Words// Garrett Smith – Photos// Ellie Alonzo & Garrett Smith
The sun rises on another day in the steamy Big Peach – the perfect sort of day for one of the first festivals of summer. This is the sixth year of Atlanta’s very own Shaky Knees festival, and Austere is proud to help you relive these three glorious days in the ATL. Did we mention just how much ground there is to cover? both literally – with four stages interspersed amongst hilly turf and beset by dozens of food trucks and vendors – and figuratively, with over 60 artists performing.
Y’all know that we work hard to play hard here at the mag, and we don’t want you to miss a single second of the action – trust us, in A-town, there’s always something going down. So, we’re breaking up this bad boy into three – count ’em, three – articles that get down to the nitty-gritty and really capture the wealth of music, talent, and artistry that we experienced over each day.
Got your gear at the ready? Are you hydrated? Solid shoes? Good. You’ll need all of the above – with a touch of resilience and a dram of true grit – if you want to tag along this trek with us. Don’t worry; we won’t set too hard a pace to follow. It does get a little bumpy, though
Tune in, buckle down, and keep up, y’all – the Shaky Knees express is leaving the station.
// Day 1
We kicked things off with a short but delectably bewitched set by LA Witch – a decidedly ominous opening for a fun, sunny day. This lady-lead trio heralds in dark, industrial instrumentals with dark and sometimes primal vocals to create a very apropos soundsphere given their name. It didn’t matter that it was broad daylight in sweltering summer heat – the minute you were within earshot, these badass ladies transported you to their dimly lit nightclub coven, and we were all transfixed in their witch’s brew.
Speaking in such spooky tones, we come to a similarly named but, ironically, not-so-frightful band – The Frights. This is Austere’s second time catching their set within a little over a month, having seen them bust out their happy party-punk jams at In Bloom in Houston. The boys were in peak form today, riling up the crowd with their quick power-chord riffs, their giddy stage presence, and unforgettable, doo-wop style summer-swingers like “Crust Bucket”. It’s a performance built on numbers you want to hear again and again, and all that we’re left thinking, after this set, the last, or the next, is –
Now that you’re gone…
Continuing in a similar rip-roaring vein, but moving from punk into the realm of rock with consummate hard-rockers Rival Sons. It’s a classic revival of blues-driven classic rock with that beloved Southern twist, replete with high-flying pipes and delicious bravado. These guys are cut-and-dry in the best way possible: no reliance on gimmicks, flashiness, or stage antics. It’s good ol’ fashioned rock-and-roll, and damn is it good.
Now, Ezra Furman is a performer that defies both genre and gender convention – and you know we here at Austere couldn’t miss such a combination. Furman’s particular brand of indie rock bears with it a unique cocktail of vulnerable expression tethered to personal experiences, and a healthy dose of psychedelia and other strange spins. Everything we see on stage is part of the art of Furman’s performance, down to the lipstick and pearls ensemble that is, in some form or another, Ezra Furman’s trademark.
Now, I bet y’all were not expecting to cry reading these recaps, but alas, we’re about to hop in a time machine and transport y’all back to the early Aughts – and this is only the first stop on that train. Jimmy Eat World has infected our ears with delightfully viral tunes for nearly two decades now, and we’re ecstatic to say we caught them live – from “The Sweetness” to “Bleed American” and the unforgettable classic, “The Middle”, these guys gave a performance that never outed itself as something put on by veterans of the 2000s. Instead, it feels fresh, new, and all smiles, ear-to-ear –
even when we’re crying, all the same.
Alright, fellas – enough from you, already; let’s get back to the women of this festival. We’ve got another return to the Austere lens with Waxahatchee, whose often-ethereal, folksy vibes are like a heatsink, helping us to cool down and transcend this sweaty day. It’s all gorgeous lighting, wispy instrumentation and gorgeously bright vocals from Birmingham native Katie Crutchfield. We’ve caught her twice in one week, now – so what’s your excuse?
Courtney Barnett is yet another returning character in our coverage, and provides beautiful counterpoint to the softer music of Waxahatchee, with hard-hitting garage rock playing and sultry, to-the-point vocals that leave little in the way of wanting more. It’s really easy to put Barnett into words – she kicks ass, and if you don’t like her, we’re sure she’d kick your ass too –
and then write a chart-topping song about it.
