The 5 Best Moments From Shaky Knees Music Festival

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(Photos by Trent Singer)

Shaky Knees Music Festival  has a complicated relationship with the weather. One minute it’s as hot as Bonnaroo, and the next your shoes are filled with rain. This didn’t deter Atlanta music lovers last weekend.

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Since relocating to Atlantic Station, the festival has made some changes, and upped the ante on headliners, resulting in one of the most impressive lineups released this summer. Here are the five best moments from Shaky Knees 2014.

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Modest Mouse

It comes as no surprise to anyone that Modest Mouse makes this list. It’s been nearly seven years since the group released 2007’s We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank, and other than some sparse touring, we haven’t heard much from Isaac Brock and co.

Thankfully they’re back in full force, and Shaky Knees helped kickoff the band’s most lengthy tour in recent memory.

When you haven’t released an album in seven years, you’re destined to play a greatest hits set, but when your songs are as strange and prolific as Brock’s, that doesn’t mean playing it safe.

The band’s setlist included hits from as early as their 1996 debut, and as recent as their unreleased 2013 cuts “Be Brave” and “Sugar Boats.” And while the crowd wasn’t as massive as it was for their openers, The Replacements, Modest Mouse was definitely one of the largest and most rambunctious crowd of the weekend.

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Deer Tick

When John McCauley trudged onto the stage in a pink skirt and a red shirt with big bold letters reading “LSD,” fans knew they were in for a change of pace. Sunday morning was dominated by easy listening indie and acoustic artists, but Deer Tick quickly put a stop to that.

“Y’all should come see us in a club,” McCauley told the audience. “This is just an abbreviated version of that.”

In just under an hour the band stomped through fan favorites and extended rockers. They even played a new song “Shitty Music Festival.”

“This song isn’t about the spicy knees festival,” McCauley assured the audience. 

He also brought out his wife, singer-songwriter Vanessa Carlton to join him on “In Our Time,” from the band’s most recent record, Negativity. The two even shared a kiss after the song, which McCauley described as sickeningly cute.

For many, Deer Tick provided a needed jolt on an otherwise lazy Sunday morning.

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Hayes Carll

On the other hand, maybe a breezy, lazy set is perfect to work out the previous day’s cobwebs while you wait for that second wind. With his three-piece band, the country singer proved that intimate isn’t a term reserved for clubs and small venues.

Between songs Carll told stories about his home state of Texas, and what his show was like early in his career (apparently there was a lion involved).

The highlight of the set was Carll leading a sing-along to the Tom Waits song “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up.”

“Apologies to Mr. Waits,” he said before closing it out proper with “Drunken Poet’s Dream,” a song he co-wrote with Ray Wylie Hubbard.

If Deer Tick was an espresso shot, Carll was a cold popsicle on a hot day, refreshing and sweet.

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The Violent Femmes

If Shaky Knees proved one thing to the Atlanta crowd, it’s that rock and roll will never die, it just gets old.

In a festival full of hot up-and-coming bands in their physical peak, it’s hard to imagine that one of the best shows would come from a band whose biggest record was released over 30 years ago, but it happened.

Never were there less camera phones in the air than during The Violent Femmes, who opened their set up by playing their entire debut record in sequence. 

“Let’s flip that record over to the B-side,” lead singer Gordon Gano joked to the crowd five songs into the band’s eponymous first album.

The show was good on other merits too. Gano’s voice hasn’t aged a bit, and while he might not have the same handsome mug that earned him heartthrob status in the 80s, he still has the same moves.

A blow-up doll was moshed around the crowd while Brian Richey did unspeakable things to an acoustic bass, and a marimba, and any other instrument he could get his hands on. Rounding out the core band was Brian Viglione (Dresden Dolls), who filled in for original drummer Victor DeLorenzo, who left the band last year. 

The Violent Femmes might not have had the biggest crowd of the weekend, but they certainly had one of the most loyal and enthusiastic.
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The Replacements

All those rave reviews of Replacements shows on the internet are more than just praise from diehard fans, the Mats are legitimately one of the best touring acts around this year.

Typical bad luck for the Mats, right before the band took the stage, the weather took a turn for the worse, and for a moment it seemed like the show might not happen. Fortunately the rain let up just in time to enjoy what was obviously the best show of the entire weekend.

The setlist was everything a diehard fan could want. Chock full of hits from their post-punk masterpieces Let It Be and Tim, along with some rarities from their 1981 debut Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash (“Customer” was a highlight), fans barely had time to catch their breath between sing-alongs.

Of course it’s still a Replacements show, so it had its quirks. Nearly every single song on their flawless setlist had a few warts.

Singer Paul Westerberg had trouble remembering some chords and some lyrics, much to the amusement of bassist Tommy Stinson. Stinson lost it pretty much anytime anyone made a mistake, including himself, which resulted in a lot of chuckling and grinning.

After failing to tune his guitar correctly before the last song, Westerberg instead settled for ripping the strings off one by one during the performance. And when he couldn’t remember the lyrics, he’d just walk over and ask Stinson. 

Know who didn’t make any mistakes? The Replacements new rhythm guitarist and superfan Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day. Whether or not Armstrong is a permanent fixture on this tour remains to be seen, but this wasn’t his first appearance with the band, so here’s hoping for more.

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Rounding out the lineup was Josh Freese and Dave Minehan, who played the roles of Chris Mars and the late Bob Stinson. And while they’ll never be the same band they were when they formed in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1979, the new lineup has its own stunning dynamic.

This is what makes each of their shows a must-see for fans and curious listeners alike. What’s more, we have no official statement on the future of the band, meaning this carriage could turn back into a pumpkin any time now.

Fortunately this punk rock fairytale isn’t over yet, with more dates planned. If you attend one show this summer, make it this one.

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Photos: The Key West Songwriter’s Festival