Shaky Knees Festival was held in Atlanta, Georgia from October 22nd thru the 24th, instead of the typical May dates, due to the pandemic.
Last year’s Shaky Knees was cancelled entirely; a casualty of COVID, leaving thousands of music lovers in the Southeast starved for their beloved festival and its array ire of music performances.
This year’s “SK” was one of its best. Right from the beginning, there were thousands of people flocking into Atlanta’s Central Park as soon as gates opened on Friday. All were hoping to secure a good spot and a concert T-shirt for their favorite bands. The line at the Merchandise tent never wavered throughout the weekend, as fans sought the treasures held within.
Atlanta has very pleasant weather in the fall, making it so much more comfortable than the usual “SK” May festival weather, where temperatures can reach up to 90 degrees. This may explain the high energy of the crowd this year.
Although Run the Jewels was on the main stage on Saturday night, and acts like Living Color and Arlo Parks were featured, the festival could have benefited with a more diverse line-up that could also attract a more diverse set of attendees. What it lacked in diversity, however, it certainly made up for in positivity. There was a band or artist for just about every preference.
The organizers did a great job of attracting a multiplicity of genres and styles. From the melodic to the heavy, but never aggressive. Since Friday was the first day of the festival, fans began by exploring the park to plan their schedules, ensuring their presence at their favorite artists’ performances.
Once acclimated, concertgoers appeared to be moving in herds, as they made their pilgrimages from stage to stage, hoping for a good glimpse of their musical heroes or new discoveries.
It did become clear, however, that for Friday night, Foo Fighters were the hot “ticket” for most fans – and who could blame them? Many had traveled from all over to attend “SK” in the biggest city in the Southeast – and Shaky Knees always delivers.
Talking to people from as far as Chicago, and as close as a few streets away, It seemed that everyone was just happy to be back together, secure in the fact that all attendees had to show proof of vaccination as the entered the gates. “This is what we’ve been waiting for all year”, said a man who had come all the way from Nashville to see Foo Fighters, The Strokes, The Hives and IDLES [we’ll get to IDLES on the Saturday recap. Spoiler Alert: They were one of the most dynamic bands of the entire festival].
The excitement continued to build, with bands like Glove, Specialists, Tejon Street Corner Thieves and more, as the crowd wandered throughout Atlanta’s Central Park, while Cults, and Dermot Kennedy entertained fans at the main stage: “Peachtree.”
Shaky Knees is divided by four different stages – three of which are named for Atlanta Streets:
- Peachtree: The main stage where all closing acts performed.
- Piedmont: The second largest stage, adjacent to the main stage and allowing for quick access between them both.
- Ponce De Leon: The third largest stage, on the opposite side of the park, where indie bands with slightly smaller audiences perform.
- Criminal Records Stage: An even smaller venue, but one with a vibrant line-up of up-and-coming artists.
The stars of the night were St. Vincent and Foo Fighters. As an artist and performer, St. Vincent is the complete package. From choreography, to production to performance, she hit all the right notes, enthralling the crowd.
The “Fighters” closed the evening with an unprecedented three-hour performance full of energy and amazing riffs. They have the entire audience singing along with every single song. They even teased the fans with some “Nirvana” intros. [note: the band did not allow photography]
As the night wound down, it was clear that Shaky Knees, 2021 was off to a great start, leaving the audiences craving more.
Day Two of Shaky Knees drew and even bigger crowd than Day One, and offered more excellent music options for fans to pursue. The weather continued to be kind to the festivalgoers, though a bit sunnier and warmer than the previous day. This caused a literal “dust up” in certain areas of the park, kicked up by the many fans walking through the well-worn paths.
Saturday’s Shaky Knees offered what was, arguably, the greatest variety of musical styles of the entire festival – matched only by the variety of appetizing fare; from jalapeno corndogs, to classic burgers, to chicken-bacon quesadillas and chocolate-drizzled funnel cakes. Each venue provided a sound (and a snack) for every taste.
Neil Francis played a fun and uplifting set with songs from Changes, his first album, and his latest, In Plain Sight. He and his band brought the funk, pop, R&B, psychedelic and even a whiff of disco – all inspired by the 1970s. He would have looked at home with any glam rocker of that era, as he threw his head from side to side bouncing his carefully-coiffed long “shag” to the beat as he played the keyboard. All-in-all a “groovy” good time!
Garbage was anything but. Shirley Manson and crew played at the main stage in the early evening, and were as sharp and strong as ever! Manson is a funny and feisty frontwoman. She was in great voice, and thoroughly engaged the audience. Their excellent cover of “Your Own Personal Jesus” was one of the highlights of their performance – in addition to their many hits. [note: the band did not allow photography]
Next up, were The Hives, certainly one of the most fun acts of “SK.” This “Fab Five” arrived on stage in white dinner jackets and black tie, ready to put on a show. This Swedish band (clearly influenced by U.S. garage-rock) knew how to whip-up their many fans with a guitar-heavy, pop-infused sound. Working the crowd became an artform in the hands of their charismatic leader; “Howlin’” Pelle Almqvist, by far the cockiest Swede most of us will ever encounter. There is a word in Swedish called “Lagom.” It can be translated into, “just the right amount,” “in moderation”, or “perfectly-simple.” These guys are NOT “Lagom” (and that’s a great thing!).
Portugal. The Man delivered an impressive set, with much more of a heavy sound than most fans may have anticipated. With a bizarre and artfully-animated projection behind them, they wove a unique web of music, from their biggest hits, like “Feel It Still,” and “Modern Jesus” and some unexpected gems, like a cover of Nirvana’s “In Bloom”. The band set a mood that delighted festivalgoers, who gave them their rapt attention.
