When Kevin Parker strummed the last few notes of “Nothing That Has Happened So Far Has Been Anything We Could Control” and the lights lowered on the 3rd annual Shaky Knees festival, all that was left to show the thousands their footpath back to the North Avenue MARTA station were the ever glowing lights of the Atlanta skyline. That same skyline stood for 3 days as the perfect backdrop for the ever-growing festival. What started as a love child of Tim Sweetwood during a stormy, mud-filled 2 days in 2013 has now become a destination festival set in the city formerly known as Terminus, because everything had to run through Atlanta first. Shaky Knees is quickly becoming the Terminus of festivals.
Complete with a slate of late-night shows, this year’s festival was a bigger, badder version of its predecessors (It’s even spawned a sister festival appropriately named Shaky Boots to give the country folk something to cheer about). In a sprawling 20 acres that inhabited 5 main stages, Shaky Knees saw acts old and new delight and hypnotize 50,000 people over the course of a weekend.
Friday set the stage as the likes of Mac Demarco, Wavves, Manchester Orchestra, Surfer Blood and Jukebox the Ghost ushered in the crowds as the HOTlanta sun began to beat down on them. As the drinks started to pour and the waves of jersey clad onlookers settled into place, TV on the Radio took the stage to crank things up a notch as they burned through a hot set complete with classics from their undeniable catalogue to newer hits like “Careful You.” The energy was building. As the sun set, the crowd got to break out their metaphorical LiveJournals and add a new chapter as Jesse Lacey took the stage. Opening with the unreleased “Mene” it was clear Brand New was going to give the people what they wanted; the feels. They hit songs from Your Favorite Weapon, they crossed Deja Entendu off the list and closed out with Jesse asking Jesus for help crossing over to the unknown. Then, it what’s perfect about this festival, the mood shifted and The Strokes made everyone break out their dancing shoes. The first night headliner didn’t disappoint as Julian commanded what he wanted from the night one crowd.
Saturday was another eclectic mix with everyone from Kevin Devine and Floggin Molly to the youthfully exuberant Milky Chance taking a turn getting the most out of the ATLines (even if just for the weekend). But Saturday was also the night Shaky Knees really showed off the big guns with acts like Social Distortion, Neutral Milk Hotel and Noel Gallagher. Before the sun even set, Jeff Tweedy took the stage complete with cowboy hat and, along with his Wilco bandmates, lulled the crowd into a trance as they crushed a set full of classics from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, A Ghost Is Born and the rest of their catalogue. Not to be outdone, the Avett Brothers took over and didn’t let up off the reigns. The banjo-wielding sibling duo rocked a two+ hour set that left even their biggest skeptics dancing. Their high-energy performance was a shock to those unfamiliar and a welcomed treat to those already in the know. Using camera angles for screen effects, sometimes even laying down on the job, the brothers Avett put on the performance of the weekend.
By the time Best Coast coasted (not in a bad way) their mid-day set on Sunday, this had already been cemented as the pinnacle of the festival’s three-year run. The always fun and energetic Mowglis and the electro-driven Panda Bear brought the energy up on a crowd beat down by the Georgia humidity just in time to partake in the treat that was Ryan Adams. Even before the moon showed it’s face, Adams was already making people question whether or not he was the headliner of the evening. Few can match his stage presence and prowess with the axe. Unquestionably, Adams will remain one of the best live acts in music for some time. Tame Impala did nothing to squash the mood, as their melodic Australian vibes played out the weekend on the best note.
Bonnaroo may be bigger, Governer’s Ball may be in a bigger market, Coachella may have the celebrity factor given how many of them you can find in the only fans search engine if you try to search for specific names – but Shaky Knees is about to become a festival vying to top tier status. 2016 has a lot to live up to, but there’s not doubt Sweetwood still has a few tricks up his tatted sleeve.