10 Can’t-Miss Bands at Shaky Knees

Wilco at Shaky Knees

Wilco at Shaky Knees. Photo by aLIVE Coverage, from Shaky Knees Facebook.

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-headshotGlen 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.

Six Ways to Celebrate Mother’s Day Outdoors

Celebrate mom with Mother Nature this Mother’s Day weekend!

Panola Mountain State Park

Panola Mountain State Park

Panola Mountain Hike, Saturday, May 7

This naturalist-led hike ascends to the protected summit of Panola Mountain. Hikers enjoy scenic views along one of the most amazing trails in the Atlanta area. The monadnock shares many of the same features as Arabia and Stone Mountain, with conservation efforts that have preserved thick, colorful blankets of lichen and moss.

New Manchester Mill Ruins at Sweetwater Creek State Park.

New Manchester Mill Ruins at Sweetwater Creek State Park.

Sweetwater Creek Kayaking & Candlelight Hike, Saturday, May 7

Kick off Mother’s Day weekend with a morning paddle exploring Sweetwater Creek State Park by kayak. Kayaking the reservoir is exciting and easy for beginners. The park offers single and tandem kayaks. As evening falls, experience the magic of nature along a half-mile out-and-back hike to the mill.

Richard B. Russell State Park

Richard B. Russell State Park

Hidden Gem History at Richard Russell State Park, Saturday, May 7

Moms meet at the disc golf parking area at Richard B. Russell State Park for a fun, naturalist-led hike through living history of the park’s past homesteads. This hike is part of Georgia State Parks’ Hidden Gems series.

Cloudland Canyon State Park

Cloudland Canyon State Park. Photo by Candy Cook.

Cloudland Canyon’s Sunset Point Hike, Saturday, May 7

One of Cloudland Canyon‘s best kept secrets, a short walk leads hikers to Sunset Point for gorgeous views of Lookout Valley as the sky puts on a colorful twilight show. Moms should meet at the West Rim Access Parking Lot to experience this hidden gem.

High Falls State Park

High Falls State Park. Photo by Candy Cook

High Falls Paws on the Falls, Sunday, May 8

A special surprise awaits each pup who comes out to hike the High Falls State Park Trail. This dog-friendly hike follows a relatively easy trail for a tail-wagging good time with Mom’s Best Friend. Share your pictures from your hike on social media using #exploregeorgiapup!

Chattahoochee Nature Center.

Chattahoochee Nature Center. Photo by Candy Cook.

Chattahoochee Nature Center, Sunday, May 8

Pack a picnic and bring mom to the Chattahoochee Nature Center for free admission on May 8 (only moms get in free). Enjoy a short film about our treasured Chattahoochee River, a Wildlife Walk, animal encounters, and register by May 5 for the Mother’s Day Canoe Paddle!

candycookCandy Cook is Georgia’s official Outdoor Explorer and the author of the blog “Happy Trails Wild Tales.” Click here for more Outdoor content from Candy.

From Fruit to Nuts, When to Pick Your Favorites in Georgia

Strawberry picking in North Georgia.

Strawberry picking in North Georgia.

Each season Georgia has a new crop ready to be harvested. When is the season for your favorite fruit?

Strawberries – Each April through July, strawberries ripen in fields across Georgia. Prime season is in May and June. Each spring, North Georgia’s Jaemor Farms celebrates the harvest with a family-friendly festival.


Peaches – From early May to August, you’ll find ripe peaches on trees throughout the state. During the late summer, the City of Kennesaw hosts the annual Pigs & Peaches Festival celebrating the beloved fruit and some of the state’s best barbecue. Add to your peach-loving fun with a visit to Georgia’s Peach Blossom Trail.

Byne Blueberry Farms in Waynesboro grows organic berries.

Byne Blueberry Farms in Waynesboro grows organic berries.

Blueberries – From mid-April through the end of July, Georgia’s blueberry harvest is at its peak. If you prefer organic blueberries, visit Byne Blueberry Farms in Waynesboro, the oldest organic blueberry farm in the state and the third oldest in the nation.

