Our favorite moments from Shaky Knees 2021

By Delaney Clifford

October 29, 2021

Photo: Charles Reagan

Another year of Shaky Knees has passed, this one having overcome some extraordinary odds. Plagued with lineup changes, a major date shift, increased health safety measures, and the continued spread of Covid, it’s amazing that Shaky Knees happened at all. In spite of each challenge, the fest saw an excellent turnout and attendees were treated to memorable sets from more than a few acts. We’ve recounted some of our favorite moments from the weekend. 

Cloud Nothings

Cloud Nothings played the Criminal Records stage this year, a space reserved for the smaller acts on the festival. With fewer people vying for a front-row spot, fans were able to crowd in for a raucous set from the Ohio rock outfit. Shying away from their more popular songs, the band decided instead to play more punk-leaning tracks of their discography, leading to a set rife with circle pits, crowd surfing, and insanely high energy.

Portugal, the Man

As a large crowd continued to amass at the Peachtree Stage in the middle of Central Park, Portugal, the Man bassist Zachary Carothers took the stage, alone. He highlighted his upbringing in Alaska and being close to the native peoples and traditions of that land, and as the band travels, they make a point to honor the tribes and land of wherever they play. He handed the spotlight to a representative of one of the tribes native to Atlanta, who gave a short yet powerful speech about honoring the land you occupy.

With that, Portugal, the Man took the stage and set things off with a Beavis & Butthead tribute to “the greatest band on Earth, Portugal, the Man,” which spun into a performance of several abridged instrumental metal covers. Their set continued with a mix of hits and surprising cover songs, namely including Nirvana’s “In Bloom,” Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream,” and even Charlie Day’s “Day Man” from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

Run the Jewels

Day 2 of Shaky Knees featured some of the harder rock and punk acts of the entire weekend, and all of it built up to a headlining set from Run the Jewels, who ended the night with an explosive set on the Peachtree Stage. 

Killer Mike & El-P walked out to screaming fans soon after Eddie Rosario hit a three-run homer for the Atlanta Braves in their playoff game against the Los Angeles Dodgers, a moment fans got to see live on the main stage monitors moments before the beginning of the RTJ set. 

From there, the rap duo launched into their best hits. For the most part, Killer Mike & El-P kept up the energy throughout the entire set, but made sure to take some time between songs to thank the fans and ruminate on how Atlanta has impacted their careers. In a special moment of the evening, Killer Mike brought his children on stage and invited them to perform for the set’s closing track. All in all, a spectacular debut Shaky Knees performance from the legendary rap group.


In addition to their Day 2 festival performance, the UK post-punks IDLES played a late night set at Atlanta’s Masquerade. Fans braved a long line and packed into the Masquerade to see a frenzied IDLES take the stage, and they definitely made it worth the wait.

The band played a healthy mix of songs from their latest record, Ultra Mono, and their 2018 smash success, Joy as an Act of Resistance. Their set featured intense energy, record-quality tightness, and a good amount of improvisation, whether it was storied frontman Joe Talbot ad-libbing his own lyrics or guitarist Mark Bowen leaping into the crowd to howl indiscriminately between crooning famed love songs with Talbot. These songs came about during a break in “Love Song;” and included “Miss Jackson,” “Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls,” and “All I Want for Christmas is You.”

IDLES made the crowd an integral part of their performance, including lots of call and response in their songs, and even having conversation with fans in the front rows. It’s hard to believe anybody who saw them that night will forget it any time soon.

The Strokes

Who better to end the whole weekend than one of the most seminal rock groups of the 21st century? In true rock star fashion, the band was roughly 15 minutes late, giving fans plenty of time to flock to the Peachtree stage and create the largest crowd of the entire three-day fest. After some restless chanting, Julian Casablancas strolled his way onto the elaborate stage with the rest of the band, kicking things off with “Hard to Explain.”

Before continuing the set, Casablancas made sure to riff with the fans about the big win for the Braves over the Dodgers the night before, congratulating the fans but condemning the “tomahawk chop” as racist. After the jabs settled, The Strokes pivoted from their earliest record to their most recent with “Brooklyn Bridge to Chorus,” then launched into an eclectic mix of their fabled catalogue. They made sure to play the mega hits like “Reptilia,” “New York City Cops,” and “The Adults Are Talking.”

After a brief time off stage, the band rallied back for an encore, treating fans to the live debut of “Not The Same Anymore” from the group’s latest record. To finish the set and the fest strong, they played none other than “Last Nite.” Throughout the set, Casablancas maintained composure, but seemed more than slightly “off” as he whiffed intros, forgot lyrics, and generally shrugged banter between songs. This aloofness notwithstanding, The Strokes still put on an incredible set, both musically and theatrically with a stunning visual backdrop to accompany the famed rock group.

Check out more on Shaky Knees Music Festival from the official website.

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