hissing lawns got press credentials for Atlanta’s Shaky Knees Music Fest in both 2014 and 2015 — you can find all of our posts here — but this year our press request was turned down.
After that rejection and after another possibility to shoot photos fell through, I was planning to sit out this year’s Shaky Knees, but then some friends offered a ride to Atlanta for day 2 of the festival and even had access to a free loft just a couple of blocks from Centennial Olympic Park. No brainer. We hit the road about 9:30 a.m. on Saturday — good conversation certainly makes I-16 less boring. We decided to splurge and get VIP day passes ($250), but more on that in a moment. I’ll begin with the good stuff: the music. (I took along my Fuji x100t, so I got some photos, but nothing like those I would have gotten with my DSLR.)
We started the day with Day Wave, a project of Jackson Phillips from Oakland, Calif. The band has been described as dream pop, but that term doesn’t really describe the high-energy live show.
Then we headed to Noah Gundersen on the neighboring stage. I love the density, emotion, and passion of Gundersen’s work, and I hope to have chances to see the Seattle-based performer again soon.
I only caught the final two songs of The Dear Hunter, but I was really impressed with the stirring choruses. And I was equally impressed by Deer Tick, who sounded great in their late afternoon set on Shaky Knees’ main stage.
I love the ethereal folky rock of Phosphorescent — Matthew Houck’s lyrics and vocals contain worlds of emotion — but I wasn’t sure how the sound would transfer to a big outdoor festival. As it turned out, no worries at all; Houck and his band kicked up the roots rock on the uptempo numbers, but still commanded the park with subtler work like “Song for Zula”, which sounded fantastic even though I was marooned far from the stage.
Man, where have The Vaccines been all my life? I only caught a few minutes of their set, but I’d love to see them again soon — and it was certainly no surprise to read later that they’ve toured with Palma Violets, one of my favorites of the 2015 Shaky Knees.
Silversun Pickups was next on my list. I heard some complaints about the mix, but by the time I settled into the VIP area stage right, the longstanding indie rockers from L.A. sounded just fine. I haven’t paid much attention to Silversun Pickups, to be honest, but I’m anxious to dig back through their growing catalog — I love the vocals on a track like “Lazy Eye”:
I had never seen The Decemberists live, and I’m sure glad I sidled up close to the stage before their Shaky Knees set began. Colin Meloy’s voice still sounds incredibly pure, and the band had the crowd around me enthralled. If we hadn’t been standing on grass, you would have been able to hear a pin drop when Meloy picked up his acoustic guitar for a mesmerizing version of “Carolina Low”.
As the sun set and the stage lights took over, the band just got better and better.
My Morning Jacket gets a little too jammy for my tastes sometimes, but that’s one of the qualities that makes them such a compelling headliner for a big festival like Shaky Knees.
The production values were stellar for MMJ, and Jim James seemed in full command of his band, the huge crowd, and maybe even the weather, which turned suddenly windy and chilly during the two hour set. I especially liked Saturday’s rendition of “Believe (Nobody Knows)” and wonderful cover of “Purple Rain”.
We were back at our loft by 11:30, but then we mustered our energy and Ubered over to Terminal West for the Scottish band Frightened Rabbit and Caveman from New York, which was one of several stellar latenight Shaky Knees offerings.
Terminal West is an excellent venue — capacity about 600, with excellent sight lines, lighting, and sound. We only caught a few minutes of Caveman’s set, but I was thrilled to see Frightened Rabbit for the first time — Scott Hutchison is a charismatic frontman — and I’m anxious to get to know the band’s new album Painting of a Panic Attack.
This is just the 4th year of Shaky Knees, and this was the festival’s 4th venue. Central Park and the nearby parking lots at the Atlanta Civic Center worked really well last year, I thought, but uncertainty about the Civic Center’s future forced the 3-day event to move.
We arrived at Centennial Park on Saturday just as lunch was being served in the VIP area near the main stage — that was a nice surprise since meals weren’t even promised on the website. We snagged our first free beers easily, and I was feeling pretty good about the $250 investment.
But then various logistical issues manifested themselves. The second stage had relatively bad sightlines, including a slope downward for about half the audience, and no VIP area at all. By late afternoon, there were about 100 people in line for the bar in the main VIP area. At 5:30 p.m., all the food trucks except the pizza place had LONG lines, and the tented walk-up food vendors were a long hike away.
And about that hike. The 3rd and 4th stages required crossing Marietta Street, which was not closed to traffic. So the festival installed a temporary pedestrian bridge — it seemed safe enough despite the creaks and wobbles and despite being dubbed “Shaky Bridge” by Melissa Rugierri at the AJC — but the foot traffic backed up occasionally, despite the efforts of the event staff, and that meant more time in transit and less time listening to music.
And hey, Bill, haven’t you been dying to see Shakey Graves? Why didn’t you go to that? We were settled on the grass maybe about 60 yards from the stage just before Shakey Graves began, but then he didn’t begin. There was no announcement about the delay (apparently there was a busted generator), and then we could see but not hear that Graves was on stage singing. I checked the festival’s Twitter, which had no information about the delay but did have an overly cute tweet about the “awesome acoustic singalong.” Technical issues happen, sure, but the delay could have been handled much better.
Graves eventually played, but the schedule change resulted in some overlap of the two main stages, which caused the sound to bleed. I ended up missing the whole set.
In 2015, the layout allowed those walking to and from the 3rd and 4th stages to pass the smallest stage — so even if you didn’t stop, you still got a legit taste of another act. But this year the 5th stage was in a corner of the park isolated from the main pathways.
Centennial Park was really beautiful, especially after dark, but some of these logistics need to be reconsidered before next year — unless the festival goes 5 for 5 and heads somewhere else in 2017.