In case you haven’t noticed, music festivals as of late have become more centered around music that radiates from synthesizers and laptops than guitars or drums—for proof, look no further than Bonnaroo, which recently created a stage dedicated solely to dance and EDM music. Similarly, Coachella’s most recent festival run heavily featured electronic artists and DJs among its smaller acts. It’s a move that will probably prove to be both profitable and favorable—electronic music’s popularity has been growing steadily as it permeates mainstream channels, and arguably no other genre has more universal crowd appeal (it’s called dance music for a reason, after all).
So during one of the first acts of Atlanta’s Shaky Knees Music Festival, when Zipper Club’s Mason James mentioned, “I’m legit hyped for this lineup, you guys. There are bands playing f---ing instruments—it’s pretty cool,” the observation couldn’t help but feel significant. Shaky Knees, which took place from May 12 to 14 at Centennial Olympic Park, is one of the few music festivals that has remained dedicated to filling its stages with real instruments and organic sounds—specifically indie acts, both large and small.
When Shaky Knees was created by booking agent Tim Sweetwood in 2013, he expressed his desire for the music festival to have its own brand while maintaining a smaller size than the likes of Bonnaroo and Coachella, guaranteeing an intimate festival-going experience for its attendees. Five years later, Sweetwood’s vision has noticeably come to fruition—Shaky Knees 2017 had an impressive lineup that included the likes of LCD Soundsystem, The xx and Phoenix, but the festival’s smaller acts were some of the best and most well-received performances.
Take, for instance, the band Pinegrove, which occupied Shaky Knees’ smallest stage during the afternoon of the festival’s first day. The crowd for the performance was thick and nearly immobile, everyone pressed against each other to listen to the little-known indie rock band from New Jersey. At Shaky Knees, however, they were a coveted act to see—the throngs of people swayed (the best they could, with what little room was available) and sang along to all of the songs on Pinegrove’s short set. The energy, both onstage and off, was electric, the joy and rhythm irresistible. It was a reminder of what made the festival weekend so great: everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves at all times, no matter the size or caliber of the acts, relishing in the closeness and intimacy provided by Centennial Park and the scheduled performers.
Worth mentioning, too, is the fact that the festival’s aforementioned headliners—LCD Soundsystem and the xx, to be exact—shouldn’t be misconstrued as electronic or dance music, apparent counterpoints to Shaky Knees’ commitment to indie and rock music. Although they both utilize aspects of electronic music, their roots are heavily indie and instrumental, demonstrative of the genre’s many sprawls and nuances. But it’s hard to ignore that the acts received top billing and drew the largest crowds of the festival, perhaps evident of the growing demand for electronic-influenced artists at music festivals. While Shaky Knees responded to this shift with its own EDM festival—appropriately named Shaky Beats—it’s still unapparent how long Shaky Knees can hold off on succumbing to the temptations to feature EDM music. For now, though, the festival is steadfast in its conviction to everything indie and intimate, a positive sign for those who still want to see bands with “f---king instruments” every once in a while.