Over the last week I’ve been trying to decide on the best way to write this recap.
The first approach that I tried was to simply lay out facts about Shaky Knees. For example: Last weekend, May 8, 9, and 10, Shaky Knees Music Festival took place in Central Park, Atlanta, Georgia. Then I considered recounting the anecdotal experiences that made the weekend special for me, personally. Seeing a group of police officers have a mock Lightsaber battle with batons (one of them even held two back to back to recreate Darth Maul’s double-ended saber), eating the perfectly ice-cold raspberry-lime popsicle during a blazing hot afternoon, meeting a guy after Mastodon’s stunning performance who had an uncanny ability to move through crowds (he left the very front of the main stage, and within an hour, he’d worked his way through more than 20,000 people to return to the exact same spot to see The Strokes, as well as win a five dollar wager).
I quickly realized that these approaches would leave out far too much of the “feeling” that is the all important x-factor in how a festival is remembered. I considered comparing it to other festivals, ranking specific performances, and describing the facilities, but as I considered each tactic, I still felt that there would be something missing from my account. I’m not sure whether I’ve successfully managed to account for this x-factor emptiness in this article, but I’ve tried my best by combining the separate approaches from above.
The first thing that I feel I should stress about Shaky Knees is that it is fundamentally different from Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza. Not just because it is significantly smaller than either, but because of the nature of the festival and the involved logistics. Atlanta is a beautiful city, and well laid out for putting on a festival such as this, with ample hotels near the park, and one of the world’s busiest airports, readily capable of absorbing the added bustle that a few tens of thousands of people coming to the city naturally brings about. Central Park was just about the perfect size for the number of attendees: it rarely felt as though you were standing in an empty field, and it never felt too crowded to the point that people start turning hostile (cough cough Lolla). The attendees were friendly and approachable, maybe not in the same ‘Free love and good vibes’ way that a bonnaroovian is, but certainly you could make friends with nothing more than a smile and a witty t-shirt.
The next morsel of festie wisdom that I would give to someone looking to compare Shaky Knees and other major festivals is that if you’re trying to decide on winners and losers, you’re going to have an unbelievably hard time. In large part because of the differences I just mentioned between them: how can you really say that Shaky Knees is better than Lollapalooza without addressing your own bias against say, Florence and The Machine? How can you claim that it’s definitively worse than Bonnaroo, without admitting that you hate sleeping in a tent, and that any comparison you draw is affected thusly? That said, it bears noting that Shaky Knees is one hell of a festival.
Which reminds me, how on earth does a two-year-old festival pull names like Modest Mouse, The National, and Spoon? Or, more relevantly, how the hell does a three year old festival get The Strokes, The Avett Brothers, Wilco, Pixies, and Tame Imapala?! The answer becomes more or less apparent once you’ve gone to the festival itself: Shaky Knees is run by consummate professionals, with a focus on providing a stellar experience for everyone involved, in an already musically thriving city. Tame Impala went on a hilarious tangent onstage wherein the lead singer admitted that he is a Migos fan, even singing a snippet of the chorus of “Hannah Montana”.
Migos however, was not in attendance, despite being an Atlanta local (nor was Janelle Monae or Ilovemakonnen, in case you were wondering), which to my eyes showcases the only complaint to be had against Shaky Knees (if it can even be called a complaint, and not just an opinion); the lack of musical diversity that was exhibited. To be sure, over the course of the weekend, there were performances of different kinds and colors, from the Psych-rock of Tame Impala, to the stripped back strings of the Avett Brothers, to the Computer-driven experimental music of Panda Bear (of Animal Collective fame). However, in a sense, this variety feels less like a tapestry of different forms of musical expression and more like variations within a single theme: college rock.
None of this is meant as an insult against Shaky Knees, I, for one, love college rock, and have nothing but good things to say about the performances that were put on by the artists at Shaky Knees last weekend. BUT if I was exclusively a fan of Hip-Hop, or EDM, or Classic Rock, or really anything other than College Rock, it would have been a pretty boring three days. If you live indie-alternative music, and you’re looking to add a festival attendance to your summer 2016 plans, I can wholeheartedly tell you, Shaky Knees. You don’t need to be as invested as for ‘Roo or for Lolla’, and there’s a good chance you’ll be able to knock off a few names from your Live Music Bucket List, plus, at just over $200, it’s something of a bargain, at least before you start thinking about hotels and the ridiculously overpriced food trucks ($5 for a hot dog!? Seriously!?)
Value is a funny thing, though, when it comes to music festivals. As much as I might scoff at myself for spending 10 dollars on a delicious, albeit tiny Roti Roll (SRSLY OMG SO GOOD), I can’t argue that if I hadn’t been willing to pay for it, I never would have gotten the chance to see the surprise Mac Demarco appearance during The Strokes’ performance, or the “Heart Of Glass” Blondie cover that Mini Mansions nailed. If I hadn’t gotten my (now splendidly peeling) sunburn on Friday, I might have missed out on being nearly brought to tears by The Avett Brothers’ performance of “The Ballad Of Love And Hate” on Saturday, or Jukebox The Ghost performing Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now”.
As much as I bellyache about standing for hours on end, skipping meals, and missing other acts as I wait all day for a prime spot at the headliner’s show, I know that when Julian Casablancas sings “Barely Legal” for me and a few tens of thousands of my favorite strangers, there’s nowhere in the world that I would rather be.