Now, these guys from across the pond defy explanation, but rarely need it. Scottish rockers Franz Ferdinand came in like cannonball onto the Shaky Knees scene, kicking things off with latest hit single “Always Ascending” and playing through their entire frenetic oeuvre with classics like “Take Me Out” thrown in, as well. Stage presence is the name of the game here, and these guys know how to demand attention and keep it. We never know what’s around the corner – and that’s the best part with these guys.
Speaking of the unexpected – David Byrne both thrives off of creating the unexpected and, from our perspective, catching a performance by such a living legend is incredibly surprising for us. Before even appearing on stage, the show had already begun – a box of hanging grey chains surrounded a small chair and desk, atop which sat an anatomical model of a human brain. As the show began, Byrne entered, contemplated the brain and, through a series of well-choreographed dancing and expression, Byrne moved from singing about the brain into the rest of his delectably avant-garde set. Would you have expected to see Talking Heads tunes like “Once in a Lifetime” or “Place to Be” performed live in your lifetime?
Well, neither did we.
After the weirdness of David Byrne, we need something sweet and easy; something to sing along to, to transport us to kinder days and brighter nights, spent hiking wooded trails or camped out fireside, waves washing up on shore from the lake we swam earlier that day. These kind of musical vibes come from none other than indie folk heroes Fleet Foxes, and there was no better time for such a set than sunset on this first day, with so much already behind us and so much more good energy ahead.
With the happiest of tears in our eyes and the fondest of reminiscence in our heads, we swayed our heads and hips to tunes like “White Winter Hymnal” and “Blue Ridge Mountains”, while enjoying fresh wonders from the band’s latest release Crack Up. Foxes’ frontman Robin Pecknold was all bright-eyed smiles, and if we didn’t know any better, we’d think from his thankful demeanor that he himself didn’t know how famous and loved he is. To have such humble energy on stage is sublime, allowing us to feed off the performance as much as the performers feed off of us.
Of course, we do need to stay awake and energized for our headliner – and Japandroids, with their high-octane garage rock and positively-charged energy, is the perfect espresso shot for a long day of amazing music. Throw in the gorgeous lighting from the Ponce de Leon stage, and it made for a beautiful show. The guys were clearly excited to play and, at one point, asked the crowd what they wanted to hear next because, as they proclaimed “We’re going to play everything!”
Even if they didn’t get through every song in their breadth of recordings –
we walked away stuffed with good, finger-lickin’ tunes.
And now, of course, for the show-stopping man himself, who needs no introduction but demands the lengthiest possible – Jack White. It was everything and more that one might expect from the Detroit born, Nashville raised garage-cum-blues rocker – and then some. It was all screeching, arena-sized guitar riffs, a larger-than-life presence,
and of course, that patented brand of raw, unadulterated machismo.
The set was a joyride through White’s vast oeuvre of solo and band endeavors, ranging from his signature Tennessee blues to early-aughts indie and screeching guitar-heavy garage-rock. The set was divided in two with a small intermission, with both sets having a solid dosage of White Stripes and Raconteurs material thrown in, which one could be forgiven for expecting Jack White to gloss over.
Plenty of classic Jack White solo tunes came out, with an appearance from Lazaretto‘s title track and Blunderbuss’ “Sixteen Candles” – but a surprise addition came in the form of the song “Love Interruption”, the surprise of which was in the appearance of frequent Jack White collaborator and fiddle player extraordinaire, Lillie Mae. Mae provided beautiful counterpoint to Jack White as they performed a duet of the song; a much needed balance to White’s usual front-and-center presence.
We heard everything from “Hardest Button to Button”, to “Little Acorns”, “Steady As She Goes”, and more – but of course, the real kicker – and the night’s closer – was none other than “Seven Nation Army”, a tune that we never expected to hear performed live again after the dissolution of the Stripes. It was a night of many hats, for Jack White – and a few costume changes, as well. The man is as satisfied with wearing one shirt or jacket as he is with performing in one band, or having one project – and we the multi-tasked and talented here respect that. On that final note, Jack White left us with this fitting statement:
“God bless you, Atlanta – you’ve been incredible, and I’ve been Jack White”
That’s it for Day 1 of Shaky Knees, folks – but stay tuned for Days 2 and 3, coming at you in just as many. We’ve got Circa Survive, Cake, Queens of the Stone Age, Tenacious D, The National, and so many more coming your way in the next few days, so please: