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Shaky Knees Festival Day II: Dr. Dog, Shovels & Rope ++ (CFR+AME+MM)

31 May 2013

written by Mod Mobilian


Shaky Knees Festival Review Day II


Mod Mobilian – Alyson Stokes

The weather proved to be a little more cooperative for day two (which was also Cinco de Mayo!) of Atlanta’s first Shaky Knees Musical Festival. The mud was drying and the sun shone brightly until rain clouds moved back in just before sunset. But, once again, neither the rain nor the mud could deter avid music fans from witnessing some must-see performances and being a part of an unforgettable weekend.

Von Grey

The four-piece sister act from Atlanta stole the attention of early morning festival-goers on the Masquerade Music Park Stage at 12:30 p.m. With their folk style generated from a variety of instruments including guitars, keys, a banjo and a cello, the Von Grey siblings–Kathryn (18), Annika (16), Fiona (15) and Petra (13)–certainly create their own unique sound.

“We call ourselves alternative-folk music just kind of as a vague description, but we definitely have an acoustic background which is the foundation for our sound. But, we’ve incorporated a lot of synthesizers and stuff like that also because we listen to music that has a lot of electronic influences. So, it’s like alternative-folk but with a synth-poppy edge,” Annika said.

“Being sisters helps us be more connected creatively. We’re not shy around each other because we know each other so well, but I think that also has a negative side. We spend a lot of time in the car on really long drives, so we fight a little bit when we’re doing that. But, we get over it quickly, so it’s nothing too dramatic,” Annika added.

(L to R: Petra, Fiona, Annika and Kathryn Von Grey)

T. Hardy Morris

Enjoying the sunny skies of Day 2, Athens-based T. Hardy Morris stepped onto the North Avenue Stage saying, “Thank God it isn’t raining,” before kicking off his head-turning set. And, by head turning, I mean onlookers actually stopping in their muddy tracks to give him a listen, questioning “who is that?” as his enchanting croons and mesmerizing guitar strumming filled the Georgia air.

Frontier Ruckus

Frontier Ruckus took the Masquerade Music Stage early Sunday afternoon, and even though the group hails from Detroit, Mich., front man Matthew Milia admits the banjo on stage undeniably denotes a Southern connotation.

“Our identity is thoroughly Northern and that’s how we identify ourselves. But, then again, Dave plays the banjo, and you can’t dispute its origins in America. It’s a Southern instrument. Dave’s family is originally from Georgia, so it makes sense why Dave plays it, but I think we kind of apply it in a different way. Dave plays it very melodically. We love blue grass music. We were very bluegrassy when we started because that was a big influence, but I think Dave has kind of tailored it to the specific songs we write now. So, there’s an indelible kind of Southern influence, sure,” Milia said.

 (Matthew Milia of Frontier Ruckus // Photo courtesy of @shakykneesfest Instagram)

Milia, who admits to being a lover of words, said he “likes language and laying it on thick,” which makes sense as to why the band had a word count on their latest album “Eternity of Dimming.” Milia said there are about 5,500 words on the album. “I was very indulgent in writing the thing,” he added.

Shovels & Rope

It is undeniable the sun might have shone a little brighter on the Charleston, S.C., dynamic duo known as Shovels & Rope.  Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent managed to keep it simple yet captivate the audience all at once with their use of various instruments including a couple guitars, tambourines, a kick  drum, and harmonicas with a little keys added into the mix. Without a doubt, Shovels & Rope were one of the most anticipated acts of the festival and attracted one of the largest crowds of the day with their harmony driven folk rock.

Dr. Dog

This popular five-piece  outfit really needs no introduction. Minutes before Dr. Dog was set to hit the main stage, the crowd broke out into a chant, yelling “Toby! Toby! Toby!” over and over. As if on cue, the rain began to sprinkle on the anxious crowd and the atmosphere for the Pennsylvania rockers was set. A loud roar swept over the crowd as vocalist/bassist Toby Leaman finally appeared, but it was Scott McMicken’s typical eclectic style that stole the show.

The Lumineers

By the time the Grammy-nominated Lumineers took the main stage, the light rain had turned into a torrential downpour. But the anticipated headliner didn’t disappoint. In fact, they thrived, and the crowd never seemed more energized. The Denver-based folk rockers started out with a bang, opening with the upbeat “Big Parade” with the crowd singing along in unison. Surprisingly enough,  their hit first single “Ho Hey” was only five songs into the set list. While some fans began to disperse after hearing the Double Platinum single that has sold more than 2 million copies, the majority of the crowd stuck around until the bittersweet end.



Country Fried Rock & Atlanta Music Examiner – Chris Martin

Day two came way too quickly. The park looked like a battlefield, I half expected to see body parts strewn across the field. As concert goers began to trickle in it looked more like a shoot for the Walking Dead (How have you missed this one?) than a music festival.