Apples – You’ll find apples ripe in orchards from late July to October. Throughout that time, the state hosts numerous apple-themed festivals, including the Georgia Apple Festival in Ellijay, which spans two weekends.

PecansPecans are in their prime in October through December in Georgia. According to the Georgia Pecan Commission, the state’s trees produce over 100 million pounds of the nuts each year. Stop into Ellis Brothers Pecans in Vienna (home to the Big Pig Jig annual barbecue cooking contest in November) and fill up on roasted, glazed, spiced, chocolate-covered, candied and any other variation of the nut you can imagine.

eileen-1437426635-thumb-230-230-10-58-1000-783-90Eileen Falkenberg-Hull is Georgia’s official Festival Explorer and the editor of Occupy My Family, the Atlanta area’s most comprehensive resource for family fun. Click here for more Festival content from Eileen.

Georgia Drummer Keeps the Beat for Cirque du Soleil

Cirque du Soleil's KURIOS - Cabinet of Curiosities

See Cirque du Soleil’s KURIOS – Cabinet of Curiosities in Atlanta through May 8, 2016.

A man with accordion legs, a gentleman whose giant belly is the residence of a 3.2-foot tall woman, aquatic contortionists, an invisible circus, rola bola aviator… just a few of the quirky and diverse characters Georgia-born drummer Kit Chatham keeps the beat for in Cirque du Soleil’s KURIOS – Cabinet of Curiosities, showing at Atlantic Station through May 8.

Cirque du Soleil has visited Atlanta 17 times with 14 different shows since 1991. Based in Montreal, Cirque features some of the world’s most talented individuals who perform reality-defying feats to live music. 

Chatham, who has performed in six different Cirque du Soleil productions since 2005, graduated from the University of Georgia with a degree in music education and taught in Cobb County before joining Cirque du Soleil. We caught up with Chatham to find out what he likes most about performing in his home state.


Kit Chatham in costume for KURIOS – Cabinet of Curiosities

Having grown up here, are you excited to be performing back in Georgia?

“Definitely. The last time I performed here was 2007 with Corteo, also a Cirque du Soleil show. I moved out in 2009 to Las Vegas so I am super excited to be back.” 

This year, Georgia is celebrating the Year of Music, what does Georgia music mean to you?

“It depends on the area. I am an Athens boy, so R.E.M. and the B-52s, but then again I moved from Atlanta for my last years in high school and I was closer to Augusta, so James Brown. When I was in college, I used to record in Macon in the Allman Brothers studio. It’s widespread – Widespread Panic, they’re also from here. It’s tough to summarize Georgia music. It’s got roots in the South. It’s also got soul. It’s got everything — gospel, country, hip hop. It’s very cool to see how much music comes from Georgia that you wouldn’t expect.”

How does live music contribute to the overall Cirque experience?

“With every Cirque show, you’re dealing with things that can happen with acrobats at any given time. So, in order to flow with the acrobats, the music has to be able to adapt and change, maybe go back, maybe jump ahead. It changes every night.”

How does touring with Cirque du Soleil differ from touring with a band or as a solo musician?

“With arena shows or Broadway, you’re in a place one night, two nights, then you’re out. Your one day off is your travel day, which really stinks. With the tent show, we’re here 10 weeks, which is really great. I’m getting a lot of time to explore.”

Chatham performing in Cirque du Soleil's KURIOS - Cabinet of Curiosities

Chatham performing in Cirque du Soleil’s KURIOS – Cabinet of Curiosities

Does this cast rely on you in this location for input on what to do in Georgia?

“I gave them a long list of what to do in Georgia. You’ve got to go to The Varsity. You’ve got all the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. attractions, Ebenezer [Baptist Church]. The Georgia Aquarium. The World of Coca-Cola. Stone Mountain. The barbecue places to go to. Athens. Savannah. I gave them a huge list of things to try to guide them.”

What is your favorite thing to do in Georgia?

“I am a big barbecue fan. Brunswick stew — you can’t find Brunswick stew anywhere but in Georgia. Every time I come here, I get Chick-fil-A. I love how the brewing industry is starting to pick-up here. But, the biggest thing for me when I come to Georgia is usually family.”