Then, came the “Sophie’s Choice” of the evening: Music lovers were forced to choose between the rock legend, Alice Cooper (a spry 73 years old ), and the dynamic, soon-to-be punk gods IDLES. For one of the smaller stages, IDLES played it big! These Brits were pure energy; from the angry, yet exuberant essence of lead, Joseph Talbot, to the frilly-dress-clad guitarist, Lee Kiernan, who immediately jumped into the crowd, IDLES exuded head-banging, subversive power that was openly embraced by their crowd-surfing, nearly-rabid fanbase.
At the same time, on the other side of the park, septuagenarian Alice Cooper had thousands of fans willingly partaking of his “Poison”. Say what you will, but Cooper is nothing if not a showman. He brings his still-strong, dynastic rock to people a quarter of his age, who still hang on every lyric and lick. He ended, ironically, with a huge, inflated (and disturbing) rock “baby” who menaced the stage, while Cooper “battled” him into submission.
The icing on the cake was Run the Jewels, who took the main stage at 9:45 PM. Atlanta-based “Killer Mike” and Brooklyn native, “El-P” immediately enthralled the impressive audience with their clear chemistry and hip-hop pedigree. The bass moved the crowd (literally, if you were standing in proximity of the enormous speakers), and these experienced showmen knew just how to excite their fans (and even gave a “shout-out” to the pit photographers). Their sometimes angry, but always ebullient lyrics played well in the space, particularly with numbers like “Legend Has It” and “Ooh La La”. It was oblivious that the duo was happy to be back in “Atlanta-fucking-Georgia” (as Killer Mike put it).
The final day of Shaky Knees did not disappoint. It boasted a line-up of eclectic and accomplished musicians, beginning in the early afternoon with Michigander.
Michigander (aka, Jason Singer) is a giant of a man, with a giant talent. He and his band of “merry men” surprised many in the crowd with a guitar-heavy sound that really rocked the house. He professed his love for Atlanta, and it was clear that Atlanta loved him back.
Next came The Aubreys, a duo composed of Stranger Things star Finn Wolfhard and his childhood bestie Malcom Craig. Both have recently exited their first band, Calpurnia (QRO photos at Shaky Knees ’19), after deciding to pare down and simplify. While one might think that The Aubreys inclusion in Shaky Knees was solely based on Wolfhard’s fame, these kids were actually quite vibrant and energetic, andtheir short set went a long way to endear them to the audience (and not just the youngest in the crowd).
The late afternoon brought one of the best acts of the day, Orville Peck. With his trademark fringed mask and cowboy gear, he immediately enthralled the sizeable audience at the main stage. His voice boomed through each song, reminiscent of classic country greats, like Hank Williams or George Jones. The juxtaposition of a proud gay man, who is also a country music icon, was a sight to behold. From the incredibly powerful “Big Sky,” to “Roses are Falling”, Peck demonstrated his ability to breathe new life into the C&W genre.
It was probably a bit tough for Ritt Momney (aka: Jack Rutter), who faced the unfortunate dilemma of being scheduled opposite Peck. He was, however, an excellent alternative for those seeking a thoughtful, indie-pop lark, making everyone who was lucky enough to be in the audience, happy for their choice. From his breakout hit cover, “Put Your Records On”, to his original “Something in General,” Rutter has an uncanny knack for finding the heart of any given subject or sound. At 21, Ritt Momney has a very bright future.
The early evening transformed into an unabashed “girl power” celebration, with an incredibly fun performance from The Aces, four women who bring an updated perception of what it means to be a female artist today. Their powerful, yet hopeful body of work – always upbeat and optimistic – defies all stereotypes of what it means to be a performer with two X chromosomes. With cultural commentary on songs like “My Phone is Trying to Kill Me” and personal journeys, like “Volcanic Love”, The Aces were not only a great band, but an inspiration to girls (and queers, and Latinx people) everywhere!
The final three acts of the evening had the most punch; beginning with Modest Mouse, at the main stage, then the effervescent, Phoebe Bridgers, and finally, crowd-favorites, The Stokes.
Despite their incredible body of work, Modest Mouse (and lead, Isaac Brock), can sometimes be uneven in their performance. However, after some technical difficulties, Modest Mouse rose to the challenge, leaving nothing on the table in their 45 minute-long set. Brock, and his cadre of guitarists and percussionists, demonstrated their ability to bring people together for a memorable, rock and roll experience, derived from a lifetime of making music together.
Next, was the ever-popular and earnest, Phoebe Bridgers, who put on a memorable performance, captivating her devoted fans. The singer-songwriter performed songs from Stranger in the Alps and Punisher (QRO review). The adoration of considerable following was obvious, with plenty of audience members clad in Bridgers’ signature skeleton onesies, inspired by her music video for “Punisher”. With her beloved body of work, including songs like the apropos, “Georgia” from Bridgers’ 2017 album, and “Stranger in the Alps, ,Bridgers celebrates everything her fans “stan” for.
Finally, after an 18 minute delay, it was time for the main event; The Strokes. Julian, Albert, Fabrizio, Nikolai, and Nick took to the stage, beginning with the headbanger, “Hard to Explain”. Julian Casablancas may have lost a step or two in terms of his vocal range, and energy level, but overall, the band sounded great. Serving up a bit of shade, Casablancas introduced it as “Ode To The Dodgers” (actually, “Ode To The Mets”), a dig to Atlanta Braves, who had just advanced to the World Series over L.A. (talk about biting the hand that feeds you!). All of the missteps aside, however, The Strokes know how to craft a song, and a show, and the crowd was eager to forgive any wrong turns and embrace the moment.
As the throngs left Atlanta’s Central Park on a balmy, overcast night, they walked away having experienced an extraordinary three days of music – a very welcome distraction from a very non-welcome pandemic.
-words: Christy Amador
-photos: Hector Amador