Well folks, festival season is officially upon us. The ever burgeoning, continually fluctuating industry of outdoor music en masse has made returned to make its first mid-major appearance in the Southeast.
2017 marked the triumphant fourth year of what remains to be one of the longest standing (at this point) independent festivals in the country – Shaky Knees.
It also happens to be one of Lockeland Springsteen’s favorite festivals; due to the fact this year marks the fourth straight year of coverage L/S made the hajj to Atlanta.
A predominantly indie festival set against the backdrop of a hip-hop market – don’t worry, though, there’s Shaky Beats for 808 fans – Shaky Knees has metamorphosized into a captivating unicorn of music festivals.
There is no “pay $500” to shoot a set feature. No social influencers with VIP privileges at their beck and call. No VR Experience brought to you by Samsung. No $12,000 packages that feature all-inclusive accommodations in the Bahamas while hanging with Ja Rule. No H&M or Urban Outfitters premium line of festival wear.
Instead, Shaky Knees remains the Robin Hood of festivals – something for every brand of music fan, otherwise known as the “everyfan” (okay, might be a stretch, but it hammers the point home) – bringing good music to the good people of Atlanta and its surrounding areas.
Outside of its predominant accessibility, another aspect of Shaky Knees’ allure lies in the festival’s consistently solid practice of booking reputable indie artists.
With up and comers like Whitney, Car Seat Headrest, and Warpaint alongside stalwarts such as LCD Soundsystem, The xx, and Sylvan Esso, Shaky Knees’ lineup stands in indie solidarity with its wholly indie lineup.
Granted, not all acts are uniquely indie – Cage the Elephant is on RCA and Portugal. The Man is on Atlantic – but they makeup for their major label musings with impenetrably indie spirits.
Anyway, enough of this festival monopoly and indie brouhaha; let’s talk about the music (its about time).
Not to sound too biased (actually, I am), but Nashville bands won the weekend of Shaky Knees 2017. Not to take anything away from the headliners, but Cage the Elephant, Ron Gallo, Anderson East, Moon Taxi, and Tyler Bryant all managed to put on sets that seemed to far exceed the crowd participation and infatuation of the rest of Shaky Knees’ lineup.
The (expected) standout performance came during the festival’s first day, with Nashville’s favorite rock n’ roll band of Bowling Green transplants warming up the Peachtree main stage for none other than James Murphy and his extended LCD Soundsystem reunion.
If I felt it were necessary, this (Cage’s set) is the moment in the festival recap in which I might offer up a blow for blow account of Baby Blue (Matt Schultz) taking the crowd by storm with their Tell Me I’m Pretty shredders and Mick Jagger-iest of flair. But then again, I’d probably be underselling the pure and absolute magnificence of Schultz as a front man and Cage’s live set as a whole.
In short, it might be best for the uninformed to take a work sabbatical and head for a YouTube deep dive during their lunch break in order to come up to speed on just how frenetic and phenomenal Cage’s live show is. For those readers who are privy to the Schultz Bros. and their cohorts’ live excellence, just know that there was plenty of gyrating and vein bulging rock n’ roll to be found, along with some fantastic crowd interaction.
So, Cage the Elephant emerged as the undisputed champions of Shaky Knee’s first day – not that it’s a competition or anything (it isn’t) – and set a bar so incredibly high, it was almost certain no one on day two would come remotely close to flirting with attaining such levels of universal entertainment.
But, it would become glaringly apparent that such presumptions would have been too quick to wit and rather haughty (to put it in mid-Regency era terms), because Anderson East and Moon Taxi had their own powerhouse performances to put on full display.
Between the two, East and his soul baring band members probably had the tougher of the two sets – an early afternoon sizzler on the Peachtree stage situated directly in the most immediate of UV rays – but nevertheless had every single person in the crowd swooning with each raspy twinged tune. Running through is set of soul standards and Delilah crowd pleasers, East sweat had each and every sun burnt head and heart in the palm of his hand, even while sweating through his white polo shirt.
As for Moon Taxi’s set, they had the benefit of playing on the shady Piedmont stage with a nice cool breeze rolling in during their late afternoon, just before sunset. Moon Taxi’s set has grown into a festival favorite over the years, as the giant beach balls and jam band proclivities all but serve as the life blood for the majority of festival heads. Needless to say, their set was classic Moon Taxi fare.
And last, but certainly not least of the Nashville bands making the Atlanta stop off this past weekend was none other than Nashville’s own resident psychotic garage rocker Ron Gallo.
Having the distinct pleasure of being the second to last (POND was the final) act to perform upon the Ponce de Leon stage. The smallest of the three stages, Ponce de Leon housed spine tingling and fervent sets from Twin Peaks, Pinegrove, Run River North, Preoccupations, and Fantastic Negrito the days before.
In all honesty, it was arguably the best stage of the fest, and Gallo by far and away put on the most entertaining of sets Ponce de Leon (the stage, not the Fountain of Youth obsessed explorer) saw all festival. Running through Heavy Meta with the popular Ron Gallo banter – “This next one is an absolute festival banger. Its called “Why Do You Have Kids?” – that flew all but over the majority of people’s heads in the best of ways.
So, as I alluded to earlier, this is a highly biased recap of Shaky Knees, focusing almost entirely on the Nashville acts, but then again, Lockeland Springsteen is a Nashville blog, so I’d say its par for the course.
Nevertheless, there were other bands that played exceptional sets in Atlanta, like Whitney on Piedmont stage the day before they take the Ryman stage opening for fellow Shaky Knees headliner Phoenix. There were The xx closing out day two on yet another festival set on the band’s I Dare You world tour. There were the aforementioned Ponce de Leon sets that exceeded the majority of expectations (outside of Gallo, the most notable being Fantastic Negrito – that dude is a rock n roller). There were the lineup curveballs, like Bishop Briggs and Lewis del Mar, that commanded some of the largest small stage crowds of the festival, as well.
All in all, Nashville was well represented down at Shaky Knees this past weekend, and indie music as a whole had as good a showing as one could hope, to boot. Who knows how long Shaky Knees can stay fully indie before Live Nation or Goldenvoice drop the right dollar amount to see it shift ownership, but for now, indie music is alive and well in Atlanta at Shaky Knees.