Have you ever attended a music festival in a shopping mall? We just did. After its rainy debut at Atlanta’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Masquerade Music Park (in conjunction with the Historic Fourth Ward), Shaky Knees Festival moved things over to the concrete sprawl of the city’s outdoor mall, Atlantic Station. It’s a little weird upon first arrival, especially given the faux small town atmosphere (think Mayberry meets the Mall of Americas, only with a Publix), but when you look up at the dark skies and down at the concrete, you begin to realize it’s better than a muddy field. Sort of.
This year marked the second installment of Shaky Knees, and founder Tim Sweetwood went bigger without overstepping his vision, expanding from two days to three. Headliners The National, Modest Mouse, and Alabama Shakes, supported by Spoon, The Replacements, and Violent Femmes, respectively, retained the rugged alt-folk spirit that made last year’s debut so special to Southern audiences. Read: Zero EDM acts were on the lineup. And in a year where Calvin Harris and Skrillex are headlining Austin City Limits, that’s a key factor to note.
The festival anticipated 18,000 attendees, over double what their previous year drew, proving that there’s still a market for more niche festivals opposed to the genre-spanning Big Four and its accompanying junior competition. The weird thing is that because of the location, Shaky Knees had a very sterile feel. Sure, you could see the Atlanta skyline, the parking was plentiful, and the nearby stores provided an agreeable escape during the rain, but… there was something lost in the scenery. Bottom line: A parking lot will always look like a parking lot.
Photo by Josh Terry
That’s a big problem in the South, where the sun can be an unforgivable beast. As Sunday’s bright blue skies proved, the entire area quickly turns into one giant frying pan, capturing the heat until the evening rolls in. There just wasn’t any shelter from the sun all day, and unlike similar shadeless conditions at Coachella in Indio, CA, setting up shop on the asphalt (as opposed to, say, grass or turf) is about as comfortable as switching on the heater in Miami come July.
Having said that, there was plenty to applaud about the setup. The stages were close enough without any irritating bleed-through, the local food trucks were accessible depending on the time, and there wasn’t an aggravating glut of corporate sponsorship, either. Stages were labeled after Atlanta’s iconic streets, and while Dos Equis and Red Bull were obvious benefactors, they were hardly intrusive. In other words, no lackeys were schilling their product or begging you to take free swag.
In fact, the festival even made an amicable effort to pry your eyes off Atlantic Station’s surrounding logos for Old Navy, Dillard’s, BB&T, et al. A hillside Shaky Knees sign became a popular Instagram spot all weekend, large electronic lightning bolts flashed throughout, while a row of trees between the four stages turned magical by nightfall with drizzling white lights. Though, if they really wanted to capitalize on the space, they could have plucked that over-the-top ferris wheel awkwardly installed outside the Waffle House around Centennial Olympic Park.
Photo by Max Blau
Really, Shaky Knees is an experience worth championing, especially if Sweetwood maintains his vision and staves off the temptation to move tickets with the “button-pushers.” The South could use a guaranteed event like this each year, and the overjoyed attendees that sang and screamed and demanded for more all weekend might agree. Here’s hoping it goes the way of Hangout and avoids the pitfalls of expansion that Langerado suffered years back. Our advice for next year? Two words: Tom Petty.