Needless to say, Day 2 of the Shaky Knees Music & Arts Festival started off very slow for me at first, even with the assistance of coffee. Overlooking the entire schedule, whilst sipping on some coffee, I noticed a pattern with some of the acts this year- Reunion of Influential Bands. Case in point: American Football (Friday), Death From Above 1979 (Friday), Pixies (Friday), Neutral Milk Hotel (Saturday), and RIDE (Sunday). American Football disbanded in 2000 (regrouped in 2014), DFA 1979 broke up in 2006 (reformed in 2011), Pixies broke up in 1993 (joined back up in 2004), Neutral Milk Hotel separated in 1999 (reunited in 2013), and RIDE called it quits in 1996 (rejoined forces in 2014). Each one of these bands have been noted as being highly influential and/or pioneers in their respected genres. This is a strong reason behind the Shaky Knees Music and Arts Festival line-up being considered by many as one of the top festival line-ups in the nation.
I made it to the park around 2 pm which was just in time to enjoy watching The Whiskey Gentry over at the Piedmont Stage. The field was full of people either dancing, laying out enjoying the band or playing Frisbee -in other words, not a care in the world. Everyone was obviously having the time of their lives. The Whiskey Gentry played a strong 45 minute set before having to call it a day. For the next three hours I would try and catch Real Estate, The Devil Makes Three, and Fidlar before heading to the Ponce De Leon Stage for the much anticipated 5:45 PM set time for Neutral Milk Hotel.
Real Estate commanded the main stage with a 2:45-3:45 PM set that had many gathered to hear what the band had to offer. This was a hard choice to make though because Metz was playing opposite in this time slot. I would say that Real Estate did set the mood for the day with their relaxed vibes and indie rock sound as the masses gathered regardless of the sun beating down. Right after Real Estate ended, one of the best performances of the day transpired from the band, The Devil Makes Three on the Piedmont Stage. This would be the first show of the current United States tour for the band. This eclectic Americana band from Santa Cruz, California always puts on a tremendous show each time I have seen them perform. This time would be no different. With all three members wearing black during a 3:45-4:45 set, you have to give them some credit for playing with the sun shining upon the stage.
I had to leave The Devil Makes Three a little early so I could catch the last half of the band Fidlar at the Buford Hwy. Stage. This band was put on my radar by a close friend just a day prior and I was very curious to check these guys out from what I had heard. Wow. This Los Angeles based skate punk/garage rock band took its name from some former roommates of lead singer Zac Carper, who use to say “Fuck it dog, Life’s a Risk!” This band has some energy, to say the least, and basically dominated the stage with their performance. Many of the crowd was already familiar with most of the songs and sang along at times. Very edgy and very good, check out Fidlar today.
The time had come for what I had been waiting all day for… Neutral Milk Hotel. This quite possibly could be their last performance ever in Atlanta, yet alone Georgia. The not-so-typical festival band, Neutral Milk Hotel has been very busy lately, after reuniting after some twelve years. If you were able to catch them since their reunion, consider yourself very lucky. The band had just started to finish their final preparations when we arrived and somehow we managed to get near the front of the stage. Just before go time, an announcement was made that the Neutral Milk Hotel asked that no one take any photos or video during their performance. Julian Koster (bass, accordion, musical saw, bowed banjo, organ, and keyboards) would later explain that it was simply a way to preserve this moment for all those who attended. Which made me strongly think this may indeed become their last performance in Atlanta. This was a reasonable request and to my knowledge only a few pictures taken during the performance have been posted on Instagram.
By the time the second song, “Holland, 1945”, began to play the crowd rushed the stage and our group had got so much closer for this momentous occasion. I am still pretty much in awe at what we were all a part of that Saturday afternoon at the Ponce De Leon Stage. Not to sound sappy and all mushy, but this was quite possibly one of the best performances I have ever seen, period. Seriously. If you were there, then you would have a better understanding of what this band was able to do in an hour. Words fail me right now as they cannot precisely describe this moment at all. I know personally that the right side (our side) of the crowd knew all the words to each song played. It appeared that the left was in tuned as well with Jeff Magnum (lead vocals, guitar, bass, drums, percussion, organ, keyboards, and tapes) as he sang melodies all too familiar to each and every one of us. Smiles permeated throughout the crowd as bodies jumped up in unison to the music that flowed from the speakers overhead. It felt like an old friend, whom you have not seen in years, had stopped by to say hello but decided to stay a little while longer just to sing to you the songs you loved so dear.
