This year is the 10th anniversary of the Shaky Knees Music Festival in Atlanta, Georgia and it’s off to a great start!
There were some configuration changes in Central City Park this year, including a new festival entrance, a new home for the massive merch tent, and a new, larger Ponce De Leon Stage – and the changes seem to have helped festival goers move more smoothly through the venue, as thousands began showing up early Friday afternoon.
Even a few sprinkles, (lasting into the evening), couldn’t dampen the mood of the crowd. On the plus side, the rain brought unseasonably cool weather – a welcome change from the sometimes-sweltering May in Atlanta.
This is shaping up to be another year of the more “minor” acts stealing the show – beginning with Surf Curse, who played the Piedmont Stage. Led by founders Nick Rattigan (vocals and drums) and Jacob Rubeck (as well as newcomers Noah Kroll and Henry Dillon), their upbeat alt-pop sound is hard to categorize, but they lit up the audience with favorites, including “Freaks” and “Disco”. Although they’ve been around for ten years, they are finding new success as new fans discover them through Tik Tok, among other platforms.
Next was Peaches, who electrified festival-goers at the Criminal Records Stage, the smallest in the venue. It’s difficult to describe her show – but her exuberance and over-the-top sexuality is a sight to behold. She entered the stage donning a long, blonde bouffant wig, with a matching wig fastened between her legs. And if that wasn’t enough, she appeared to be sporting five bare breasts on her chest (which I can only assume were a costume ;)). She was flanked by two backup dancers dressed as vaginas – yes, I said it – vaginas. Her stage antics were matched by her immense energy and talent, with a mix of equal parts soul, hip-hop and punk.
As one could imagine, Peaches lyrics are as norm-bending as her choice of costumes – as she plays with social norms, including gender, politics and sexuality. She sang, danced and crowd-surfed her way into the hearts of the audience, with an extraordinary performance.
Another highly anticipated act was Digable Planets, A mainstay of early ‘90s hip-hop, they combined hip-hop, jazz and pop into something innovative, as well as highly entertaining. They are celebrating their 30th anniversary by reproducing their most successful album, Reachin’ (A New Refutation of Time and Space) on the Ponce De Leon Stage – and their fans couldn’t get enough. Craig “Doodlebug” Irving, Mariana “Ladybug Mecca” Viera and Ishmael “Butterfly” Butler still looked and sounded great, as they took fans on a journey through their hits, including; “Where I’m From”, “Time and Space” and their quintessential, “Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)”.
Next up was a fan favorite, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Karen O brought it to the Piedmont Stage. Her presence and showwomanship can’t be overstated. Her black pageboy haircut and fringed, red jumpsuit cut a striking figure – and her ability to excite a crowd is unmatched. Bandmates, Nick Zinner, Brian Chase and David Pajo backed her up with force and musicality, as they ran through hits like “Maps”, “Zero”, “Spitting Off the Edge of the World”, and the electrifying “Heads Will Roll”. After their amazing performance, it was difficult to imagine that they were not the headliners of the night.
Finally, The Killers took to the Peachtree Stage for the main event. They gave a perfectly entertaining performance, but did not seem to set the crowd alight like some of the earlier acts. Along with some of their hits, (“Mr. Brightside”, “Read My Mind”, “Smile Like You Mean It”, and “Human”), they played several songs from newer albums, that didn’t quite seem to connect with the audience. Though it couldn’t be characterized as unsuccessful, their performance didn’t seem to have the gravitas of some of the other acts.
As the night wound down, it was clear that Shaky Knees, 2023 has much to offer and anticipation is building for Saturday.
Saturday brought great weather and even greater talent to Shaky Knees. To the delight of concertgoers, the clouds parted to reveal a beautiful spring day, which made the commute from one stage to the next decidedly more enjoyable.
One early, and pleasant surprise on the Piedmont Stage, was ‘80s/’90s band, 311. Nick Hexum, P-Nut (a.k.a. Aaron Wills), S.A. Martinez, Chad Sexton and Tim Mahoney have been around a long time, but their sound was fresh and fun. In addition to a primer of their hits – including “Amber”, “Beautiful Disaster”, and “Down” – they gifted the crowd with an excellent cover of The Cure’s “I Will Always Love You”. This unexpected moment helped solidify them as a group who still has something to say.
Next, on the Criminal Record Stage, was the earnest and mellow Soccer Mommy (a.k.a. Sophia Regina Allison). She is accomplished, consistent and adept at telling stories with her lovely voice and effortless guitar. While her performance is a bit more pared down and less animated than some artists, it isn’t necessary for her to get her message across – her music speaks for itself. From hits, “Shotgun”, to “Circle the Drain” and “Bones”, she maintained her status as an audience favorite.
Moving to the Ponce De Leon Stage, fans were treated to an excellent show by dynamic duo, Phantogram. Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter performed as if they were on the main stage. While both bandmates are capable musicians, Sarah Barthel’s strong, clear voice and charismatic stage presence stole the show. With a compelling discography, including “Black Out Days”, “Fall in Love” and “When I’m Small”, the considerable crowd was on its feet during the entire set.
