What began as a two-day event selling out at 9,000 attendees ten years ago has grown into a large three-day festival drawing international talent and 40,000 attendees all housed in Atlanta’s Central Park. Shaky Knees music festival brings a variety of sound, both classic favorites and fresh faced artists to the peach state every year since 2013.
While the festival boasts a core indie-rock theme each year, 2023’s stages saw rap at the hands of classic masters Cypress Hill, Digable Planets and Killer Mike, while Cautious Clay brought contemporary soul and a flawless flute performance to the mainstage Friday night. Peaches brought her unique synth-pop-rap along with topless dancers and five costume changes for a long awaited performance at Criminal Records. 311 gave Atlantians some much needed reggae Saturday night while Tenacious D proved to be a humorous touch to the daily schedule. Punk fans could find solace in much-desired FIDLAR and Off! Performances while GROUPLOVE and Father John Misty provided the oceanic folk rock that hallmarks Shaky Knees each year.
The annual unique lineup proves to be the recipe for Shaky Knees’ indescribable, organic vibe each year. The crowd is about as far from homogenous as possible by housing everyone from young families toting toddlers in strollers and gray-haired old-timers camping out for the day. Three-day wristbands allowed dedicated attendees to rage all weekend, while day passes allowed for locals to catch some of their favorite sets without committing to the entire festival. Shaky Knees sold out before the festival proved to be a can’t-miss event.
Although Shaky boasts international talent, one of the most special installments to this festival was the capacity for homegrown acts. For Futurebirds, a Shaky Knees performance represents the fruits of hard labor over the past 14 years.
“It’s completely surreal,” says guitarist and singer Thomas Johnson. “It’s something we’ve always wanted to do and just had never been able to do it before. We’ve been around for longer than the festival.”
Futurebirds got their start in Athens, Ga. as University of Georgia students in 2008. Now, the alternative rock band is to begin work on a seventh studio album in Texas followed by a heavy national tour throughout the summer. As long-time Shaky attendees, the band has been itching to play the festival for years, but is happy with the way things turned out. The band graced the Piedmont stage Saturday night at 4:30 to an epic, receptive crowd.
“I’m glad we did wait this long because we got an amazing spot,” says guitarist Carter King. “We could have gone five years ago at noon on the smaller stage which would have been great, too. But things work out how they’re supposed to.
“It was so much fun, the crowd here and the energy was just off the charts, the field was full of people, and a lot of hands in the air,” continues Carter.
Futurebirds plans to return to Atlanta in October with an event that will soon be announced.
Garage-rock inspired Gringo Star was another Atlanta-native band playing their maiden performance at Shaky this year. The brother band formed in 2007 and will release their seventh studio album on June 2. The band will play several more US tour dates before heading across the pond for a European tour lasting five weeks.
“This is my first Shaky Knees I’ve been to and I get to play it, which I felt very fortunate,” says guitarist Josh Longino. “It’s a lot of fun to get to play when there’s a lot of local people, a lot of Atlanta eyes that may not have seen us before.”
Shaky Knees represented the excitement musicians and fans have to get back to music events after the near-two year hiatus brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the same is true for Gringo Star.
“I realized at many points while we were setting up that I was smiling like a jackass because I was so overwhelmingly happy,” says drummer Mario Colangelo. “It’s such a blessing to be able to do anything, especially after having everything down.”
Shaky Knees’ long-held tenure as an Atlanta music gem will stay true for years to come.