Last week, I made my way southbound to Atlanta for the 3rd annual Shaky Knees Music Festival. In typical springtime Atlanta fashion, the entire weekend was hot as balls, but the lineup was stacked, the crowds were wild, and I was ready for some killer live music, old and new. So let’s dive right in.
Artists: The Kooks, Mac Demarco, Kaiser Chiefs, TV on the Radio, The Strokes
Opening day was a day full of lessons for my festival group: budget your time with artists you aren’t set on, stay hydrated, and GET TO THE FOOD TRUCKS EARLY. We learned the third point the hard way, waiting over an hour for burgers and missing The Pixies (though we could hear them from over the hill).
The Kooks and Kaiser Chiefs were both fun, Mac Demarco was decent considering I’ve never been a huge fan, and TV on the Radio was surprisingly disappointing. It was my first time seeing them and I had incredibly high expectations. They strike me as a band that is better to see on their own as opposed to a festival setting, so I’ll definitely give them another shot.
The Strokes were the glaringly obvious highlight of the day. At 36, Julian Casablancas has not lost one shred of his jaded 20-something aura, and after seeing them live I’m fairly convinced he never will.
Artists: Real Estate, The Black Lips, Neutral Milk Hotel, Milky Chance, Wilco, The Avett Brothers
The day began about as relaxed as one could hope at a festival; laying on the grass, eating artisan Popsicles (you read that right), and taking in the ambient melodies of Real Estate. There’s no other way to enjoy them. My ultimate goal of the day: front row for Neutral Milk Hotel for the second time. So I raced to their stage in time to catch The Black Lips, an endearingly authentic classic punk act from Dunwoody, GA. You could tell these guys have had plenty of run ins with the APD, and it only makes them sound better.
I could write an entirely independent article about Neutral Milk Hotel, but I’ll sum it up: amazing. As expected. They played the same set minus the encore from Pitchfork last summer, so it felt familiar in the best kind of way. Needless to say, I hope to see them again soon.
Milky Chance came as the first major surprise of the weekend, far exceeding their studio quality for a funky, danceable set that made me think of an instrumental Daft Punk. Wilco was outrageous. No other words. As clichéd as it sounds, ‘Heavy Metal Drummer’ may have been the best part of their set, and the seamless transition into ‘I’m The Man who Loves You’ didn’t hurt one bit either.
In order to leave in time to grab food, I unfortunately had to leave in the middle of the Avett Brothers set. No doubt about it, that was the biggest regret of my weekend.
Artists: The Mowglis, The Sheepdogs, Frank Turner, Dr. Dog, Panda Bear, Trombone Shorty
I had to leave a few hours early on Sunday due to family commitments, but the only act I REALLY missed out on was Tame Impala, who I’m seeing at Lollapalooza this year anyway, so no real heartbreak.
I’d be hard pressed to find a band more infectiously lively and happy than The Mowglis, who ripped through their set in a packed tent with hundreds of people dancing their asses off. I’ll never forget it. Surprise #2 of the weekend was The Sheepdogs, a group out of Saskatchewan with a bona fide southern-twinged early 70’s rock vibe (Marshall Tucker, Bad Company, Grand Funk Railroad). I’ve been listening to most of their catalogue since then, no regrets whatsoever.
I’ve never been that sold on Frank Turner, who I can only describe as Brit-country, but he made quite a case for himself on Sunday. The man has a seriously committed following and it’s easy to see why. Am I a convert? Not really. Was I impressed? Absolutely.
Dr. Dog, in spite of my already high expectations, was surprise #3. I was absolutely blown away by their set, reminding me of a more rock-based version of Pet Sounds era Beach Boys. Their extended jam of ‘Be the Void’ would have to be the single-song highlight of the weekend.
Panda Bear, while vocally powerful and characteristically funky, as only Noah Lennox’s brand of experimental indie can be, came up short for me. Perhaps it was because I foolishly hoped he would treat us with a few Animal Collective hits. Or the fact that I saw him by myself. But in either case, I would see him again to give myself the chance to reevaluate.
Top 3 Acts:
1. Neutral Milk Hotel
2. The Strokes
3. Dr. Dog
Honorable Mention: The Sheepdogs
Overall, Shaky Knees was undoubtedly one of the best musical experiences of my life. If they have a lineup even close to the quality of this year’s in the future, you can bet I’ll be traveling back to Atlanta. And I have plenty of faith that they will.