Photos by Kalyn Oyer
The energy at Shaky Knees wavered in highs and lows throughout the weekend, swirling around the breezy Atlanta Skyview ferris wheel and propelling hand claps, hair flips and guitar wails before mellowing down into slow dances, light sways and surf tunes. Poppy dance beats gave the stage to fiery rock shows, while chillwave indie songs turned over to wailing headliners, providing a rollercoaster variety. I took the ride in waves, following a self-inflicted lineup that zigzagged back and forth like an unsteady heartbeat. There were lots of emotions involved, and they ruptured and receded so fast that by the end of the festival, I wasn’t quite sure what I was feeling, if I could feel anything at all. That’s the thing about music. When you engage yourself so deeply into the sounds, the lyrics, and the atmosphere, you become someone else in that moment. At festivals, you become a lot of different people, and at the end, you have to try to remember who you were before you got there.
Here’s my day by day breakdown of the sights and sounds…
Day One: 5/13
I kicked things off with the Wolf Alice show on Friday, anticipating a much less intense set than was prepared. Things were pretty dancey, with some rock and roll, some killer grooves, and a badass female singer, which I can always appreciate. “Bros” was, of course, the crowd pleaser, but the other tunes strayed from the beaten path and displayed some of their heavier tuneage. Wolf Alice was feeling the high energy in this performance, claiming is was the best first time they had played anywhere.
The energy got even dancier with English electro-folk band Crystal Fighters, who were in constant movement throughout the set. The synth beats were contagious and the clothing ensembles were colorful, as the music ricocheted off unique Basque instrumentals, like the txalaparta. Things got deep with a mic segment about reality. “The past is a perception. The future’s a deception. But right now, this here is real.”
Cold War Kids
Cold War Kids is the only band that’s played at Shaky Knees twice, and they embraced that comfort by going ham on the keys, tambourine and maracas. A lot of festie teenyboppers were only in the know on the most recent 2014 full-length Hold My Home and 2015 EP Five Quick Cuts, but the true vets sang along to “Hang Me Up To Dry.”
I wanted double the ear plugs while shooting Bloc Party. Those bass beats were raunchy and loud, oh were they loud.
This might have been my favorite show of the whole fest. Can we talk about rock n’ roll? Look no further than duo the Kills, whose set featured so many hair flips I got dizzy. Smoking cigarettes on stage is always a badass move, too, and surely enhances those gritty vocals, Alison Mosshart. Keep doing you. You’re killing it. (No pun intended. Okay, maybe pun intended…)
“It’s crazy for us to play a festival so late and have so many people!” Oh, stop with the humility, the 1975. We know your publicity stunt wave to fame with that whole split up/disappearance fiasco, and, yes, we can appreciate it. However, we appreciate those “Chocolate” guitar riffs a little more than your latest pinked-out trance party. That being said, I wasn’t mad about some groovy dancing to end the night.
Day Two: 5/14
The next day got off to an earlier start, catching the end of Son Little by 1pm. It was hot, and those classic rock vibes hailed the attention of a much older crowd than the 1975 show the previous night. A middle aged man rocked a “‘Scuse me while I kiss the sky” tie-dye T-shirt. I was digging it.
Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors
Next up was Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors with some Medicine. Romantic folk strums and stylish hats were the themes for this set.
Things went from mellow folk to mellow surf rock with the Day Wave performance across the “bridge of death,” as I referred to the metal death trap that transported fest-goers from one set of stages to the other. Luckily, daylight was still there to guide me through the trailer-like tunnel and down a flight of rickety stairs. I made it out alive, so I decided to celebrate with a fried chicken wrap on the other side. Fest food is not half bad. Day Wave was one of those Shaky Knees sets in which grass lounging was involved. I also learned that it was their first ever festival.
I switched over one stage to take some photos of Noah Gundersen, who I only knew from “Ledges.” Things stayed pretty low-energy for some emotional folk ballads that included a violin and acoustic strums. Gundersen definitely looks more like a punk rocker with long, black locks and some muscly arm tats, but festivals are all about breaking stereotypes, and so is music nowadays with so many blending genres. Making waves.
The Dear Hunter
The rock came out with the Dear Hunter, which I overheard a fest-goer say “was, like, my favorite band in seventh grade.” I stayed back for this one, and enjoyed those heavier tunes from a distance.
