Atlanta has one of the most vibrant music scenes in the United States, boasting acts from crunk to country. Outkast, India Arie, Mastodon, and the Black Lips, all call Atlanta home. The Dogwood City will play host to the upcoming Shaky Knees Music Festival from May 8th through the 10th, and I, for one, cannot wait. I intend to take the midnight train to Georgia, fill up on Gladys Knight’s Chicken & Waffles, and rock the fuck out to as many bands as possible. But with more than 80 bands performing over three days, how might one best decide which shows to prioritize? That, dear reader, is where I come in to do your homework for you. So, without further ado, here is Overblown’s guide to every band in every slot.
First and foremost: download the Shaky Knees app. It informs you of every band in every slot, provides you with a map to the appropriate stage, and reminds you fifteen minutes before the show. Let’s face it: you’re probably going to have diminished faculties during this experience. Anything that makes the process of stumbling from one act to the next easier is invaluable.
12:15 – Songs For Kids
Every day at the festival, Songs For Kids will open the grounds. This is a tough one for me. On the one hand, I don’t particularly like children, and I daresay that a festival like this is a terrible environment to be in. Moreover, in addition to traumatizing whatever little brat you’re bringing, you’re going to make throngs of concertgoers incredibly uncomfortable. On the other hand, Songs for Kids is an extension of the Songs for Kids Foundation, which does outreach work to kids with serious illnesses, which is enough to warm even the cockles of my black, glacial heart. I’ll try and make at least one show of this, but I may be too hungover to schlep out by noon. Hey, I’m on vacation.
12:30 – 1:00 – Surfer Blood, Blank Range
Fortunately, Shaky Knees starts off with easy choices. The contrast between Surfer Blood and Blank Range couldn’t be starker, so your mind is probably already made up about which you’ll see. Surfer Blood, from my native Florida, write laid-back poppy tunes with enough sunshine to be worthy of their name. Nashville rockers Blank Range have beards, long hair, and churn out solid songs with a rural flavor with titles like “Ziggy Coyote.” I’ve seen Surfer Blood twice before, so I’ll likely check out Blank Range, provided I’m not too hungover from the night before.
1:00 – 1:45 – Haerts, Black Pistol Fire, and Halsey
Haerts sounds like Stevie Nicks decided to embark upon an electropop project. My girlfriend will definitely be seeing them. I, on the other hand, possess an irrational hatred of all things Fleetwood Mac, and will thus not be participating in the scarf-twirling merriment. They’re talented, but they aren’t my cup of tea. Black Pistol Fire are Canadians that sound like Creedence. Lots of stomping and growled mentions of “my baby” are likely to accompany their performance. Halsey is cinematic pop from a twenty year old New Jersey songstress that sounds like Lana Del Rey cum Ellie Goulding. I’ll be seeing Black Pistol Fire.
1:45 – 2:30 – Jukebox the Ghost, Mitski
Jukebox the Ghost writes charming, piano-driven pop reminiscent of Ben Folds Five. Mitski is the distorted folk-punk lovechild of Liz Phair and Pinkerton-era Weezer. Both bands fire off clever lyrics, and offer a resourceful 90s-influenced description of broken heartedness. A compelling case can be made for either band here. Still, I’m likely to hand this slot to Mitski, given her wider ranging sound.
2:30 – 3:15 – John Grant, Two Gallants, and Tennis
This one is another tough slot. John Grant writes achingly beautiful songs in a haunted baritone that are a mélange of synthy dream pop and alt country. The effect is somewhere between the orchestral aspirations of The Flaming Lips (without the psychedelics) and Jason Molina or Beck on Sea Change. Two Gallants, arguably the best band named for a James Joyce short story, are folkster stalwarts who harken back to the heyday of Saddle Creek records. Their latest album, We Are Undone, veers in more of a lo-fi/classic rock vein, and constitutes one of their stronger recent efforts. Tennis is a husband and wife duo, deploying the potent combination of Alaina Moore’s sultry voice and Patrick Riley’s brooding arrangements. I’m inclined toward John Grant, but I can easily see myself meandering toward any of these shows. It may simply be a matter of which stage is closest, given how these festival things go.