How does this show differ from other Cirque shows you’ve toured with?

“The theme of this show [KURIOS] is steampunk, and it deals with the age of invention and creativity. Going from that steam era to electricity, everything is experimental. The scenery, the stage, all has that steampunk feel. The music is somewhat eclectic. There is a lot of presence of electro swing, which is associated with that theme. There are some more swing elements, classical, rock-and-roll. … With every show the music is different, the styles are different. That’s the one thing that drew me to Cirque, is there are so many different styles within the show and the uniqueness to the music, the overall characteristics to it in each show.”

KURIOS – Cabinet of Curiosities is at Atlantic Station until May 8. Shows are Tuesday-Sunday in the afternoon and evening. Individual tickets range from $35-$170. Visit www.cirquedusoleil.com/kurios for more information or to purchase tickets.

nicole-webNicole Rateau provides marketing and communications support for the Georgia Department of Economic Development. She would love to go on tour with Cirque du Soleil, but she would miss Georgia and collard greens!

Robert Shaw Documentary Brings Conductor’s Centenary to a Crescendo

Having moved to Atlanta just after Robert Shaw’s tenure as Music Director and Conductor of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, I was aware of the long shadow he cast but didn’t fully grasp his achievements. The legend’s would-be 100th birthday is the perfect opportunity for a refresher course, and “Robert Shaw- Man of Many Voices” serves as an ideal primer. The documentary, which was almost entirely locally funded, premieres at Symphony Hall on Sunday, April 24. The afternoon program includes three brief choir performances, an appropriate nod to the choral music for which he was perhaps best known.

Robert Shaw at work. Photo courtesy Robert Shaw, The Film.

Robert Shaw at work. Photo courtesy Robert Shaw, The Film.

Shaw was already a renowned figure when he arrived in Atlanta in 1967. In New York, his wartime Collegiate Chorale had blazed trails as one of the first integrated musical ensembles, and that resolve was again called upon in the turbulent late ’60s South. “Shaw was not a civil rights activist per se, but if you were talented, you were in his ensemble,” says Kiki Wilson, the film’s executive producer and herself a 30-year ASO Chorus veteran. “He never really spoke to the issue until he had to in Atlanta.”

Few in the music world understood why Shaw would uproot from a successful stint in Cleveland for Atlanta, then considered a musical outpost. However, he saw a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rebuild an arts community in the wake of 1964’s Orly tragedy, and it’s not a stretch to say Shaw’s popularity helped establish the Woodruff Arts Center.

Robert Shaw. Photo courtesy Robert Shaw, The Film.

Robert Shaw. Photo courtesy Robert Shaw, The Film.

One of the first voices heard in “Man of Many Voices” is that of Andrew Young. He’s soon joined by iconic Georgians both musical (Robert Spano, Donald Runnicles) and political (Jimmy Carter), plus national figures like cellist Yo Yo Ma weighing in on Shaw’s impact. Narration is provided by David Hyde Pierce, the Broadway actor best known for his TV role on “Frasier” but a man with his own musical pedigree. “He became a real friend of the film,” according to Wilson, actually agreeing to the role for less than he was offered.

One of the most remarkable aspects of Shaw’s musical biography is that he was self-taught, a fact that presumably pushed him to excel. “Until the last couple of years of his life, he was very insecure,” says Wilson. Shaw was a contemporary of Leonard Bernstein but never cut the same public figure. “Bernstein was articulate; Shaw stammered,” she recalls.

Nonetheless, by the time Shaw’s ASO tenure was up, he had logged 16 Grammys, the first-ever classical Gold album, and staged a groundbreaking 1988 European tour extending into pre-unification East Berlin. Such vision rarely comes without turmoil. “He was fired twice by the board,” says Wilson, a twist the film also addresses. Fortunately, reconciliations ensued in both cases.

“Robert Shaw – Man of Many Voices” is compelling storytelling as well as a fitting tribute to a complex classical music treasure.

glen-headshotGlen 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.