I was not disappointed by the Wild Nothing set, which included 2016’s innovative rainforest trance “Reichpop” and sway-worthy 2012 favorite, “Shadow.” I was, however, disappointed with the blank facial expressions on every single band member while I was trying to take their picture.
A few of my friends were really jazzed about seeing the Vaccines, so much so that they pushed all the way to the front. I was sitting in the photo pit, waiting to shoot, when a slough of staff members announced that the Vaccines’ press team wasn’t going to allow any photos, and kindly escorted all the photographers out. Talk about last minute notice. I wiggled my way through the crowd to join my friends, and ended up getting a few shots from there.
This was my most anticipated band of Shaky Knees, except maybe for Florence + The Machine. I have been real into “ILYSB” and LANY’s newest jam “Where the Hell Are My Friends,” and have listened to all of LANY’s Spotify releases multiple times on repeat. They’ve become one of my favorite bands, so getting a chance to photograph them at a festival was a dream come true. There was a funny moment in the set, in which a voicemail from band member Jake Goss’s mom came on over the speakers and rambled on in true mom phone call fashion. That was one of the many highlights from this high-energy set.
WALK THE MOON
I had seen WALK THE MOON at the Be More Tea Festival in Charleston last summer, alongside Passion Pit and the Roots, but was really excited about a chance to be in the photo pit this time around. As I mentioned, the lineup was definitely dance-heavy on the fest’s first day, but WALK THE MOON’s music by far took the award for “danciest” set. I invented a new word just for this review, guys. This was my favorite set to shoo; the colors were spectacular, the glitter was sparkly and the movements were wild, but capturable.
My Morning Jacket
I closed the night by catching the last half of My Morning Jacket. I didn’t get any pictures for this set, opting instead to revel in the moment. An epic fireworks display at the end offered fest-goers an official goodbye to day two.
Day Three: 5/15
Day three began with the end of a Frightened Rabbit performance. New album Painting of a Panic Attack, which just dropped on April 8, had been on my radar, but some older, more upbeat tracks took over the setlist, the lively Scottish accent of lead singer Scott Hutchinson quickly becoming the star of the show.
Next was punk duo Diet Cig, who was, for me, the surprise performance of the weekend. A few people suggested I catch this set, but I was new to the music, really only knowing them as “two homies making tunes and eggs on the regz” — the humble descriptor on their Facebook page. I have to admit, I was also interested in what their designated genre of “slop pop” really meant. Turns out it means punk leaning, high-energy vibes, even as lead singer Alex Luciano battled through sickness. Her gritty vocals made the live show that much better, giving it a special sick flare that the audience could appreciate. One of a kind!
St. Paul and the Broken Bones
Next, I covered St. Paul and the Broken Bones, who actually played the Spoleto Festival finale last year in Charleston. I missed that performance, so was glad I got to catch this one. There was a lot of soul, from a bevvy of horns to the Amen-inducing vocals of lead singer Paul Janeway.
“Sedona” by Houndmouth has been my jam before radio hit days, so I waited for it with anticipation. Of course it came at the very end, but I could appreciate it as I was walking over to photograph the Head and the Heart at the adjacent stage.
The Head and the Heart
Can we talk about “Rivers and Roads” for a minute? Wow. That song was so incredible live. It gave me the chills, and made me feel certain ways I hadn’t felt before. There’s nothing like some introspective folk tunes marked by moving harmonies.
Young the Giant
WALK THE MOON and Young the Giant were tied for my favorite sets to shoot during Shaky Knees. There were so many sparkles and colors, and the energy was palpable. My first experience with Young the Giant was front row during a free college concert my freshman year. Since that day and age, they’ve come out with Mind Over Matter in addition to my favorite 2011 self-titled disc. “Cough Syrup” and “My Body” were still the undeniable jams of the performance, which made me pretty happy.
Florence + The Machine
The final headliner of Shaky Knees was my idol, Florence Welch. Florence + The Machine has been one of my favorite bands since “Cosmic Love” and up through “St. Jude.” It was truly an out-of-body experience getting to photograph her and be so close to her beautiful music. She also did an incredible rendition of “Cosmic Love” that blew me away, while she reached romantically for the stars and moon, before running up and down the center aisle and standing in the crowd. My dream come true had come to fruition at this point.
I can die happy.