3:15 – 4:15 – The Kooks, Wavves
The Kooks are a buoyant Brit-pop band, and they were easily overlooked, debuting the same year as more compelling The Arctic Monkeys. While certainly talented, I’ve always found them far too middling, less Cool Britannia than the unintended consequence of its long hangover. Wavves, on the other hand, blast out no wave, skuzzfucked beach party grooves that impel their listeners to thrash about like the California Goths they sing about. This one is a no-brainer: Wavves.
4:15 – 5:15 – Clutch, Mac DeMarco, Zella Day
This one should prove an easy genre choice for most listeners as well: country fried metal, stoney slacker guitar daydreams, or Western Bohemian pop. Do you like the Deftones? You’re seeing Clutch. Have you ever been eager to attend a Kurt Vile show? Go see DeMarco. Have you ever wished Lana Del Rey were a little sunnier? Congratulations, you’re going to Zella Day. Me, I’ll be watching Mac DeMarco; his recent Salad Days was one of my favorite albums of last year.
5:15 – 6:15 – Manchester Orchestra, Kaiser Chiefs
Manchester Orchestra may have hometown advantage here, possibly bringing the stronger performance here. Their sad-boy-Conor-Oberst and Kings of Leon stylings serve as contrast to their competitors on the other side of the festival, the Kaiser Chiefs. While the Chief’s inescapable “Ruby” nearly drove me to distraction nearly a decade ago, I found the Jam inspired “I Predict a Riot” a guilty pleasure. At this point, I’ll have been watching live music for some six hours, so I’ll probably need to eat some sort of overpriced food truck fare.
6:15 – 7:15 – TV on the Radio, Death From Above 1979, The Mountain Goats
This is undoubtedly the hardest decision of the entire day. TV on the Radio’s experimental electric gospel post-rock has consistently blown me away since 2004’s Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes. Still, I’ve seen them four times already, so I’m unlikely to venture a fifth viewing. Still, if you’ve yet to see them, you might want to make the effort. DFA 1979 are equally impressive. Their 2004 masterpiece You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine still exerts rock and roll power a decade on, and recent comeback The Physical World indicates that they’ve still got it. I’ve not seen them, though I have seen their electro side project MSTRKRFT, and was impressed despite its being outside of my usual genre preferences. Finally, The Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle may be a certified genius. Not only has he written some dozen rollicking folky albums (notably the near-perfect All Hail West Texas), he’s also written a bestselling novel that was nominated for a National Book Award. His latest effort, Beat the Champ took me somewhat aback, seeing is it’s about professional wrestling, but I found it as strong as anything he’s done. Honestly, I think I’m gonna try and see all three of these bands. You should attempt the same.
7:15 – 8:15 – Mastodon, American Football
Here’s another of the stronger contrasts of the evening, though the two bands do share impeccable musicianship in common. Mastodon’s sludge metal has proven consistently acclaimed for as long as I’ve been aware of them. Even though I’m not metalhead, I have to acknowledge the muscle of their sound, and last year’s Once More Around the Sun was a colossal release. American Football has a sound more akin to The Sea and Cake, blending jazzy percussion and pop melodies into a pleasantly sleepy aesthetic. This one is all about your mood: if you want to throw some up some horns and strain your neck, check out Mastodon. If you want to bring things down a little, see American Football.
8:15 – 9:30 – Pixies, Brand New, and James Blake
Ok, this is going to be my harshest criticism of any fans in this entire piece. If you’re here to see Brand New, you probably shouldn’t even be at this festival. You’re probably as soaked in pop-punk nostalgia as your hoodie is in flat beer. Speaking of nostalgia, we come to the crucible of the Pixies. Now look, I love this band, but their last release Indie Cindy was pretty atrocious. Aren’t we on something like the third iteration of these guys touring on the merits of their incomparable early releases, cashing in on the wistful hope that they’ll be the band they once were? Are they even the same without the volatile cocktail of Deal and Black? I’ve never seen the Pixies, and I feel I have to, but these circumstances may not justify the effort. James Blake, however, is at the peak of his prowess. His music is an astonishing pastiche of R&B, electronica, and experimental neo-soul. I suspect he’s the winner here.
9:30 – 11:00 The Strokes
Finally, we come to the simplest decision of the day. The Strokes are playing the final Friday slot, so you should probably see them. You know who these guys are, and you’re likely to have a good time watching them. Is This It? is almost 14 years. I bet that makes you feel old. Perhaps it’s best to relive your misspent youth and try to forget that little fact while bopping to those garagey classics.
That’s it for Friday. Check in soon for our guide to day two of Shaky Knees.