Shaky Knees 2018–Day One

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Day One at Shaky Knees began as a test case.  Having not been to any event at Atlanta’s Central Park “venue” or to a previous Shaky Knees, questions ran the gamut from adequacy of restrooms, to how crowded it might be, to stage/sight/sound quality, and to whether any good beer might be found. 

Not to worry.  After a  cursory bag check, it was off to the Peachtree stage for the Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever.  The stage was large, the crowd extremely manageable at this point, and the band sounded good both in style and outdoor sonics.  They’re Australian, happy to be there, and were a good start for hearing a band that I wasn’t familiar with.

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The festival has four stages, two each in opposite corners of the park.  For most time slots, while one band is playing, the other stage is swapping staging, instruments, etc.  From this band, we hurried to the nearby Piedmont stage – just as big, but without video boards.

Hello rock and roll, as presented by Rival Sons.  The band’s lead singer, Jay Buchanon, enjoys the spotlight, as well as shredding his vocals in a raspy roar.  Kind of 70’s bluesy edge rock, with a Led Zep influence partially due to Buchanon’s vocals.  I later found that the title track from their standout album, Pressure and Time, was mysteriously already on my iTunes playlist.  A listen to that 2011 recorded version confirms his vocals are well beyond their half-life, but he wasn’t taking it easy on them then, either.  But rock and roll doesn’t have to last forever, unless you score enough fans for a reunion tour in your 60’s.  A good band to catch now, if you want loud, straightforward rock.  Imagine Bad Company’s music with Robert Plant’s swagger.

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We weren’t near through, of course.  We hurried through trees, portable toilets, food vendors, roots and sidewalks to go the opposite corner to catch Ghost of Paul Revere at the Criminal Records stage.  They’re a folksy band from Portland with a fair number of fans that clearly knew their songs.  We didn’t.  Appropriately enough, they’re on the smallest stage but nestled in the hollow looking up to a grassy hill with plenty of tree shade.  They have similarities to the Avett Brothers, Mumford and Sons and the like…  I think the audio was fine, but I really just didn’t pay that much attention to their lyrics, which is key to this type of music.  As I didn’t hear something that I hadn’t heard before and dismissed them as an act to check out again, they’re therefore likely to be The Next Big Thing.  Hey, all it takes is one song in the right movie or TV show…

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So, off we go to the other nearby stage, Ponce De Leon, to hear Waxahatchie.  This band’s original release was a favorite of many for 2017 music.  The all-female band was definitely worth the listen, prominently featuring lead singer Katie Crutchfield, who is essentially a solo artist with a backing band.  Their set lost some of the quieter charm of their last CD in favor of a more up front, rock sound.  That’s okay – concerts mixes aren’t managed like recordings.  That said, they’re fairly inanimate as a group, and the bassist was as firmly set as an Easter Island statue.  Her fingers moved, but that point on the horizon must have been fascinating.

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My group consisted of my son, my concert buddy (and coworker), another coworker, and three music lovers that my company works with.  Regardless of age, standing around essentially all day begins to wear on the back and feet.  But there’s very little time to do so in a music festival when rushing from stage to stage or trying to grab a bite to eat or a drink.  It was perhaps at this point where Eric went to find a drink, or at least the beat of a different drummer. 

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The above was the stage for Waxahatchie.  They’re in there in the dark end.  This “stage” was good in that it was shaded, but concrete wears on you after a time, and metal buildings do strange things with sound.  Many found an earthen bank to be close enough for the bands playing here, and I took note for future shows.

Meanwhile, it’s back across the park to Peachtree to hear Courtney Barnett.  She’s a curious artist, often with very humorous lyrics that don’t necessarily require a consistent lyrical measure or a hummable tune or much of an effort in vocalizing.  “Deadpan” is the term, but it’s essentially someone lacking vocal range or a great voice and therefore without much options.  Ba-da-bing – critic’s darling, and actually worth some attention.  Having seen her once before, I didn’t need to give her close attention as much as I needed to sit.  So…

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She pretty much sounds in concert like she does on CD, or vice versa.  Nice set, my description notwithstanding.  Actually, below is where I was sitting after getting barely close enough to zoom for the photos above.

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One of the biggest draws for this festival was David Byrne.  Many of the acts I had seen before, but not the Talking Heads – a rage when I was in High School and college – or its lead singer who has been a solo artist in the decades since.

Set the stage:  No musical equipment.  Grey streamers forming a drab “box” look.  And there he is, walking onto stage barefoot, then sitting at a desk.  Okay, this is something different.

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And different it was, in all the right ways.  Is that a brain on his desk?  Is he singing to it?  Or about it?  Let’s check out the side-screen.  Hmm.

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It was weird, but entertaining.  The guy has aged a bit, but he’s in tremendous voice.  I think I’m going to like this.  Indeed.  Other members of his troupe could be observed periodically behind the grey streamers, gradually entering to play instruments and/or provide visual entertainment.  Eventually, you get to this number.

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So, there’s no “band,” per se, but the instruments are all there, a rather eloquent reconstruction of what used to be a four member band back in the day.  The entire set is choreographed, the players constantly moving  through each song.  Favorites… “Slippery People,” “Once in a Lifetime,” and “Burning Down the House.”  Most of the others were unfamiliar, and someday I’ll figure out if they sounded just as good as the rest or whether I was just won over by the performance.  In either case, this was the highlight of my Shaky Knees festival.

Next we race to Fleet Foxes, a Seattle band that I’ve seen before and greatly enjoy, finding the field already swamped with fans.  They were good, but it would be difficult for them to exceed my first encounter given the better sound for their harmonies in a proper building.  And, I’m not the biggest fan of their last CD…  Still, a great listen.

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In the featured “clean up hitter” slot, we have Jack White for a two hour finale.  A critical favorite, a fan favorite, a “fantastic” guitarist.  Sorry.  The music just hasn’t connected with me, and a song or two into what another in our party would later refer to as “a great show,” my concert buddy, of like mind, and I were off on the long trek to the car.  Anyway, I can say I’ve “seen” him.  He’s the white speck in the lower center.

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Day One – Long, enjoyable, but tiring enough that perhaps jumping into a three day pass might have been overambitious on the joints.  But I ain’t dead yet.

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