Upon exiting our Uber (which had been redirected out of the labyrinthine GPS route that sent us straight to the backstage area), I realized that I had made a massive mistake on the first day of Shaky Knees: I was wearing jeans.
Having left for Atlanta from Nashville shortly after 7:30 with fellow contributor Olivia Hall, I was dressed in comfortable Tennessee morning clothes. A four hour ride, one time zone change and one rushed exit from my friend’s house in Cabbagetown later and here we were: Central Park, a festival venue that seemed deceivingly small on Google Maps only to reveal itself as a behemoth of a metropolitan oasis.
Maybe I shouldn’t use the word “oasis” to describe a Southern climate that was more reminiscent of the desert surrounding an oasis. While the first two iterations of Shaky Knees were pulverized by torrential downpours (to the point that the festival sold official T-shirts with the slogan “100% Chance of Rain” emblazoned across the back), this year’s was a hot one, and this writer felt on more than one occasion like he was seven inches from the midday sun.
Santana references and meteorological analyses aside, let’s get into the actual reason why anyone would want to dedicate time out of their day to reading about a music festival that they weren’t at: a top ten list! While literally every single member of the music press attending these things will have a completely different experience either being on assignment or free to take on their own, I’m going to list my own ten defining moments of the weekend (listicled in descending order for maximum reader retention) based on a personally constructed schedule, hopefully convincing you that this list is the only list that you should accept into your consciousness as complete and irrefutable fact.
Without further ado, I present you to Lockeland Springsteen’s First Annual Shaky Knees Power Rankings:
10.) The city of Nashville
Don’t roll your eyes too hard. I know what you’re saying in your head: “OF COURSE the Nashville-based music blog wants to make everything about Nashville!” And you’re kind of right, I commend the intuition. But I’ll be damned if I couldn’t shake familiar faces from going out to shows around town, or escape the creeping influence of the city’s voraciously spreading local music scene.
From festival openers Blank Range (my personal apology for not being able to get around to interviewing you guys, I heard good things throughout the weekend both from the crowd and other members of the press) to the Sunday hangover slot occupied by L/S favorite Nikki Lane (also, sorry for not getting around to interviewing you either, but I knew that I would be Sunday hungover from going to Sister Louisa’s the night before and in need of a Comfy Chicken biscuit to cure my ills), New Nashville was out in full force.
9.) The video screens at the main stages
Thanks to a flying drone (which dadcore icon/TV On The Radio frontman Tunde Adebimpe was not a big fan of) and state of the art cameras, you could easily make out the happenings on the Peachtree and Piedmont stages from even a very generous distance. I can’t reasonably describe how impressively crisp these things were, especially when compared to my only other point of reference: the cable antenna quality potato cameras at Bonnaroo.
Shaky Knees overseer Tim Sweetwood made a smart investment by resolving a constant complaint (Bonnaroo JUST installed screens at the always crowded tent stages a mere fourteen years in), just one of the many promising facets of this still adolescent festival.
8.) Ryan Adams’ fantasy bedroom
I’m a sucker for innovative stage design, so there wasn’t a lot of visual stimulation at a festival so heavily driven by indie rock bands with small production budgets. Even The Strokes couldn’t wrest enough figures away from Julian Casablancas’ alcohol budget to muster up anything more than a few columns of overhead lighting.
Conversely, James Blake’s lighting programmer deserves a Nobel Prize and Brand New’s setup was tastefully dramatic, though they should probably donate some of their tour revenues to The National’s production team. For my money, though, the best stage design of the weekend was one that I presume a lot of you reading this might be familiar with.
Ryan Adams played a solid set for a solid hour, but that’s to be expected. The main reason I’ll remember his set (other than his excellent banter about drunken Atlanta nights and meeting Dr. Dog) is not the music, but his murderer’s row of geeky stage adornments: an arcade machine, a vintage Dr. Pepper vending machine, two taxidermied felines and four comically oversized amplifiers. I was surrounded by all the dads at Shaky Knees during his set (before retreating to the King of Pops stand for the umpteenth time) and I could sense their collective jealousy over a guy their age actually making good on all of his fantastical childhood dreams.
7.) Festival style, or #festivalstyle
Now I might have a terrible sense of fashion myself (remember how I started this article wearing jeans?), but that doesn’t mean that I can’t appreciate the always fascinating trends of festival season. This year’s new wave: Hawaiian shirts. I didn’t even plan for the thought that the tropically patterned short-sleeve might be having its revival when I packed one of my own (a Goodwill find purchased for my 2014 Halloween outfit) for the weekend.
Hawaiian shirts are definitely stylish and unique, but above all they’re comfortable. And really, when you’re battling the elements of the unforgiving summer, comfort is key. One of my friends from Florida (pictured to the right) also accidentally wore jeans to the first day as well, only he had his friends make good of the uncomfortable situation by ripping the jeans and transforming them into a new clothing item entirely.
As far as female festival fashion is concerned, I’m not the most adept critic, but it seems as if the flower crown is not going away anytime soon. Just ask the young girl hunched headfirst into a full-sized trash can at the main field minutes before Tame Impala, face covered from the shame of vomiting. Her flower crown was not as forgiving, its store bought adornment peeking out from the edges of the receptacle just enough for everyone to see.
6.) Mac Demarco’s cover band
Finally, let’s get to some actual music. Or not. Mac Demarco’s heavily attended Friday afternoon set was perfectly adequate, bearing all the goofy touchstones we have come to accept as normal for the gap-toothed Canadian songbird. Yes, there were strange unidentifiable accents. And overalls. There was also crowdsurfing. There was also a guy passed out on the asphalt next to his own vomit (pictured to the left) before Mac even started, powering through a fizzling cigarette like a true champion.
Best of all, there was a Coldplay cover. And a Red Hot Chili Peppers tease. One of Mac’s backing musicians (not sure of his name) had his shining moment, deciding to take the reins on what started out as a joking rendition of the opening chords of early Coldplay hit “Yellow”, belting that soft rock radio staple like he was Chris Martin himself. I make that comparison to say, in a roundabout way, that the guy sounded awful. But damn if it wasn’t a uniquely hilarious moment in a festival where most of the acts took themselves just a bit too seriously.
Now if only they really committed to that “Californication” cover.
Words and photography by Kevin Brown /// Official festival photography courtesy of aLive Coverage
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