Boasting stellar lineup, Atlanta festival reaches elite status by sticking to indie roots
When Shaky Knees founder Tim Sweetwood dropped his 2018 rock-heavy lineup in January, many in music circles crowned the fest as the year’s best. It seems as if the larger festivals with their indistinguishable lineups have lost a little of their luster, while regional festivals such as Shaky Knees, Governors Ball and Riot Fest are becoming more and more popular. Although organizers have branched out to create Shaky Beats, a celebration of electronic music that this year will take place on the weekend following Shaky Knees, the original event has remained firm in its all-rock stance, an approach that has earned it elite status amongst a crowded and ever-changing festival landscape.
While many festivals are constantly trying to reinvent themselves, Shaky Knees has remained true to its indie-rock roots. The result is a critically acclaimed rock festival that has garnered national attention every year since its inception in 2013. This year’s installment, which will take place May 4-6 in the Old Fourth Ward just east of downtown Atlanta, features Jack White, Queens of the Stone Age, The National, David Byrne, Tenacious D and many others. After two years of it being held at Centennial Olympic Park, the festival will change venues and move to the spacious Central Park.
While the headliners are top-notch as per usual, the following are some of the under-the-radar acts we here at BLANK are excited to see at Shaky Knees 2018, broken down into daily listings for your scheduling convenience.
Friday, May 4
When the former Talking Heads frontman announced in January that he would be releasing a new album in March, many hoped a tour would follow. Fans were granted this wish when Byrne announced later that he would be touring extensively starting in March and continuing through the end of August, accompanied by an elaborate 20-piece ensemble. He has stated that this tour would be “a career-spanning set that will include updated versions of his classic ‘80s work.” “American Utopia,” the album that spawned the tour, was co-written by longtime friend and collaborator Brian Eno, and a who’s who of producers worked on it: Rodaidh McDonald (The xx, King Krule), Oneohtrix Point Never, Jam City and Jack Penate. We can’t wait to see this ambitious, once-in-a-lifetime set. (Sorry about the pun.)
Brian Jonestown Massacre
Say what you will about Anton Newcombe, whether it be about his antics, his drug abuse or the ever-revolving cast of characters in his band. Regardless of the distractions, the constants always are Newcombe and continuous new material. To date, BJM has released 17 studio albums, a figure that’s astounding when you consider how many roster moves they’ve made over the years. BJM first came to prominence in the 2004 documentary “Dig,” which infamously captured the love/hate relationship between BMJ and The Dandy Warhols and the rise of the latter. While BJM were stuck in neutral in regards to their career launching, they gained a cult following. Much like the band itself, BJM’s sound has evolved, starting off as shoegaze before morphing into a psychedelic-garage style. We have this show circled as a must-see.
Hailing from the City of Angels, of course, everything about L.A. Witch exudes desert-rock stoicism. The all-female power trio plays no-frills garage/psych rock, and that’s what you can expect at Shaky Knees. Having released its self-titled debut last September, the band layers reverb, fuzz and feedback on top of bare-essentials rock; the kicker is the twist of haunting trance that is added to the mix. L.A. Witch fit in the same mold as fellow SoCal groups like The Growlers and Alah Las, whose stripped-down fare proves that less can be more. We totally can see this being a must-see aftershow, as well.
Nashville band *repeat repeat is the latest in a long line of groups from Middle Tennessee to find breakout popular success. The power-pop duo released its sophomore album, “Floral Canyon,” on Dangerbird Records, a label that features a stacked roster of Matt Costa, Butch Walker and The Dears. Past alumni include Minus the Bear, Royal Teeth and Fitz and the Tantrums. While we’re name-dropping, it’s safe to say that their pal Margo Price has been a huge influence on the group’s members, having given them smart advice on how to sustain a career and how to stand out amongst the crowded music landscape of East Nashville.
Saturday, May 5
Since forming in 2010 in Brooklyn, New York, Parquet Courts have been as busy as any current band by releasing a plethora of albums, EPs and even an official live recording. With every release, the group steadily has built upon its fan base, slowly rising on lineup posters in the process. Its brand of garage/indie-rock fits flawlessly with the Shaky Knees aesthetic and vibe. Parquet Courts will be releasing their sixth studio effort, “Wide Awake!,” later this year and will be touring extensively this spring and summer ahead of the drop. If you’re not catching them at Shaky Knees, you will have other opportunities regionally to see them this year: at Basement East in Nashville and at the Orange Peel in Asheville.
Greta Van Fleet
Another band of youngsters taking the States by storm is Greta Van Fleet. With their raucous, bluesy stylings, these kids from Frankenmuth, Michigan, are brimming with a style and a swagger reminiscent of Led Zeppelin. The band, which comprises three brothers (Josh, Sam and Jake Kiszka) and drummer Danny Wagner, has enjoyed rapid success thanks in part to its smash single “Highway Tune,” which has been featured in the Showtime series “Shameless,” on FM airwaves and in commercials. All of this publicity culminated in the band being named best new artist last year by Loudwire and the steady rise of its second EP to the very peak of the Billboard rock chart.
Since forming in 2008 in Los Angeles, Chicano Batman methodically has gained exposure by blending a mixed sound of soul, tropicana and rock. All four of its members are Hispanic, but they draw from so many influences that they don’t quite fit the mold of a traditional Spanish alternative-rock act such as Manu Chau. Touring behind last year’s “Freedom is Free,” the group has played most major festivals and even made its late-night television debut on “Conan” last year. Two of the band’s standout tracks are “Black Lipstick” and “Magma,” but the entirety of a Chicano Batman set is full of fun, booty-shaking music. In Atlanta, it should provide a nice change of pace from all the great yet dour artists on the bill.
