By Cameron Lee
May 8, 2017
Like many success stories in the music industry, founder of Shaky Knees, Tim Sweetwood’s passion for music drove him to start organizing shows soon after college. Having booked shows since the early 2000s at the historic Masquerade along with other notable venues in Atlanta, Sweetwood, who is a self-proclaimed “dork about music” is a towering force in Atlanta’s music scene. After helping to revive Masquerade while building great relationships with up-and-coming bands in the Southeast over ten years, Sweetwood started Shaky Knees in 2013 to fill a void in indie rock music festivals in the region. Since its inception, Shaky Knees has curated a well-balanced lineup of top-notch headliners, mid-level touring bands and some of the best up-and-comers in the indie-rock, folk, Americana and Southern rock genres. Over the years, bands like Alabama Shakes, The Strokes, Modest Mouse, The National, Spoon, Cage the Elephant, and My Morning Jacket (whose song “Steam Engine” inspired the name of the festival), have graced Shaky Knees’ multiple stages in the last four years.
This year hosts a selection of some the best touring indie acts in the country. Every year in May, “in-the-know” indie music scenesters and appreciators on the East Coast flock to Atlanta to be immersed in the warm Georgia sun and to hear glorious rock music.
We all know the headliners like LCD Soundsystem, The Shins, Pixies, The xx, Ryan Adams, and Phoenix will probably put on some epic performances, but here are our 10 must-see bands this year:
Car Seat Headrest – Friday, Peach Tree Stage at 3:30 p.m.
Will Toledo (Will Barnes) is the frontman and the uniquely crafty talent behind a great indie rock band called Car Seat Headrest. Having released multiple albums on Bandcamp and developing a cult-like DIY rock following, Toledo and his band released a full-length album, Teens on Denial on Matador Records in 2016. Composing lo-fi rock tunes and packaging them into complex head-bobbing jams, Car Seat Headrest is a rare and refreshing gem in a cluttered space of garage rock bands.
Pinegrove – Friday, Ponce de Leon Stage at 4:15 p.m.
An effortless blend of reverberating grunge rock with folk and alt-country tones, Pinegrove has swept the country through music halls, bars, house shows, NPR’s Tiny Desk, and even a few national television appearances. Their latest album Cardinal offers simple, singable tunes with the gritty, sometimes melodically clamoring voice of frontman Evan Hall. Whether you’re looking to discover a great new band with “Old Friends” or are a current fan yet to see Pinegrove live in search of “New Friends,” you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
The Growlers – Friday, Piedmont Stage at 4 p.m.
Beach Goth. Never has the combination of two words that conjure polar opposite feelings sounded so good. It best describes the California band, The Growlers, who are currently signed to Julian Casablancas’ (The Strokes) label, Cult Records. What does Beach Goth sound like? Let’s blend Deer Tick, The Kills, Future Islands, and The Doors into a super band, and that’s just a start. Their latest album City Club, is a soundtrack to a hazy night out on the town, whiskey shots, cigarettes, and debauchery.
Whitney – Sunday, Piedmont Stage 1:45 p.m.
Former drummer of Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Julien Ehrlich, started a new group in 2015 after the breakup of his band the Smith Westerns in 2014. Often times, great bands blend sounds and styles from various projects to blossom into a genre-bending original style. A combination of folk and Southern rock melodies with a vintage garage rock sound along with Ehrlich’s pleasantly whiny and poetic lyrics, Whitney’s debut album has garnered acclaim from many music critics across the country. You’ll be swaying in the sun searching for those “Golden Days.”
Foreign Air – Saturday, Ponce de Leon Stage at 1:30 p.m.
Jesse Clausen, frontman of former Charlotte-based band, HRVRD, has resurfaced with a new musical project called Foreign Air. Mixing Clausen’s echoing melodic voice with epic drum kits and piercing synths, Foreign Air takes everything you love about the electronic vibes of popular indie synth-pop groups with aggressive rock ‘n’ roll anthem-like lyrics reminiscent of Shaky Knees veterans, Portugal the Man, who will also be playing the fest this year.
Rainbow Kitten Surprise – Friday, Piedmont Stage at 2:45 p.m.
One of the fastest rising bands of 2016-17 hails from Boone, North Carolina. Having started the band in 2013, Sam Melo, Darrick “Bozzy” Keller and company have had a swift path to indie-rock notoriety with their unique brand of whimsical experimental rock with spirited vocal harmonies. Melo has a distinct voice and energy that will draw you into a foot-stomping sing-along, with songs like the appropriately titled “All That And More.”
Cloud Nothings – Sunday, Peach Tree Stage at 1:15 p.m.
Putting out their 5th studio album, Life Without Sound, earlier this year, Cloud Nothings seem to keep doing what they do best: continuously creating an authentic style of noisy post-punk music that is both curiously gritty and catchy. Their music tempo and tone can switch at the sound of a high-hat, but it’s genuine. “Modern Act” will make you feel like you are back in high school, where most of your time might have been blown away by clouds of nothingness.
Flagship – Saturday, Peach Tree Stage at 12 p.m.
At first listen, you may think Flagship is a burgeoning U.K. band that writes arena rock ballads. Based in North Carolina, Flagship has gained a following from all over the world with their universally appealing style of The National-meets-The War on Drugs-meets-Bruce Springsteen sound.
Sylvan Esso – Saturday, Peach Tree Stage at 6:30 p.m.
An unlikely pairing through musical happenstance led to a remix of a song called “Play it Right” that was penned by Amelia Meath of folk band Mountain Man. Nick Sanborn, a former member of Durham, North Carolina band Megafaun, and electronic music producer under the moniker Made of Oak connected with Meath to remix the song. What transpired since has been pure mythical and mystical sonic magic with boundless possibilities. Their latest album, What Now, just released in May and will give the dynamic duo new energy after touring rigorously on their debut self-titled album.
Anderson East – Saturday, Peach Tree Stage at 2:15 p.m.
If there is a current voice in music that represents the soul of the South and the Peach State, it might be Anderson East. Although originally from Athens, Alabama and not Georgia, East’s smokey and gravelly voice paired with his old soul musicianship makes you feel as if you instantly understand the humble resiliency of the south rooted in the gospel. Wash your sins away in the Georgia sun and experience a boozy revival. Make some new mistakes, we all have a devil in us.
Check out the full music lineup for Shaky Knees 2017:
Bonus: A Shaky Knees 2017 Playlist
Check out our Shaky Knees 2017 food guide: