The Shaky Knees Festival moves to its fourth site in Atlanta in as many years May 13-15, 2016; not for the additional space, but for better access. Speaking of the new Centennial Olympic Park location, festival Founder/Curator Tim Sweetwood touted, “This year it’ll be a great urban setting, with the skyline as a backdrop, MARTA access, dedicated Lyft stops, and parking galore.” He’s particularly excited this year’s five stages will span International Plaza, as well. “No one’s bridged that gap before,” he says.
Here’s a surprising fact: according to Sweetwood, more than half of the roughly 20,000 daily Shaky Knees revelers hail from outside Georgia, reinforcing how quickly his baby has grown into one of the country’s go-to rock music events.
Against that backdrop, here’s my Wholly Opinionated Guide to Shaky Knees Highlights, with a focus on the undercard.
Friday, May 13
Beach Slang (12:30) – A measly half-hour for these ragged rockers, but their infectious energy should kick off the fest on the right foot.
Craig Finn (1:45) – The leader of critical darlings the Hold Steady, Finn deftly threads the needle between Bruce Springsteen and the Replacements.
Baroness (3:15) – This resilient Savannah-based quartet has built a national following for its ornate, accessible brand of heavy metal.
Savages (6:15) – I’ve taken a chronological approach, but this is the set I have circled, asterisked, bolded, etc. The London post-punk quartet has a well-deserved reputation as an incendiary live band, and a friend whose opinion I trust called their 2013 Atlanta show “the best thing I’ve seen in years.”
Saturday, May 14
Hop Along (1:45) – The wailing Frances X. Quinlan fronts this knotty Philadelphia indie quartet, whose “Painted Shut” was one of my favorite records of 2015. Their recent gig supporting Modest Mouse at outdoor arenas made stylistic sense and offers assurance Hop Along’s sound will hold up in Shaky Knees’ expansive setting.
Phosphorescent (5:45) – The nom de stage of Alabama native Matthew Houck, who was Athens-based when his career went into overdrive. It’s hard to guess which sound the shape-shifting Houck will bring to the table — more recently he’s played the alt-country sybarite but his catalog also houses world music chants and freak folk whimsy. Whatever the case, odds are it’ll be fascinating.
Sunday, May 15
Julien Baker (12:00) – The diminutive Baker’s late 2015 DIY release got some best-of mentions and has gradually built on its distribution and notice. I’m afraid her sparse arrangements (think Elliott Smith) might get lost on a large outdoor stage, but at noon she has a puncher’s chance.
Frightened Rabbit (2:15) – Scottish band of brothers with a penchant for majestic melancholy anthems; Their “The Midnight Organ Fight” was my favorite album of 2008. I’m not as crazy about the more mannered new “Portrait of a Panic Attack,” but on a festival stage they’re likely to pull out the old burners.
Parquet Courts (3:15) – One of the most lauded indie bands of the past five years, and deservedly so. Sporting clear echoes of the Fall, Beck and Pavement, the wordy and propulsive Parquet Courts have more than enough personality to reshape those sounds as their own.
At the Drive In (8:30) – I’ll bend my rule of focusing on the lesser-known bands, since most folks will be flocking to Florence and the Machine at this hour anyway. El Paso’s At the Drive In were the most blistering prog-punk band of the late ’90s (or possibly ever) before splintering into the Mars Volta and Sparta. If they can reclaim even 60 percent of ATDI’s old ferocity, it’ll be worth experiencing.
Glen Sarvady is Georgia’s official Music Explorer. He has lived in Atlanta for more than 20 years, and has written about music both locally and nationally for at least as long. More recently, he has written regularly for the music/arts publication Stomp & Stammer as well as GeorgiaMusic.org.