With the rain STILL falling, but the temperatures much warmer, Atlanta’s Von Grey (a little girly for me–SS) was the perfect start to the day. Mellow folksy tunes delivered on a plethora of instruments. With melodic voices the sisters validated their rise in popularity. Around the corner Swear and Shake (they have a lot more releases than I realized) were delighting the crowd. Kari Spieler’s vocals were hypnotizing and when Adam McHeffey joined in the two complimented each other nicely. Plus, how do you not dig music full of banjo?

The great music continued with Frontier Ruckus and T. Hardy Morris (can’t find anything on Amazon for him solo, but I love his band) going head to head at different locations. While Ruckus delivered a scintillating set of tunes it was Atlanta’s Morris that drew the greater attention. Stepping away from his other gig, Dead Confederate, he showed a lighter side of his music. Mellow guitars, a bit of twang and soothing vocals took place of the driving rock we all know and love. His songwriting skills were at the forefront and were quite impressive. The forty-five minutes he had was not enough, just when he was grooving it was time to say good bye. Once his music had faded into the skies the rain had subsided and the sun was trying to make its way to the show just in time for the band I had been waiting to see, Shovels & Rope (S&R).

The duo of Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst took the stage as Shovels and Rope and proceeded to make a hell of a lot of racket for a duo (love them, especially live) . You can listen to their records all you want, but until you see them live you haven’t truly heard S&R. Cary Ann’s wide open bigger than life attitude paired with Michael’s cool as ice demeanor stole the show Sunday afternoon. When they finished playing the rest of the bands were going to have to turn things up a notch to compete with their performance.

With everyone still beaming from S&R the brooding twang of Murder By Death (MBD) (don’t let the name scare you away) was on one stage while the Heartless Bastards (full of heart) dishing out everything from crunchy rock to haunting country twang was on another. MBD’s set walked a thin line between Johnny Cash and Nick Cave while Erika Wennerstrom’s sultry vocals anchored the Bastards batch of tunes.

With a hail of jangly guitars Delta Spirit (been trying to get them on this radio show for years!) took the main stage to a barrage of cheers from the fevered crowd. These dudes made the best of their allotted hour packing in a plethora of great music. The longer they played the louder the music got as it reverberated off of the neighboring buildings.

Next up was Kurt Vile (live shows always trump records for us); his music has been something I have not totally embraced, not without lack of trying. He proceeded to serenade the enthralled crowd with sparse melodies and sober rhythms which held up his spectacular lyrics. (Sometimes it takes a live performance to make someone’s music click in your head.) Meanwhile at another stage, Oberhofer (I was not familiar with these guys before.) was wowing the crowd with their original sonic madness. In their own little world on stage, their music seemed as if it was going to spiral into chaos, but it never quite did.

As the evening set in, the rain returned and the temp dropped but no one cared because Dr. Dog (great live) was hitting the stage. These guys never fail to deliver a good show. Always seeming on the verge of erupting into an extended jam the band sounded brilliant as spacey guitars led the way and Scott McMicken’s and Toby Leaman’s vocals followed. They took the crowd into their ‘folkadelic’ world and many never wanted to leave.

The Drive-By Truckers (Southern Gothic in lyric and life) thrive in the festival environment and Sunday they showed why. Their set was loud and rowdy and their apparent good time infected the wet and muddy festival goers. Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley play off one another creating a live energy that neither achieves when playing solo. Jay Gonzalez quietly gives their music the Southern soul everyone loves with his keyboard playing and showed off some guitar skills as well. While the line-up changes the music stays the same. The Antlers drew the card of playing opposite of the local heroes, and they rose to the occasion delivering a loud and rowdy set of music.

The night came to a close with the Lumineers (I admit to thinking they are in the “pretty for TV” category…). The winds howled, the rain poured and the thousands of fans sang and danced along with one of the hottest bands of the moment. “HEY, HO” could be heard all up and down North Avenue as they played their hit tune. When they finished their intimate acoustic encore, it was time to head home.

Music festivals these days are a dime a dozen and while some are done right many are just a grab for the most money. The folks at Shaky Knees “did it up right” so to speak. The music was awesome, the food was great and the beer was cold. There were glitches, of course, but nothing big. What made this festival so good were the bands they brought in. There was a nice mix of unheard of, breaking and well known artists making it a festival for the fans. Drawing in groups of devout fans many listeners enjoyed their favorites while being treated to new and interesting sounds. I spoke with several folks that came to see one or two acts but left with a shopping list of music to purchase when they returned home. While the big guns, (Lumineers, Band of Horses, Drive-By Truckers, Jim James) drew in the majority of the crowd it was the others that provided the most entertaining shows. Bands like Death On Two Wheels, The Orwells, Shovels & Rope, Hanni El Khatib and Tumbleweed Wanderers were by far the best of the bunch. When the weekend finally concluded the Shaky Knees Festival was a rousing success. Yes the weather was horrendous but no one seemed to care because good music trumps bad weather any day of the week.



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