2019 marks the 7th Annual Shaky Knees Festival here in Atlanta, GA, and after moving the festival around to a few different locations in town, this year is the second year the festival finds it’s home back in Midtown at the Central Park location, where it was held in 2015. Central Park is nestled into the neighborhood and has a ton of trees and open spaces when you want to grab a bite to eat or get out of the sun for little while, and despite the earlier weather forcast there was quite a bit of sun today.
This year’s music lineup is as strong as ever and you need look no further than Friday, the first day of the festival to see what a diverse and talented lineup festival creator and visionary, Tim Sweetwood has curated.
Songs for Kids
As has been customary at previous years festivals the day kicks off with Songs for Kids, an organization lead by Josh Rifkind, Sanjay Kothari and Justin Kerenyi, dedicated to bringing music to kids battling serious illnesses and giving them the opportunity to be creative and express themselves through music. All 3 days of the festival will feature them on the Peachtree stage shortly after the gates open. It was amazing to hear them kick off the festival with the Blink 182’ song, “I Miss You.”
Kicking off the Ponce de Leon stage was 19 year old Canadian singer-songwriter, Taylor Janzen. Janzen, out promoting a new EP, Shouting Matches produced and mixed by Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes, Phoebe Bridgers) has a voice straight out the heartland, reminiscent at times of Kathleen Edwards with a guitar that rang like a bell throughout the festival grounds meandering around the afternoon sun. A real standout track from today’s show was the last song on her new EP, a wistful tune called “Toronto.” Fans of Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus will find a lot to like here.
Hailing from Austin, TX, Duncan Fellows hit the stage and never let up. Since their modest beginnings in a house on Duncan Lane in 2012 the band has independently released two EPs, Twelve Months Older (2013) and Marrow (2015) before heading into the studio their new record, Both Sides of the Ceiling in 2017. The band emerged with a hearty record that bounces along with spirit and comradely that was on fill display today with the audience singing along while the band soaked it up, kicking out a stellar performance. There’s a little Americana in their sound, some 60s harmonies and a ton of smiles both on and off stage.
Gilfillian kicked off the Piedmont stage with a emotional set of tunes that brought to mind R&B singers like Al Green and Ray Charles with a touch of guitar fireworks and a healthy dose of southern soul, gospel blues and just a touch of funk that had the crowd moving as the mid-day sun really got started. He’s just released a great new single, “Get Out And Get It” and has a new record in the works.
The Joy Formidable
A long time favorite with the folks here at Atlanta Music Guide and Shaky Knees, The Joy Formidable performed at the festival’s first year back on a rainy day in 2013. To see them live is to love them. The band is on fire from the very first note with singer/guitarist Ritzy Bryan thrashing about and stalking the stage in-between burst of melody and fire while bassist Rhydian Dafydd and Justin Stahley more than hold it down by being one of the best rhythm sections out there. Their particular take on modern rock is dynamic, cathartic and unpredictable. Always a must-see.
Sharon Van Etten
Sharon Van Etten’s new record “Remind Me Tomorrow” is heavy with emotion, doubt and ambition and that vibe translated perfectly onto the stage today. Her first 3 songs felt forbidding and heavy with a more electronic vibe and darker sounds than her earlier work. After a few songs the guitars came out and the mood lightened, but the vibe still hung heavy in the air throughout the entire set. One of the best sets we saw today.
Today’s lineup has it’s fair share of artists that make you nostalgic for days gone by and Phair is a perfect example of someone that has found a resurgence of interest, especially with the reissue of her seminal cassettes Girlysounds and her first full-length, Exile in Guyville from the early 90s. Look no further than newer artists like Jay Som, Bully and Soccer Mommy and you’ll see that the 90s are back in popular culture in a big way. From the very first note of Phair’s set there was a sea of smiles and Phair and her band ripped though a ton of great songs like “Supernova,” “Never Said,” “Help Me Mary” and a new song called “God Loves Baseball.”
Sultana was an artist we were largely unfamiliar with before the festival that really impressed. A one-person band, Sultana builds loops of instruments, layering tasty guitars, beat-box vocals, electronics, trumpet an other instrument to create an every-changing reggae influence vibe that the crowd at the main stage was really going crazy for. Check out her YouTube videos for a taste of what she can do.
Once again the 90s are back and Dashboard Confessional are every bit as powerful as they were back in the day. Tight and fun, Chris Carrabba broke a 1,000 hearts with his heart-on-a-sleeve lyrics and passional vocals on the Piedmont stage today. In addition to playing “We Fight,” the first single off of their new record, Crooked Shadowsthe band played a slew of older tunes saying “I hope you don’t mind if we play a few old ones” as the entire crowd went crazy and they rocked though “Screaming Infidelities,” “The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most,” and a fantasy cover of The Cure’s, “Just Like Heaven.”
We went back to 90s again with Incubus, who are out supporting their fantastic new record, 8. The band was tight as hell and sounded amazing blasting though hit after hit like Pardon Me, Wish You Were Here and No Fun.
At only 19-years old, Yellow Days, the stage name for George van den Broek drew a rabid crowd of fans that sang and screamed along to his downtempo slow jams and reflective lyrics. Vocally he switched from a soulful croon, to wistful passages punctuated by a Prince-like howl and there was much crying in the audience at the front of the stage.
Tears for Fears
One of the biggest buzzes of the festival was the return of Tears for Fears. On the heals of their greatest hits record last year the band has been in the public’s consciousness, thanks in no small part to Weezer, who covered “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” on their Teal Album released in January. So, it was no small thing when Tears for Fears kicked off their set with their biggest hit. Madness ensued and the band took us on an hour-long tour of the hits including, “Sowing the Seeds of Love,” “Change,” “Head Over Heals.” and their epic closing song, “Shout.” Unexpected but worth mentioning was their spot on cover of Radiohead’s Creep towards the end of the set.
Closing out Friday night was Beck. Kicking it out since the early 90s, (we’re sensing a theme here) Beck has such an extensive catalog to pull from it was a bit surprising that he hit the crowd with a one, two punch of 2 of his biggest hits, “Devil’s Haircut” and “Loser” right out of the gate. From there he swerved though his entire catalog with “Mixed Business,” “The New Pollution,” and songs like “Wow” and “Dreams” from his excellent 2017 record, Colors.
Check out our complete photo coverage below.
Words by John McNicholas
Photos by Hillery Terenzi/John McNicholas