Most of my group stayed for Wilco’s upcoming set at 7:45, but I had to step next door to the Boulevard Stage for Milky Chance (which meant I would forego the classic sounds of Social Distortion, a crowd favorite in the Atlanta music scene). I mean, who wouldn’t want to dance a little after a long day of listening to music? This German duo has done nothing but pick up steam since the release of their debut single (October 2013), “Stolen Dance”. Another band I was excited to see at this year’s Shaky Knees Music and Arts Festival and they did not disappoint! Within the hour allotted to Milky Chance, they played a strong nine song set list with the last song, “Stolen Dance”, bringing the crowd into a massive dance-a-thon. They have numerous dates in North America, until August 11th with a sold out show in Portland, Oregon, so there are some chances to catch them before they head back across the pond later this year.
By this point in the day, I was in need of food before I could watch any of Wilco. Pizza won because the line was the shortest. One thing I feel that should be adjusted for next year’s Shaky Knees Music and Arts Festival is more food trucks. The lines were extremely long all weekend and I do recall numerous trucks sold out of food during Friday night (if I am not mistaken on the day). This year there were two main areas set up with food trucks, but with the amount of tickets sold per the food trucks, it was not a good ratio. So word to the wise -be prepared beforehand, next year, just in case. By the time I made it back for Wilco, the crowd had more than tripled in size. An executive decision was made upon arrival and I decided to forego the ever-growing crowd for the remainder of the show. Instead, I watched from the side of the stage behind the fence leading to the restricted media area. In doing so, I was able to catch up with Julian Koster (from Neutral Milk Hotel) as he came to the area to watch Wilco perform. Julian was a true delight to anyone who came to him while he was there, he was a sincere and genuine person to all. I wished him a safe and happy journey with some extra positive vibes thrown in for good measure before he took off into the sunset.
By the time Julian had left, I had noticed that the crowd had now grown to what seemed like 1/3 of the total people who had attended that day. My friends who stayed behind made it to the front of the stage and soon came to realize that was the spot they would stay until the end of their set. Wilco is celebrating the 20th anniversary of their debut album, A.M., and Jeff Tweedy (lead vocals, rhythm, acoustic and lead guitars, bass, and harmonica) was very excited this evening to be performing in front of the crowd in Atlanta. They completed a 17 song set which included tracks “Hummingbird”, “Secret of the Sea”, “Via Chicago”, and “Born Alone” to the mesmerized gathering of music lovers. Wilco delivered probably one of their best live performances this evening in Atlanta, and we could all feel the energy coming off the stage. The massive crowd that gathered to see Wilco stretched an entire city block from Pine St. to Ralph McGill Blvd. This may not sound like a lot, but visually it was over-whelming at times. The fun part was trekking through the masses to the main stage for a good spot to see the day’s headliners, The Avett Brothers, only to see the other supposed 2/3 of the people were already waiting for their start time.
I remember watching a small up and coming bluegrass/folk band play a small bar (Stillwater Taproom on Broad St.) in my hometown to maybe 50 people. Later the world would know of this ‘small’ band with their tremendous burst onto the music scene with the help of Rick Rubin. Always a favorite at any festival, The Avett Brothers did not disappoint. They have mastered the ‘feel-good’ song and can make the audience dance like no other band can, in my opinion. Maybe it is their positive vibe? Or maybe it is just the way they seem to feel very comfortable in front of any size crowd? Regardless, The Avett Brothers performed their hearts out for the crowd at this year’s Shaky Knees Music and Arts Festival. The Avett Brothers would play a solid, fan-favorite, 20 song set, with an added 4 song encore which included “Murder in the City” and “I and Love and You” (this was definitely the crowd favorite as a massive sing-a-long commenced) before bidding the everyone a farewell.
With day 2 in the books, and an amazing success, I was once again wore out. With a total ten (10) acts for the day, my knees were definitely shaking a bit on the way home. Time to rest up for the thrilling conclusion to the Shaky Knees Music and Arts Festival as the third day would bring The Sheepdogs, Best Coast, RIDE, Panda Bear and one of the main reasons I wanted to go this year, Tame Impala.
(To be continued…)