“Incredible.” “Epic.” “Unreal lineup.” “Best festival I’ve ever been to.”
I heard all of these descriptions last weekend at Shaky Knees Festival, and I echoed them in spades. No complaints whatsoever.
For a festival that’s only in its third year, Shaky Knees is already topping my list of favorite fests.
The lineup was absurdly impressive. When it was announced back in January, I just stared at the screen in awe. On Day One, I saw Surfer Blood (Vinyl Video coming soon!), Haerts, Jukebox the Ghost, Tennis, The Kooks, Mac DeMarco, Manchester Orchestra, TV On The Radio, American Football, Brand New, the Pixies, and The Strokes! Seriously. That was just Day One.
Day One was a perfect lineup all day, but we really have to talk about The Strokes. They completely blew me away. We were late (as in on time for them to start, late finding a spot to stand) getting to their set, because High School Emily had to finally fulfill the need to see Brand New live (apparently I’m not too old to mosh yet), so we were pretty far back. Didn’t matter. They were absolutely amazing live. Playing for an hour and half – unheard of at a music festival – they kept it fresh and energetic the entire time. Every time I thought I had gotten my fill and they had covered every song I wanted to hear, they would pull out another classic, and I would start jumping up and down and screaming along with them again. From beginning to end, their show was a perfect setlist, excellent sound quality, and pure energy. I’m already ready to see them again.
Day Two was just as packed. I walked in and immediately got up to the front at Kevin Devine & the Goddamn Band. It was my fifth time seeing him and definitely not my last. His shows are bare, with no bells and whistles. No overblown light show. Simple and loud and without distraction, letting the music speak for itself. His stage banter is off the cuff and often self-deprecating, with no pretense whatsoever. Kevin is the most unassuming rockstar I’ve ever seen, but he’s a true rockstar. His calming sweet singing is quiet, hushing the whole room before the inevitable breakdown that always comes, and he brings out the gravely screams and the violent, spastic guitar solos. Barely noon, and I was already head banging.
#privatefirstclass @kevinpdevine #shakykneesfest #kevindevine @shakykneesfest A video posted by Vinyl Mag (@vinylmag) on
Other highlights of the day included Speedy Ortiz (who, admittedly, could have worked on their stage presence a little), Viet Cong (bring the noise!), Palma Violets (one of the best of the entire weekend), Real Estate, The Devil Makes Three, The Black Lips, Built to Spill, Milky Chance, ZZ Ward, and, of course, Neutral Milk Hotel (yes, Avett Brothers headlined – sorry, just not my thing). NMH was a long time coming for me, and I nearly cried as they nostalgically made their way through every Aeroplane song I’ve been dying to hear live for 10 years (I’m a youngin).
By Day Three, I was fully sunburned (with a super weird tan-line – thank you, off-shoulder crop top), and my feet were killing me. Both problems I fully blame myself for, having forgotten sunscreen Day One and packed stupidly flat soled shoes. Fortunately for me, I’m a trooper. Plus, the instant I walked into the park that morning, I ran smack into Bethany from Best Coast who was gracious enough to pretend that she remembered me when I told her that I was one of the thousands of people she met for two minutes at South by Southwest. And then I immediately found $10 and bought some tacos with it. Hard to complain about anything after that morning.
The best of Day Three for me was, of course, my darling Best Coast, as well as Diamond Rugs and Ryan Adams. The Both was awesome and mellow live, though their awkward stage banter made it seem like they had never spent a moment together off-stage.
This year was flawless. I can’t think of a single aspect of the fest that wasn’t perfectly planned out, from the helpful staff/volunteers to the location to the layout of the app.
Let’s talk about the app for a minute actually. Best festival app I’ve ever used. Of course it had the usual – radio, lineup, schedule, etc. But the most helpful/genius parts were the food truck locator and the map – it’s a big park.
The festival producers had every base covered. Even if you didn’t have the app, they had your back when you walked in, handing you a pocket-sized booklet complete with schedule, late night show details, and yes, the map, outlining a masterfully laid out fest (I know this is starting to sound like I’m being paid by Shaky Knees publicists, but I swear I was just that impressed). Every problem they had last year – mainly, we just remember the lack of space – was solved with the location move to Central Park. The stages were perfectly spaced out so that you could get from show to show without feeling like you were trekking through the Dead Marshes on the way to Mount Doom but far enough away that no stage’s music interfered with another. Besides that, there would always be a good place to stand – thank Nature for tree shade.
Another huge – and literally refreshing – thing at this festival was the Free. Freaking. Water. It’s a revelation. Where five dollars is typically a generous bottle rate at fests, this is absolutely groundbreaking. Buy or bring a bottle, and you get unlimited refills throughout the fest. No more extreme dehydration. No more weighing the opportunity cost of a fun beer or smart water. Please let this be the new standard for festivals.
All in all, Shaky Knees completely nailed it. Amazing lineup. Excellent scheduling so hardly any of the bands I wanted to see overlapped. Great app that I actually used instead of making my own schedule. So many drink (and water) stations. One of the best festival experiences I have ever had. The lineup was enough, but the details and thought put into it put it over the top and made it effortless and stress-free for me. Again, please let this be the new standard for festivals.
Our traditional lists:
Top 10 Shows of Shaky Knees:
1. The Strokes
2. Neutral Milk Hotel
3. Diamond Rugs
5. Palma Violets
6. Best Coast
7. Tame Impala
8. Mac DeMarco
9. Kevin Devine & the Goddamn Band
10. Brand New
Best discovery of the weekend: The Devil Makes Three
A video posted by Vinyl Mag (@vinylmag) on
Day One – Surfer Blood
All photos by aLIVE Coverage.