Shaky Knees’ second annual festival weekend is in the rearview, and it’s hard not to look forward to the years to come. Moving this year from the muddy trenches of Masquerade Music Park to the asphalt of Atlantic Station, one of the big wins for the festival was how much music it allowed patrons to see. Even though there were plenty of tricky scheduling conflicts—Dawes vs. PHOX, Jason Isbell vs. Blitzen Trapper, The Whigs vs. Wild Belle, to name a few—the stages were close enough together that you could hover in the back and catch bits of both sets, and it never felt like a hike to get places. Sunday, Shaky Knees’ final day, was a perfect example if this advantage, and I was able to check out a lot of bands, wandering back and forth to fit in bits from a bunch of old favorites and new discoveries. Here are some of the highlights.
John McCauley played this set in a kilt and a bright red “LSD” t-shirt, a pretty outrageous outfit that was really only a footnote compared to the characteristically kickass set that Deer Tick brought to Shaky Knees. They spiced up the setlist, which was filled with bits from latest release Negativity and plenty of old favorites, with a very rock-and-roll rendition of Jimmy Lloyd’s 1958 single “I’ve Got a Rocket in My Pocket:” it was a hell of a lot of fun, and it still wasn’t the biggest takeaway moment from the set. “The Rock” gave plenty of energy at its chorus, and McCauley and the band finished the appearance with “Ashamed,” a sweeter tune I wasn’t expecting to close out such a barn-burning set. The way the adoring audience members sang every word was unforgettable, and left me eager to run home and revisit War Elephant.
Isbell’s latest, Southeastern, is gut-wrenchingly introspective, so much so that I was surprised at how much more the tracks resonated live: it didn’t seem like they could get much more earnest. But seeing the admiration in fans’ eyes coupled with Isbell’s knowing vocals made every lyric feel like a shared experience, a shared pain, a shared triumph: “Live Oak” struck me in particular as fans closed their eyes and sang along to lyrics like “There’s a man who walks beside me, he is who I used to be / And I wonder if she sees him and confuses him with me.” I’ve never seen that kind of sincerity resonate with such a large crowd, particularly in a festival setting where so often we drift from set to set. “Traveling Alone” and “Super 8” rounded out the set, and for a catalog so full of songs about heartbreak his set gave me a feeling I’ll seek out again any time Isbell’s on a lineup.
Local Natives have been touring in support of Hummingbird for almost a year and a half now, so although the expected highlights of the performance like “Wide Eyes,” “You and I” and “Camera Talk” elicited the expected reaction from the audience, the most noteworthy part of the set was a cover. They sang “Out Among The Stars,” a song originally recorded by Johnny Cash in the 80s and never released. It was a fun surprise, and a welcome addition to a set that was enjoyable despite otherwise feeling a bit routine.
Well, they started their set with “Blister In The Sun,” and the performance seemed to skyrocket from there. You could see people sprinting from all corners of the festival once the easily-recognized opening notes began to ring out—a fitting reaction for a show as high-energy as this one.
Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros
Every time Ed Sharpe and the Zeros play a festival, you know there are going to be lots of whistles, lots of crowd interaction and sing-alongs galore. But, somehow, Alex Ebert always manages to surprise. The charming Jade Castrinos was absent, and when Ebert enlisted the crowd’s help in “Home,” he got more than he bargained for with an on-stage proposal and audience more than ready to belt every one of Castrinos’ lyrics to the duet. The band wound down the show perfectly with “Om Nashi Me.”
The Alabama Shakes
If there was ever any doubt as to whether The Alabama Shakes were headlining material, it’s been shattered: Brittany Howard owned her audience, which was an expansive crowd (especially for a Sunday night). Her powerful vocals and the band’s big sound were a force, and favorites like “Hold On” and “Hang Loose” showed an inspiring spark of recognition among the crowd while new tunes gave hope that we could expect another album from the Alabama band soon. It was the perfect way to close out three days of good music, and I can only hope that Shaky Knees continues to exceed our already-astronomical in years to come.