing pedestrians to cross between Centennial Olympic Park and International Plaza looked scary, but it worked, with traffic generally flowing quickly from one side to the other. Even when a problem with traffic arose, the Shaky Knees team was able to work quickly to resolve it. Getting from one show to the next wasn’t a major issue, and we were able to see most of the shows we wanted to without wearing ourselves out running between them.
But we all came for the music, and as always, that was the most impressive thing about Shaky Knees. Here are some of the best sets we saw.
The recent nostalgic reformation of bands makes it possible for super fans who never got to see them in their prime to do so, and allows new fans to discover their music for the first time. Shaky Knees is among the best at booking these bands. The crowd was a mixture of both groups, blessed with the understanding of how rare it is to get a second chance to catch a band like Slowdive live. They were tight and seemed to enjoy performing to a small, but enthusiastic crowd (the Kills were playing at the same time).
Huey Lewis and the News
As a friend always says, “Not everything has to be Radiohead.” Huey Lewis may not play deep, complex music, but it’s fun: It knows exactly what it is, and it nails it. The huge crowd in attendance got that. It didn’t matter that it was difficult to get close to the main stage, as everyone was in on the “Heart and Soul” of the Shaky Knees party. Performing classic album Sports in its entirety was a treat for everyone, and Huey & his News appeared to be having a lot of fun doing it. This nostalgic curveball to the lineup was an excellent booking.
The Decemberists’ live show feels like a mix between storytelling theater and a concert. Leader Colin Meloy interacted well with the crowd, delivering favorites such as “Down by the Water,” “The Sporting Life,” and “The Crane Wife 1-3.”
My Morning Jacket
My Morning Jacket isn’t known to disappoint in the live arena, and their Saturday night set was no different. Jim James & Co. triumphantly opened with “Victory Dance,” and from there delivered a solid set composed of favorites like “Off the Record” and “Wordless Chorus.” The moment of the night came when MMJ played “Steam Engine,” the song from which Shaky Knees got its name. Confetti cannons filled the air with glitter that reflected the stage lights as the band went into the chorus. They kept the moment going with an emotional cover of Prince’s “Purple Rain” before ending with “One Big Holiday.”
Murder by Death
This was the surprise set of the weekend. One of the first bands to play on Sunday, they were incredibly sharp after having just played a late night set on Saturday. It was the perfect set to start the day, and as a bonus, the band performed an amazing cover of David Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream.” Consider us fans.
The plan for Sunday was to catch Eagles of Death Metal (another solid performance), move up closer for Deftones, and end up at the front for At the Drive-In, closing out the weekend. Mission accomplished! As any huge fan of the Deftones’ solid (and ever-evolving) body of work knows, they can be hit-or-miss live. On Sunday, they were in top form, delivering favorites from albums White Pony, Around the Fur, and Diamond Eyes, while also showing off new material from the recently released Gore. The energy was through the roof throughout, and I left feeling it was the best live show I had seen from them in four shows so far.
At the Drive-In
This was it: the ultimate high point of the festival, well worth the several hours it took to stake out a spot at the front rail. For a band that had originally disbanded in 2001, it was surprising to see the number of young fans singing along to classics like “Cosmonaut” and “One-Armed Scissor.” At the Drive-in sounded tight from the start, and front man Cedric Bixler-Zavala was a sight to behold as he recklessly flung himself around the stage and delivered the show I had waited 15 years to see. This year’s edition of Shaky Knees was already great, but ATDI sealed it with an epic performance.
Even with new music festivals popping up seemingly every day, Shaky Knees has separated itself from the pack enough to survive any possible burst of the festival bubble. They do it by simply running smoothly, booking bands that aren’t everywhere else, and focusing on the music. What a concept! | Matt Wallin, Adam Hayes, & Todd Blazer
Photos by Matt Wallin