Shaky Knees Fest Day 1 – review + photos of The National, The Gaslight Anthem, Cage The Elephant, Foals, Dropkick Murphys

On The Hold Steady’s debut record Almost Killed Me, Craig Finn marvels, “Certain songs, they get so scratched into our souls.”

As attendees withstood the rain throughout Friday and into Saturday’s downpour during Conor Oberst, The Replacements, and Jenny Lewis, the 2014 Shaky Knees Fest in Atlanta certainly proved that, when true-blue fans are about to hear treasured songs like “Fake Empire,” “I Will Dare,” and “Float On,” even the heaviest May shower isn’t going to deter them. For three days, Shaky Knees bands delivered to a soggy but exhilarated audience. Boy, did they deliver.


Day 1’s forecast called for 50% chance of rain. As soon as I exited 85 with Atlantic Station in my sight, the sky broke and the first phase of a weekend of sporadic weather began. After hearing about last year’s rain and mud, I came prepared with a raincoat and boots and stepped into an unforgettable weekend. I will say that when I entered the festival grounds, it was all a bit overwhelming — I much prefer smaller venues to fighting for a spot in a sea of people these days — but after a little time exploring the area and the fact that I was about to witness a spectacular lineup in the flesh, I was back in super-fan mode. My boots are currently on my front porch, drying out from the weekend, but I’m still on cloud nine.

Petee beat me up I-16 and snapped some great shots of Irish-punk favorites Dropkick Murphys.

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English indie-rockers Foals pleased the crowd as well:

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My Shaky Knees experience began with Cage The Elephant. Frontman Matt Shultz was an absolute delight to watch as he darted across the stage, teetered on the edge to reach toward fans, and threw his blond locks around, anchored only by a lengthy mic cable and a very occupied cable wrangler (Petee and I decided he’d make an excellent stagehand for Josh Sterno). With his passionate interaction with the audience & bandmates and stadium-worthy vocals, Shultz is a natural born rock n’ roll singer, belting out hits like “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked” for a full throttle, crowd-pleasing set.

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Next was The Gaslight Anthem, one of the finest power-pop/emo-tinged bands to come out of the late 2000s. While my spot in the audience made it difficult to see the action on stage, it didn’t stop me from dancing my heart out with my Savannah-turned-Atlanta-residents friends and the rest of the audience, who threw their hands up and wailed along to hard-hitters like 2012’s “45.”

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As Gaslight Anthem guitarist Alex Rosamilia’s final chord rang out, the audience flocked back to Piedmont Stage for Friday’s big name, The National. I was interested to see how their intimate, careful songs would translate to a festival setting — listening to the records, it feels much more suitable for a small, quiet room — but the band delivered a deeply affecting and gorgeous show. The wistful guitar strains and undercurrent of deep melancholy that permeate beloved records like The Boxer and 2013’s Grammy-nominated Trouble Will Find Me swallowed the audience. Watching vocalist Matt Berninger, eyes closed, grasping the mic like a life preserver, was a distinctly individual experience within a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd and the perfect end to a great opening night.

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text by Anna Chandler, photos by Peterson Worrell