Review – Farm Aid 2014

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Since 1985, Farm Aid has been working to raise awareness about the hardships that accompany family farming in the US. Though efforts are year-round, the annual Farm Aid Concert marks the culmination of hard work, dedication, and commitment from non-profit organizers, farmers, musicians, volunteers and more. This star-studded event is not only a celebration of music, but more importantly a grassroots movement for those in attendance to get involved in the cause.

Now in its 29th year, Farm Aid continues to work toward its mission by promoting food from family farms, growing the Good Food movement, helping farmers thrive, and taking local, regional and national action to promote fair policies. To date, Farm Aid has raised over $45 million to support a strong family farm system of agriculture that is built to withstand the test of time and challenge the heavy-hand of government and corporate power that limits so many small family farmers.

This year, Farm Aid chose to focus the attention on the unique struggles of North Carolina farmers. Organizers spent months gathering the facts and stories from family farmers like Kay Doby and Craig Watts who face the hardships of contract poultry, NC’s only African-American dairy farmers Dorthay and Phillip Barker who have experienced blatant discrimination, and The Vollmer family who bravely moved away from traditional tobacco farming to organic production. While these are just a few of the countless stories from across the state, they represent a nationwide struggle that Farm Aid has been trying to dissolve for nearly three decades.

Farm Aid’s board of directors—Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, Neil Young, and Dave Matthews—serve not only as the musical voices behind the cause, but also work to educate their fans year after year at the Farm Aid Concerts. Last month, Nelson, Mellencamp, Young, and Matthews took to Raleigh’s Walnut Creek Amphitheater stage, along with acts like Jack White, Gary Clark Jr., Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Jamey Johnson, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, and Durham-based Delta Rae, to share their talents and thoughts with a sold-out crowd.

Though scattered thunderstorms threatened the event throughout the day, the late summer weather managed to cooperate for organizers and concert-goers alike. When the gates opened at noon, fans, farmers and supporters found themselves at a venue that had been transformed into an interactive, family-friendly “Homegrown Village,” offering local fare, agricultural workshops, panel discussions, and educational exhibits from more than 35 local and national food and farm groups.

In the Skills Tent, participants learned how to make flower crowns and the best way to save seeds from their backyard harvest. On the Farm Yard Stage, farmers and musicians paired up to discuss important issues like farmer’s market dynamics, concentrated animal feeding operations, and the threat of international fish imports on local fishers. Hands-on demonstrations gave non-farmers opportunities to roll up their sleeves and learn more about the trade.

Farm Aid is likely the only concert where farmers are treated like VIPs. Farmers who registered were invited to pre-concert events, granted early-entry, and given special placards to wear while on-site. The farmers were not only drawn to the event to enjoy the music, but also to network, share ideas, and work toward finding viable solutions to support the family farmer.

Each year Farm Aid stacks the line-up with some of the top names in the music industry. Raleigh’s Farm Aid was no different. Performances that led up to the headliners proved entertaining, but the crowd’s energy really started picking up momentum when Willie Nelson’s son Lukas Nelson took the stage, and it continued to mount until Willie himself closed out the evening with a stage full of friends.

In between Nelsons, Austin-based rocker Gary Clark Jr. drew standing ovations with an impressive 7-song set which included his hit “Ain’t Messin’ ‘Round.” The Nashville-by-way-of-Detroit enigma Jack White followed and the crowd collectively went insane the moment he stepped on stage. Donning a new, slicked-back coif and long jaw-line sideburns, White rocked out a 10-song set with favorites like “Lazzaretto,” “We’re Going to Be Friends,” and “Seven Nation Army.” White and his band matched the static electric energy that was projected on the big screen behind them, and were clearly one of the evening’s crowd-favorites.

Matthews, along with longtime musical partner and guitar extraordinaire Tim Reynolds, played a more subdued acoustic set that kept the crowd standing, swaying and smiling, as if transported back to more carefree times. Matthews and Reynolds performed classic ballads like “Crush,” “Oh,” and “Dancing Nancies,” along with more message-driven anthems like “Don’t Drink the Water” “Bartender,” and “Ants Marching.”