While there’s not much electronic music of which to speak at Shaky Knees, as the genre is usually reserved for the following week’s Shaky Beats, the festival does tend to book one or two acts that fit this mold. This year’s lone act in that vein is Austin, Texas’ Roger Sellers, who is better known by his stage name. Bayonne is a one-man show, composing and producing whilst simultaneously performing his brand of pop music that incorporates layers of loops. All the mixers, keyboards and sequencers surely will appeal to a younger set of fans at the festival, but Bayonne’s pop sensibilities should draw audiences of all ages and appreciators of all styles, especially those who are fans of Animal Collective. His live prowess can be viewed on YouTube; check out the video for “Living Room (Live Loop Version),” which shows his ability to loop sounds and move from instrument to instrument, playing and controlling every single piece of music.
Sunday, May 6
Self-anointed as the greatest band in the world, perhaps Tenacious D isn’t technically an under-the-radar kind of act. But after a long absence, the duo will make its triumphant return to the stage this summer by playing a handful of festival dates. As luck would have it, Shaky Knees will be the duo’s only performance in the U.S. Jack Black and Kyle Glass have completed work on their fourth studio album (titled “Post-Apocalypto”), which will be a comedic rock opera. The ever-popular pair is billed as a second-tier headliner, and it will be interesting to see if Black and Gass introduce any special guests (like Dave Grohl, who has worked on every one of their studio albums to date). It’s hard to imagine that this set isn’t on a good number of must-see lists for the weekend.
Formed in 2013 by Julian Casablancas, frontman for The Strokes, The Voidz recorded “Tyranny” after members Jake Bercovici, Alex Carapetis and Jeff Kite backed Casablancas on his solo album and tour for “Phrazes for the Young.” After playing South by Southwest in 2014, The Voidz were playing a mix of solo Casablancas material and favored works by The Strokes, along with tunes off of their debut before taking a short hiatus from touring in late 2015. Fast forward to 2018, and The Voidz have a brand-new LP, “Virtue,” and Casablancas again looks poised to regain his status as rock royalty.
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
There are few things in this world to which you can set your watch, but a few things still remain: death, taxes and a regular Black Rebel Motorcycle Club release. Having formed in 1998, BMRC has released eight albums to date since its first, which breaks down to about one full-length record every other year. Named after famed Brando flick “The Wild One,” BMRC exhibits a classic-rock sound with a psychedelic twist, drawing from influences ranging from Led Zeppelin to Sonic Youth. Currently touring in support of “Wrong Creatures,” which was released in January 2018, the band’s sound has remained as consistent as its lineup over the years. This might be one of those shows that sneaks up on you and surprises you with its quality, but what else should you expect from a group who so steadfastly treads the musical waters?
Mt. Joy will imbue Central Park with an indie-folk vibe that’s similar in fashion to that of fellow Philadelphia rockers Dr. Dog. Having released its self-titled debut last year, Mt. Joy has toured heavily, playing some of the larger festivals such as Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza and Newport Folk Festival thanks in part to the honest, revelatory singles “Silver Lining” and “Jenny Jenkins.” These songs quickly garnered millions of plays via Spotify, which launched the band into a heavy touring schedule and onto many festival lineups. Mt. Joy might be the most complete act playing this year’s installment of Shaky Knees in that the group’s beautifully crafted songs and musicianship are the total package, making it one of the best up-and-coming bands on this year’s festival circuit. Local audiences will be able to get in on the act, too, when Mt. Joy play the Bijou Theatre on April 27.
Miscellaneous weekend draws
One of the many cool aspects of Shaky Knees is the wealth of late-night performances at various venues around town that begin when official shows wrap up. Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits started the trend, but urban festivals throughout the country have adopted similar programming. Atlanta comes alive after things calm down in Central Park, as concertgoers scramble to find their favorite bands at seven venues across the city. The bills are always stacked and always sell out, and this year is no exception.
Kicking off the festival Thursday night will be The Black Angels at the Masquerade. Opening will be the aforementioned Bayonne. The Whigs also will be performing a kickoff show at Terminal West, even though they are not officially on the Shaky Knees lineup – one of the unique aspects of the kickoff and aftershows. Brian Jonestown Massacre will be playing a sold-out show at the Earl. Other heavyweights playing shows throughout the weekend will be The War on Drugs, Fleet Foxes, The Melvins and BRMC, but they are just a few of the 30 or so acts scheduled to perform.
Some of the most stellar food that we’ve had the pleasure of tasting in a festival environment just so happens to have been eaten at Shaky Knees. Our choice as best food truck last year was none other than Roti Rolls out of Charleston, South Carolina. It’s no surprise, then, that it has been voted as that city’s best food truck for four years running and that it has been featured on the Cooking Channel, Food Network and even locally on WATE.
The folks at Roti Rolls are no strangers to the festival scene, having participated in Bonnaroo, Wanee and Hangout in addition to Shaky Knees. The big green truck specializes in kimchi rice bowls, and they use fresh, farm-to-table ingredients among other delicious items. There’s no better “nourishment for the soul” at a festival that we’ve found thus far.