Shaky Knees is Atlanta’s premiere alt and indie rock music festival and Friday would mark its triumphant return to the Peach State after a 2020 absence. Located in the heart of downtown in Central Park, the festival would be a sight for sore eyes for many hungry music fans excited to return to live music. This year’s festival had four stages of music, each named after the busiest streets in Atlanta (Peachtree, Piedmont, Ponce De Leon) and one after one of the greatest record stores in the country (Criminal Records).
Our first impression upon walking through the gates was one of overwhelming excitement. I have been to many music festivals, but this one felt as if I was taking a cool drink of water after being stranded in the desert. Even though entrance required adherence to strict COVID protocols, it seemed as if many people felt the minor inconveniences were worth the days of music they were about the experience. During the earlier half of the day, we found ourselves getting a lay of the land, making sure we knew where all the important things were, like the main stages, water refill stations, the press tent and Atlanta’s famous Island Noodles food stand (the latter being a crucial part of our festival experience).
Once we were situated, it was time for the music to begin.
We had the pleasure of catching some great early day sets by The Specialists and Frankie & The Witch Fingers, but it didn’t quite feel like a real festival until Cults took the Piedmont Stage. This was when most of the Day One fans were arriving and the crowd felt fuller than any other time during the morning. Cults, hailing from NYC, was excited to be back after a three year absence. Lead singer Madeline Follin at one point yelled out to the crowd, “Thank you for being here to drink your Perrier and wipe the dust off everything.” You could tell they were ecstatic to be back in front of such a large gathering of people.
St. Vincent was the next standout performance of the day. She began her set with a slew of songs from her latest album Daddy’s Home, but really brought the crowd to their knees with classics like “Los Ageless” and “Cheerleader”. Her set was funky and fun and for my first time seeing her live, I was completely blown away by her stage presence. Mac DeMarco was up next and while I wasn’t really familiar with many of his songs, I could see why fans went nuts for him. His set was a relaxing and chill mix of alternative and indie, giving fans a chance to collect themselves for the hours of rock madness ahead.
Foo Fighters would ultimately hold the title for longest setlist of Shaky Knees. Performing close to two hours and 15 minutes, they played all of their hits from “Everlong” to “Monkey Wrench ” and beyond. Singer Dave Grohl remarked multiple times how grateful he was to be a rock star and, in my opinion, has easily earned his legendary status. The highlight of their set, however, wouldn’t come from an original song, but, rather, a cover of Queen’s “Somebody To Love”, which was utterly amazing! With Day One safely in the books, we eagerly looked forward to Day Two.
One of the most noticeable things about Shaky Knees was how overly friendly and caring the staff, security and other personnel were during the festival. Each morning, while walking in, I heard the gate attendees constantly complimenting fans on everything from hair color to T-shirt styles. Many times, you find these types of people stand off-ish and intimidating, but these people really wanted to make sure everyone was having a good time! The security professionally looked out for the wellbeing of concertgoers, making sure to be considerate of crowd-surfers and handing out water to people who looked a bit dehydrated. It was a great feeling to know everyone was so well cared for. You don’t always find that when attending music festivals.
In my opinion, Saturday would have the most amount of great music all in one day. It was somewhat frustrating for us to have to pick which acts to see from so many standout artists. The first great set of the day came from Arlo Parks. I had become familiar with her hit song “Hurt” last year, but hadn’t had much of an opportunity to hear much of her music beyond that. Her beautiful British voice had the crowd hypnotized and I would put money on her heading for superstardom. She was one of those artists who had the ability to create superfans after one performance.
The rest of the afternoon was filled with the spectacular sounds of Neal Francis, The Collection and Larkin Poe.
Each set was high-energy and even though I felt like I had just ran a marathon, I needed to keep my wits about me as legendary rock band Garbage was about to play their first US show in almost three years. Shirley Manson was in absolute top form! I was raised on the music of Garbage and worried that they would simply be a shadow of their former selves. Boy, was I wrong! They rocked all of their hits! I was screaming the words to “Stupid Girl” and “Only Happy When It Rains” and most likely embarrassed myself in front of younger fans. I regret absolutely nothing!
The nostalgia train would continue for me, as the night rolled on with stellar performances from Alice Cooper and Living Colour. It was great to see artists from my formative years still going strong. Alice Cooper will most likely still be rocking stages for the next 30 years. The night would conclude with hometown heroes Run The Jewels and I am pretty sure my ear drums are still ringing. The earth moved to the thundering bass. Killer Mike hails from Atlanta and mentioned many times how proud he was to call Atlanta his home. He even invited everyone over to his father’s house for an after-show smoke session. If we weren’t so exhausted, we may have taken him up on the offer.
It was a bittersweet Sunday as we walked into our last day of this amazing festival. We arrived early to say our goodbyes to the food vendors, who had kept us alive and full all weekend. So many thoughts came to mind as the realization that this was the last day set in. Who will be performing next year? What songs would Modest Mouse be playing? Would it be weird to fill my backpack with Island Noodles? I have to say that this was one of the most well-run and organized festivals I have ever attended. I didn’t see one single fight or moment of chaos throughout our time in Atlanta. The lines didn’t last that long for food and the toilet paper was always well-stocked. I can safely say that no matter where I am in 2022, I will make it a point to find my way back to Shaky Knees.
Michigander and The Brook and the Bluff put on my favorite sets of the early afternoon. I think both of these bands will eventually find themselves on much bigger stages as time goes on. I laid on the grass looking at the clouds during both sets and just let the music take me away. Orville Peck and Delta Spirit were also two amazing shows that I was definitely not expecting. I have often heard that Orville Peck had an amazing voice, but was left with my jaw on the floor by his unbelievable vocal range.
While walking around the festival, we happened to notice quite a few people wearing skeleton onesies…
We had mistakenly assumed that it was because of the approaching Halloween holiday, but we quickly realized that these were Phoebe Bridgers fans. Being completely unfamiliar with her music, we decided to give her a chance, but I found it wasn’t really my speed, so I decided to head to heavier grounds to catch the end of All Them Witches. I instantly regretted missing the first half, as they were absolutely awesome! The rest of the night was wrapped up by The Strokes and their stage lighting was really amazing. Shaky Knees 2021 was quite possibly the best music festival I have ever attended. The bands were wonderful, the food was topnotch and the organizers really took the time to put together a great experience. It was truly an amazing weekend from start to finish!
Cover & thumbnail photo by Roger Ho; recap by Derek Jones & Anastasia Elliot