Mellencamp kept the crowd happy with popular hits that date back before the beginning of Farm Aid. The engaged audience sang along to songs like “Jack and Diane,” “Pink Houses,” “Small Town,” and “Crumblin’ Down.” Mellencamp shared stories between songs, adding in a layer of self-deprecating humor that softened his admitted rough edges.

Young found his way to the stage just after 9 p.m. Staying true to form, he filled the space between songs with sermon, calling out N.C. Senator Richard Burr for his anti-farming voting record and educating the audience about better food choices. His song choices were obvious and deliberate with hits like “Heart of Gold,” “Pocahontas,” “Mother Earth,” and “Who’s Gonna Stand Up and Save the Earth.” After being joined on stage by Lukas and Micah Nelson, Young closed with a rowdy “Rockin’ in the Free World.”

It only seemed fitting that Farm Aid founder Willie Nelson, who opened the day-long event, would also close out his 29th Farm Aid Concert. Sporting his trademark, tattered and torn Martin N-20 guitar Trigger and long braids, Nelson performed originals and covers while surrounded by his band, family and special guests. Just over 80 years-old, Nelson continued to delight fans with favorites like “On the Road Again” and country classics like “Mama Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys.” His performance solidified the fact that his gift lies not in the smoothness of voice or nimble finger-picking, but in his down-home charm and ability to connect with everyday people.

This year’s Farm Aid delivered not only an amazing musical experience to fans, but it also gave North Carolina farmers a stronger voice. Concert goers of all ages were called to act in the best interest of the family farmer, both at the dinner table and in the voting booth. While Farm Aid founders and organizers openly wish they did not have to plan this event year after year, their vision remains steady and focused on changing the structure that currently drives agricultural policy in the U.S.

Young may have described the current situation best when he stated, “We love Farm Aid, but we don’t love that we are doing Farm Aid. It’s not a celebration. It’s a mission to change what’s going on.” As Farm Aid organizers move on to begin planning next year’s event, farmers and their supporters will continue to work so that family farms are better equipped to survive and thrive well into the future.

View photos from Farm Aid 2014 here

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Album Review – Shovels & Rope’s “Swimmin’ Time”

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The music world has known its fair share of unforgettable husband-wife duos, from Johnny and June to Jack and Meg. Two years ago, the Charleston-based married duo Shovels & Rope — consisting of Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst — exploded onto the festival scene with an unharnessed charisma and on-stage animalistic magnetism that left audiences floored. With non-stop touring and sweat-drenched performances, Trent and Hearst continue to prove that they belong among the ranks of great married musical duos.

Last month, Shovels & Rope offered up more of their soulful, folk-country flair with the duo’s new album, “Swimmin’ Time,” a nautical narrative of love and loss, drenched in haunting harmonies and stripped-down, simple arrangements. On “Swimmin’ Time,” Trent and Hearst dive deep into the abyss of emotion to give listeners a glimpse into their passionate, personal voyage.

The album opens with “The Devil Is All Around,” a vivid gospel-rock love song. With eyes closed, lyrics come to life and the listener can envision Trent and Hearst fighting through life’s obstacles together — ‘til death does part them. “Bridge On Fire” feels like a 50s throwback with a drum-rich tempo and deliberate harmonious crescendos, leaving a trail of burnt hopes and dreams in its ashy wake.

“Evil” turns up the rock ‘n’ roll and perpetuates the album’s devilish theme, with confessions of violent and ugly sins that drip with an honesty strong enough to tear down facades. “After The Storm” starts to pick up the wreckage from the first three tracks and highlights the power of Shovels & Rope’s magically interwoven vocals. Though the bulk of the track stays low and slow, it truly shines in the chorus’ momentous waves and surges of beautiful, yet guttural cries.

