Shaky Knees grows up
Atlanta music festival goes bigger and broader, while staying intimate
Elbowing its way onto an already-crowded festival calendar, last year's Shaky Knees Fest left a sizable (and rather muddy) mark on Atlanta's outdoor music landscape. Heavy rains rendered the Masquerade Music Park and Historic Fourth Ward Park a giant mud puddle, as thousands of fans in ponchos and rain boots swarmed the inaugural two-day event for the chance to watch Jim James, Drive-By Truckers, J. Roddy Walston and the Business, Band of Horses, and the Lumineers in a smaller and more intimate setting. The homegrown festival returns May 9-11, sporting several new additions: an extra day, a change of venue, and an expanded roster highlighted by a number of post-punk, college rock, and indie heavyweights such as the National, Modest Mouse, Alabama Shakes, Spoon, the Replacements, Iron & Wine, Jenny Lewis, and Violent Femmes, among others. Before the weekend kicks off, festival founder Tim Sweetwood took a few minutes to talk about Shaky Knees' evolution, its place in the festival firmament, and staying true to his vision.
How is this year's Shaky Knees Fest different from last year's, stylistically speaking?
I would say we obviously got a lot of notoriety from last year, so the difference in year two and year one is the industry and bands and everyone who wants to be involved is hitting us up, rather than me hitting them up. The incoming versus the outgoing has increased exponentially.
You've also added a third day. How did that come about?
I think that came from the increase in incoming business. But it also came from the fact that I always wanted it to be three days, but it's just hard to establish a festival with three days in the beginning. There are some cost benefits to it, as well. If you're producing a festival and paying for production and all the aspects two days, it doesn't cost double to do one more day, so you might as well keep it rolling.
How did the inaugural festival do, from a commercial and from a general standpoint?
It went fantastic. There were no complaints, really, on any aspect of the festival. And as everyone knows, it poured down rain, but that gave the festival some nice character. I think the only disappointment for people was there were only 20 dry minutes the whole weekend.
What surprised you most about last year?
I think honestly the camaraderie between the artists, and the praise for producing a festival the way I wanted to produce it. I was scared last year that there are so many festivals out there nowadays. But I feel the difference between my festival and other festivals is I'm not trying to, for lack of a better phrase, kiss the ass of the person attending the festival. I'm trying to create something unique and satisfying. It came from programming the bands I wanted, and the fact that I didn't fly in three production people from Seattle — I used all local people to work on the festival. All that stuff.
How do you see the festival's identity? Has it changed from what you originally intended?
I don't think the overall aspect has changed. I think it's grown to where I've been able to adapt and add a little more of the genres I wanted. I've always been a big punk fan, and I was able to bring in punk bands and more legendary bands that I've always admired. ... All of these big festivals think the best way for them to have success is to make it a 360-degree experience. I want to do the genres that are true to me in my heart, and I think people get off on that. A big festival where they have anything from Eminem to Pearl Jam, that's crossing a lot of genres. And I didn't want to do that.
Listen, I'm the first person to tell you I like all genres of music. I'm a big metal head. I like old-school hip-hop. Because I'm a promoter, I know that there are certain people you target, and certain people that go to certain shows. ... People may not know who Hayes Carll is, but if they come early, they'll probably like the early bands. I don't want people coming for the National, and Killer Mike is playing at 3 p.m., because that's a whole different group of people. If I put the Replacements on there, I want to put them with a band like Modest Mouse, where they probably have a similar feel and were probably influenced by them, too. A 19-year-old kid who listens to electronica probably has no clue who the Replacements are.
What prompted the move to Atlantic Station?
The move is primarily based on the fact that I wanted to grow, but not become a 50,000- to 60,000-people-per-day festival overnight. The Old Fourth Ward Park was a great place to do it last year. It could just only hold up to 9,000 people a day, and now I'm going to Atlantic Station, where you're looking at 15,000 to 20,000 a day, and that was a natural progression. And I still want to always be in Atlanta. I don't want to expand outside of 285. And it's a fairly viable, workable space. Everyone knows where it is and how to get to it. Plus, there's a 5,000-space parking lot, it's right off the highway, there's easy access, so some of those elements factored in as well.
Does the move present any challenges to your stated goal of making Shaky Knees an intimate experience?
No, and I would encourage people to go the website and look at the map, because it's almost more intimate than last year. I've set up the festival, from a physical standpoint, very old-school. There's basically two main stages that literally sit next to each other, where they go back and forth, and just around the corner is the same setup: two stages that go back and forth. You don't have to walk three or four football fields away to get to the next band. If you want to, you can sit in front of one stage the whole day.