Tim Sweetwood talks Shaky Knees

Masquerade promoter discusses what sets the inaugural two-day music fest apart

When it comes to a music event, Atlanta prefers extreme sizes. Shows in venues? We’ve got tons. Large-scale, come-one-come-all throwdowns in Centennial Park? Yep, those too. The A3C Hip-Hop Festival is always a comfy size, but scattered around town. Perhaps this weekend’s inaugural Shaky Knees Festival, the two-day music fest taking place Sat., May 4–Sun., May 5 at Masquerade and the Historic Fourth Ward Park, can be both porridge and cozy bed for the Goldilocks ATL concert-goer. Aiming for the discerning rock music fan, Shaky Knees offers the roam-anywhere, band-packed festival experience on a more modest scale. “We’re not trying to be the next Bonnaroo, we’re smaller, more intimate. You won’t be 400 yards from the stage,” says Shaky Knees organizer Tim Sweetwood. “What makes it unique is you can go grab a beer and go to the bathroom and then get back up in front of the stage.”

With one stage in the Masquerade Music Park and two stages in the O4W park (and the goal of only minimal scheduling overlaps), Shaky Knees pulls heavily from folk-influenced, solidly American rock and roll. The yawling guitars of Band of Horses headlines the first night, and the hearts-on-their-sleeves Lumineers handle that duty the second. Sweetwood, who’s booked the Masquerade’s bands for the past nine years, is aiming for aesthetic cohesion among the bands. While the acts range from garage rock to folk and acoustic to fully electrified, the lineup reads more like a well-curated mixtape rather than the grab-bag that some festivals can be. “I wanted to make something that flowed from start to finish,” Sweetwood says. “Someone comes to see the Lumineers on Sunday, but they may show up early and get to see Delta Spirit and Dr. Dog playing as well, and they probably have never heard of them before. I’m putting together a festival that has similar tastes, where it’s not a punk rock band headlining with a hip-hop band opening and a metal band in between.”

Also on the bill: Jim James (My Morning Jacket), J Roddy Walston & the Business, Lucero, Dr. Dog, the Heartless Bastards, Kurt Vile, Frontier Ruckus, Moon Taxi, Shovels & Rope and more, for a total of more than 30 acts.

As for reaping from the fertile local scene, Sweetwood says that’s one of his goals, but he prioritizes establishing the festival and its name with nationally touring bands in its inaugural year so that it’ll be around for years to come, creating a reliable stage for local acts. Atlanta’s Death on Two Wheels and Alpharetta’s von Grey perform, and both the Drive-By Truckers and Dead Confederate vocalist T. Hardy Morris hail from Athens. Shaky Knees has been a project Sweetwood has considered putting together for years, and has actively taken about a year to organize.

Casting the widest audience net isn’t the Shaky Knees strategy. “I’m not discriminating against anyone and anyone can come, but this isn’t a festival for kids who just want to have a good time and hear whatever’s on the radio and don’t care about the bands,” says Sweetwood. “The original goal was to capture the local audience here in Atlanta, but we’ve been overwhelmed by the response from people from out of town that we have coming for the first year.”

That enthusiasm is manifest in already-sold-out two-day passes to the festival — single-day passes remain available — and that’s gotten Sweetwood looking to 2014 and beyond, if still modestly. “We’re definitely planning on making it an annual event. We sure want to make it grow, but we’re in no hurry to make it grow,” he says. “I’d be happy to have it in exactly the same location next year and do the same amount of people next year.” Not too big, not too small. He wants Shaky Knees just right.

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