“Fish Assassin” is a playful but quick stomp-clapper that brings listeners to the muddy banks of intercostal waterways. “Coping Mechanism” gives listeners a current spin on a 50s rock ‘n’ roll standard, with bouncy background keys and delta blues overtones. “Pinned” leans on Shovels & Rope’s country-folk foundations and translates as a timeless duet about broken promises, cheating and unsolicited advice.

The title track, “Swimmin’ Time” buoys to the surface with church choir intensity and ghostly sink-or-swim premonitions, conjuring up buried thoughts of an apocalyptic flood. In line with the aquatic theme, “Stono River Blues” pays tribute to the waterway that flows near the duo’s home, and evokes images of Trent and Hearst exploring the tidal channel’s nooks and crannies. While the track can certainly be taken literally, metaphors are strategically anchored throughout, giving it a depth that is commonly found in Shovels & Rope songwriting.

“Ohio” takes listeners on a trip down to the murky waters of Louisiana with blazing horns and a gritty outlaw story. The brassy sway of “Ohio” adds another layer of sound to the album, giving it an even more interesting acoustic texture. “Mary Ann & One Eyed Dan” is a playful, diner love story filled with faith and potential. “Save The World” follows suit with a positivity and sweetness that permeates the energy and love often seen on stage between Trent and Hearst.

The album comes to a close with “Thresher,” a homage to the USS Thresher (SSN-593), a nuclear-powered attack submarine that was lost at sea off the coast of Cape Cod in 1963. The track chronicles the last minutes for the 129 submariners upon the vessel. With moments of faint, garbled communications and fading sonar pings to carry out the track, Shovels & Rope recreates the sinking with an eerie authenticity. Ending the album with “Thresher” leaves listeners mournful and uneasy, but also forces introspective and empathetic thought. It represents the duo’s intention and intensity like no other song on the album.

“Swimmin’ Time” may just be one of this year’s best albums. In an age when listeners can pick and choose tracks from any album, track order and album themes seem to get lost in the iTunes shuffle. However, “Swimmin’ Time” is an album that needs to be listened to from start to finish, in order. Trent and Hearst have created an emblematic masterpiece that is greater than the sum of its parts. Collectively, the album floats above the rest while maintaining a depth of soul and spirit that can shine through the thickest, foggy night. “Swimmin’ Time” sails effortlessly across the most critical of ears and marks another success in Shovels & Rope’s musical passage.

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Mipso in Japan – A Documentary

The Chapel Hill-based bluegrass band Mipso spent some quality time last Summer touring through Japan, getting immersed in the Japanese culture and growing bluegrass movement. University of North Carolina alum and award-winning film maker Jon Kasbe traveled to Japan with the trio to capture their experience and share it with the world. The result below is a strikingly beautiful documentary that highlights the unharnessed power of the universal language of music. 

“On a journey that blurs the cultural divide between East and West, three young musicians travel across the world to discover that the twang of the banjo needs no translation. While performing at a bluegrass festival, jamming with fiddle virtuosos, and touring by bullet train, the band finds that the traditions rooted in their home state have far-reaching branches.”

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Album Review – Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Remedy”

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It appears that Old Crow Medicine Show has finally become a household name, though the final push to get there may not fully reflect the band’s talent and years of hard work. After 16 years of sidewalk busking, cross-country touring, superb songwriting and recording, it was pop-country star Darius Rucker’s cover of the band’s “Wagon Wheel” that brought O.C.M.S. into the mainstream fold.

Timed perfectly to ride the wave of Rucker’s “Wagon Wheel” success, the Nashville-based band just released its eighth studio album, “Remedy,” which carries a collective sound that screams O.C.M.S., while adding a couple of nuances that slightly shift the band’s course.

First, with the departure of former member Willie Watson — who left the group to pursue a solo career — comes a vocal void that is glaringly obvious to any listener who has been following the band’s trajectory. Watson’s trademark timbre always added an Appalachian authenticity to songs that frontman Ketch Secor is not quite able to reproduce, though he comes very close.

