Live Review: Day 1 @ Shaky Knees Music Festival – May 5th 2023

Over the weekend of May 5th through the 7th, the Shaky Knees Music Festival celebrated its tenth anniversary and returned to its current home at Midtown Atlanta’s Central Park.  Festival founder Tim Sweetwood started Shaky Knees as a two-day event selling out with 9,000 attendees on a rainy weekend ten years ago… Since those early days Shaky Knees has expanded to four stages and quadrupled capacity, while continuing to stay true to its indie rock roots with booking primarily focused on a core mixture of indie, alternative rock, punk, pop, and a sprinkling of hip-hop/rap. Each new year has seen the festival build on its strengths via feedback from organizers, vendors, staff, artists, and the fans/attendees, culminating in another complete sell out ten years after the first, this time with 40,000 fans in attendance.

In a tip of the hat to the first edition of Shaky Knees, this year’s festival kicked off on a slightly chilly and rainy day, not quite the cold and heavy rains of ten years ago, but certainly a reminder to those that were there.  One big change from recent years that attendees experienced before they even entered the park was the closing of multiple festival entrances down to a single-entry point with a large number of security and wristband lanes.  Despite the throttling of crowds entering the park, the staff was efficient, and people were passed through at a reasonable rate.  We did not experience any longer entry delays than previous years, but we also entered the festival early each day and were not aware of how backed up the entrance may have become later in the day as the crowds became larger.

The layout of the festival grounds themselves stayed relatively unchanged, with a few differences from previous years.  One major change was the moving and expansion of the merch tent from its more central location between the Peachtree and Piedmont stage, to the area previously occupied by the tent-enclosed Ponce De Leon stage.  The Ponce stage was moved to the back of the Civic Center area and no longer under cover, creating a slightly longer walk for fans.  With the changes noted and easily adapted, we were ready to take in the bands served up by Shaky Knees this year.  Shaky has always provided a strong roster of undercard acts, and this year was no exception.  We kicked off the weekend at the Criminal Records stage for Boston-based, Mom Rock, tipped as a 2022 Hot Band by Rolling Stone magazine.  As far as getting the weekend started, Mom Rock was an ideal opener as their mix of alt-rock and power pop grabbed the crowd’s attention and set a positive vibe despite the somewhat gloomy weather.  From the cozy confines of the Criminal Records stage, we made out way over to the Piedmont stage for viral TikTok and Spotify sensation Charlotte Sands.  Singer-songwriter Sands delivered an engaging set of personal yet accessible pop-punk, including her breakthrough hit “Dress”.

The opening pattern of zig-zagging between the smaller Criminal Records and Ponce De Leon stages, and the larger Peachtree and Piedmont stages would stick with us throughout the day as we tried to catch as many artists as we could.  Some of the other standout performances of opening day included:

  • Illuminati Hotties.  Fronted by the multi-talented Sarah Tudzin, Los Angeles-based Illuminati Hotties owned the Criminal Records crowd with a blend of infectious indie rock that found the sweet spot between intimate and frenetic.
  • Placebo.  In one of our favorite performances of the day, British alt-rockers Placebo, led by founding members Brian Molko (vocals, guitar) and Stefan Olsdal (bass, guitar), mixed the hits from their 90’s heyday with newer material from their well-received eighth album, Never Let Me Go, released last year.  The band sounded just as strong as they did in the early days, and it was impressive how well the new songs mixed with the classic hits.  Placebo have not lost a step, and it was a thrill to be able to catch them Stateside.    .
  • Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Frontwoman Karen O, guitarist and keyboardist Nick Zinner, and drummer Brian Chase, recently released Cool It Down, their fifth album, and first in 9 years.  After such a long hiatus, with only a few sporadic shows, it was great to see the indie rockers back on the stage again.  Karen O remains the focus of attention, but she has tamed some of her wild antics and added some theatrical elements to her performance.  Anchored by Nick and Brian, who seem happy to play just outside the spotlight, Yeah Yeah Yeahs were as powerful as ever and easily one of the highlights of the day.

Closing out Day 1 fell to the Killers who are considered one of the biggest rock bands of the 21st century, routinely headlining iconic music festivals and playing for massive crowds.  Their anthemic rock and fiery performances always seem to resonate on the big stage.  Unfortunately, the Killers have a strict image policy, so we were unable to photograph their performance.  However, we did catch a ton of other bands.  Check them out below.

Day 1 at Shaky Knees Music Festival 2023
Photos © Dan Kulpa // Clashdan Photography