[Review + Photos] Shaky Knees Music Fest | May 9 – 11, Atlantic Station, Atlanta

Shaky Knees Header

We really hope you got a chance to come down to Atlanta a few weekends ago to check out the Shaky Knees Music Festival at Atlantic Station. The bill was absolutely stacked, and attendees got to hear three days of indie rock music from just about every single big name on the circuit. All in all, it was a fantastic weekend (despite the rain), and, we at No Country, had a blast. Listed below is our top ten acts from the weekend; note that there were way, way more than ten acts that were deserving of being on this list, and that those listed below are simply those that stand out to us most two weeks removed from the event.

By the way, the photos provided for each of these acts were taken by Jake Giles Netter; check out that link for more photos by this master photographer.


In terms of sheer badassery, Boston based Irish rock outfit Dropkick Murphys takes the cake. It would probably be safe to say that this was the rowdiest show of the weekend for us, though that tends to be true of any festival these guys play at. The shining moment of their set came the first time the clouds broke open and rain poured out upon the audience. As soon as he noticed the rain, singer and instrumentalist Ken Casey looked snidely upon the crowd and demanded to know “if you guys are afraid of a little rain?” The crowd roared in response, elevated the energy level even further, and began to dance more frantically than ever before. All in all, it was a great show, and one that will stick out in our minds for some time to come.


Even before we saw their set at Shaky Knees, we knew that Providence, RI based quintet Deer Tick were going to put on an awesome show. We’ve caught them a number of times before, and every time this distinctive alt rock group has thrown down hard. Luckily, Shaky Knees turned out to be no exception. Between their interesting costume choices and a guest appearance by Vanessa Carlton (yes, the Vanessa Carlton; she’s the wife of Deer Tick lead singer John McCauley), the show definitely took some twists we didn’t expect, but overall was quite a solid Deer Tick set. These guys have made a name for themselves by injecting emotion and a healthy dose of distortion into their rock sound (as well as by being a bit odd), and their Shaky Knees performance definitely solidifies that reputation.


As the Saturday evening headliners, one might expect Modest Mouse to put together a great set; in fact, prior to Shaky Knees, Modest Mouse was one of the performances that we were most excited to catch. Fortunately, their live show did not disappoint us a single bit, but instead proved to be even better than we could have expected. After a drizzly day, the rain cleared away just in time for Modest Mouse’s set, and one could almost feel an audible sigh of relief from throughout the festival that the performance would not be cancelled or postponed. It was obvious that Isaac Brook and the rest of Modest Mouse picked up on this collective respite and played their hearts out. It was a fantastic set, and we were very impressed by the sheer musicianship these guys can muster.


Like most indie music fans nowadays, we at No Country are pretty big fans of the guys in Cage the Elephant. Thus, despite the heavy rain during their set, we donned our ponchos and made our way out to the Peachtree Stage to catch their set. The Kentucky natives played songs from throughout their career; this was actually quite interesting, as the band has a habit of changing styles dramatically from album to album. Watching them string together tracks from throughout their career was both inspiring and a testament to the musicianship and talent of this five piece, and it’s fair to say that this band was a favorite of many festival goers. By the way, if you couldn’t catch them at Shaky Knees, Cage the Elephant will be performing at Bonnaroo this year as well, so you’ve got another chance to catch them in the next few weeks.


Although Shaky Knees was undoubtedly focused on the indie rock scene, there were a handful of acts that fall outside of the genre. One of our personal favorite non-rock acts is the funky Charles Bradley and His Extraordinaires. Having been present on the soul/RnB scene since the mid-60’s, Charles Bradley exudes an easiness in his stage presence that prominently displays his experience playing gigs across the world for nearly 50 years. The man just seems like the authentic funk musician; one would classify him in the same legion as Otis Redding or even James Brown. Of course, this translates to a fantastic, if occasionally sassy, live show, which we found quite captivating from start to finish.


As the Sunday night headliners, one would probably expect the Alabama Shakes to put on an excellent live show. That expectation, dear readers, is most certainly correct. Led by Brittany Howard, the Alabama Shakes have been in the vanguard of the Southern soul revival movement, which means they’ve made a living combining a classic, soulful RnB sound with the modern indie rock. Live, this translates to a pretty groovy show; we were especially in awe of the close interplay between the guitar and vocal lines. Most of all, however, the group was tight. You could tell there was a level of communication between all four of the members that one rarely sees in acts these days. Without a doubt, this communication has led to the group’s success, as well as being the driving force behind the group’s awesome Shaky Knees set.


It almost seems odd to us that Spoon wasn’t booked higher on the bill at Shaky Knees, as nearly everybody in Atlantic Station were pumped for the performance by the Austin natives. Fortunately, Spoon put on a killer set, drawing on songs from throughout their rather expansive back catalogue. However, what was most striking to us about Spoon was how modern their sound is. For an act that got its start back in 1993, one would never guess that Spoon has been pumping out tunes for more than twenty years. Their sound fits perfectly into the new wave of alt rock bands, which probably goes a long ways towards explaining their maintained success over the years. Of course, that success might also be partially explained by their engaging and fun live show, which was just as pristine at Shaky Knees as it always is.


It’s hard to get away from Local Natives these days; the band seems to be playing on every radio station, at every house party, and at every music festival around. Not that we’re complaining, however, as this harmonically driven LA based five piece totally rocks. They played songs from both of their hit albums, and you could tell the group played to a much more receptive crowd than many of the smaller acts. Best of all, however, Local Natives played on Sunday, which was the only day of the festival it didn’t rain during. Seeing as their music has a summery, sunshine feel to it, the change in weather definitely added to the atmosphere of their show. All in all, Local Natives were great as always, and once again we’d like to encourage to catch their sets whenever you can.


While they may not have been one of the most recognizable names at Shaky Knees (yet), local psychedelic rock outfit Fly Golden Eagle definitely had one of the strongest sets. The group has experienced a moderate amount of success around Nashville, and we were excited to see how their tripped out sound would go over with the Atlanta audience. From our perspective, it seemed to have been received quite well. This really isn’t that surprising, however, as Fly Golden Eagle are known for their ability to create well written, engaging tracks that sound best played live. While the band isn’t afraid to get trippy, their sound has a consistent, underlying force that drives the song along. The result is quite festival-friendly, and definitely earned its spot in our top ten shows from Shaky Knees.


While festivals tend to focus on modern, younger acts, they always like to throw in a few older veterans, perhaps as an attempt to give the audience some perspective on how that style of music developed. At Shaky Knees, one of these older acts was The Replacements, a group from Minneapolis that first got its start back in 1979. If you’re unfamiliar with the Replacements, they’re often considered one of the pioneers of alternative rock; they’re one of those groups that never quite broke into the consciousness of the mainstream, but managed to influence just about every modern alt rock icon. This sway over future rock stars is largely due to their live show, which is always energetic. To borrow a term from the hip-hop scene, the Replacements are the O.G.’s of the alt rock scene, and getting a chance to see them at Shaky Knees was really something special.


Have your say