The night ended with an incredible performance by Muse. Much can be said about the band, but at the top of the list is their ability to put on a show. From their special effects and theatrics, to their meaningful Lyrics and hard driving sound – Matt Bellamy, Chris Wolstenholme and Dominic Howard optimize the term, “Rock Stars.” With Bellamy’s piercing falsetto and robust guitar, Wolstenholme’s virtuosity on the bass, and Howard’s hard driving drums, fans were transported to a world that clearly belongs to Muse. Hits like “Supermassive Black Hole”, “Starlight” and “Uprising” mesmerized and entertained the audience, elevating their experience. Even after the set concluded, festivalgoers didn’t seem to want the night to end.
As they filed out of Central City Park, it was obvious that fans of Muse – and Shaky Knees — were not disappointed. Sunday will have a hard act to follow.
Sunday, the final day of the Shaky Knees Music festival, was actually a “sun day.” The weather was somewhere between sublime and scorching, depending on the time of day – and as storms threatened in the afternoon, they were held at bay – perhaps by the incredible music in the air.
The tone was set early on, at the Criminal Records Stage, with an exceedingly energetic performance by OFF!. They may have been at the smallest stage, and scheduled before 3:00 PM, but they rocked as if they were at an enormous stadium on a starlit night. The punk pedigree of Keith Morris on vocals, Dimitri Coats on guitar, Autry Fullbright II on bass, and Justin Brown on drums, came through in the most powerful of ways. They may have been around since 2009, but they had the stamina of a much younger band. Their power moved fans into an impromptu mosh pit – clearly unphased by the early hour.
Next, the Piedmont Stage was alive… with LIVE! Ed Kowalski is the only remaining member of the band (after being fired by his fellow bandmates and reforming his own version of LIVE last year), but he was evidentially the most important ingredient in the mix. Like 311’s performance on Saturday, this ‘90s staple remains highly entertaining and relevant. Kowalski is still fit and his vocals are still quite powerful. His presence and strength connected with the audience – even with younger fans – as he rolled through hits like “Lightning Crashes”, “All Over You”, and “I Alone”. Kowalski has proven himself as the leader of the “real” LIVE.
Immediately following LIVE was Future Islands. This dynamic synth-pop band gave one of the best (if not the best) shows of the day. Samuel T. Herring, Gerrit Welmers, William Cashion and Michael Lowry brought their A-game to the Peachtree Stage. It began with a colorful, multimedia background that readied fans for Herring’s dramatic entrance. Bounding on stage, Herring danced, bounced and growled his way into the hearts of the audience with each number, which included, “A Dream of You and Me”, “A Song for Our Grandfathers” and “King of Sweden”. Mesmerizing their fans (and creating new ones) Future Islands revealed themselves as the kings (or at least, princes) of Shaky Knees.
Next up was Hozier. Certainly a hit with the many female fans in the audience, what he didn’t offer in terms of electric energy, he made up for with appeal, personality and sheer talent. With his beautiful singing voice and popular, yet meaningful lyrics, (and let’s face it – his movie star looks), Hozier held his own on the main stage, drawing a huge crowd. Satiating the audience with megahit, “Take Me to Church”, he went on to give strong performances of “Eat Your Young”, “Cherry Wine” and “Someone New”, among others. For his Atlanta fandom, he definitely lived up to the hype.
And after all the great performances, the Piedmont Stage hosted one of the most intriguing and enjoyable acts of the day, The Flaming Lips. The Lips introduced their brand of psychedelic rock, with a stage flanked by huge pink, inflatable robots and a trippy entrance by lead singer, Wayne Coyne, encased in a gigantic plastic bubble. Steven Drozd, Derrick Brown, Matt Duckworth Kirksey and Nicholas Ley backed Coyne up with virtuosity that can only come from decades of playing together. The Lips performed their most successful Album, 2002’s Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, which helped explain the unique stage setup and Coyne’s bubble. The sizable crowd was all-in from the very beginning, completely enthralled by the performance, making one wonder why they were not closing the show on the larger stage.
The Lumineers brought the show to a close – with a consistent, if not excitement-filled performance. The audience seemed to love every familiar number that Wesley Shultz sang, as Jermiah Fraites, and Neyla Pekarek accompanied him. Fans were ready for an upbeat and uncomplicated show – and they delivered in spades. “Ho Hey”, “Flowers In Your Hair”, “Were We Are”, and “Ophelia”, were among the buoyant standards shared with happy, albeit exhausted festival-goers.
As the sunny skies turned dark, and Shaky Knees came to an end, it was clear that the tenth anniversary edition of Shaky Knees was one for the books. May it go on for at least another decade.
-words: Christy Amador
-photos: Hector Amador (Chris Phelps for The Killers)