Second, on “Remedy” Secor and crew include tracks that make an obvious nod to modern country music. This direction will certainly appeal to the mainstream country music fan, and potentially secure their current spot in the limelight. However, long-time fans may find it unsettling.

Fortunately, these country tracks are scant and the meat of the album stays true to the traits that have made O.C.M.S.. great for so many years — old-timey salt-of-the-earth storytelling peppered with parody, punk-rock energy, and good old-fashioned traditional folk instrumentation.

Listener response aside, “Remedy” may be just what the doctor ordered. The album is fun and carefree with top-notch songwriting and strategic introspective moments. O.C.M.S. has always possessed the gift of storytelling through their songwriting, making it difficult to distinguish personal experience from that of a stranger, deceased soldier, leathery farmer or backwoods moonshiner. This storytelling gift has created a genuineness that has earned the band a loyal following over the years.

There are several glimpses of this level of storytelling on “Remedy,” though with less historical reference than on previous albums like “Carry Me Back.” Rather, “Remedy” feels very present, as the boys hail Music City, lament loss, explore the ups and downs of prison life, and tackle pessimistic attitudes. The album’s upbeat tracks can do no wrong, while selective ballads feel overworked with pedestrian themes.

The album opener, “Brushy Mountain Conjugal Trailer,” gets things rolling with a hot prison teaser, steaming with enough vivid imagery to keep prisoner acting on their best behavior. “8 Dogs 8 Banjos” follows and explodes with a feverish fiddle and rolling banjo arrangement along with fun call-and-response lyrics, making it near impossible to sit still. This track will translate perfectly on stage, and is sure to become a fan favorite.

“Sweet Amarillo” marks the second time O.C.M.S. has taken an unfinished song by legendary musician Bob Dylan and made it their own. Here, dusty winds blow a bit farther West from Nashville, Tenn. giving the sweet cowboy ballad more of a Texan texture—of which Dylan reportedly approved. “Mean Enough World” is like a steam engine cranking through the station with a perfect combination of whiny harmonica, speedy banjo picking, and finger wagging lyrics begging for a light at the end of the tunnel.

Though the sentiment is powerful on the next two tracks, they struggle to keep up with the album’s musical caliber and therefore feel a bit out of place. “Dearly Departed Friend” fills the album’s fallen soldier quota, but falls flat and translates like a country Jimmy Buffett tune. While “Firewater” is a poignant chronicle of band member Critter Fuqua’s struggle with alcoholism, it fails to live up to its musical potential. Hopefully, both of these tracks will evolve and improve as they are road tested.

“Brave Boys” picks spirits back up in true O.C.M.S. fashion with a raucous cadence, fiddle solos and enough band hollering to reach coal miners in West Virginia. “Doc’s Day” is the perfect old-timey, playful tribute to Doc and Merle Watson, fit for front porch jam and sweet tea sipping.

More tributes follow as O.C.M.S. bows down to the bounties of their current hometown, Nashville, Tenn. “O Cumberland River” praises the southern waterway’s beauty, utility, and power as lyrics recall the devastating 2010 river flood that wreaked havoc on Music City. “Tennessee Bound” jumps right in line with a typical O.C.M.S. rambling homecoming tune, sung with pure pride and joy.

“Shit Creek” proves that O.C.M.S. still possesses the lyrical talent and musical prowess to keep fans satiated. This track turns up the fiddle speed dial just passed “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” mark and is chock full of enough river/relationship metaphors to keep listeners busy for a while. It ranks as one of the album’s best.

O.C.M.S. continues the tradition of keeping a light-hearted outlook on life with “Sweet Home,” a spirited sing-a-long about heading to the pearly gates. The album closes with “The Warden,” a stripped-down, harmony-rich ballad sung from the point of view of an observant criminal. This track is an outstanding example of an unhurried O.C.M.S. song that maintains the band’s rich storytelling abilities and traditional sound.

Overall, “Remedy” delivers what O.C.M.S. fans desire — mountain music with a good mix of fundamentals, fun and fire to keep things moving forward. The few weak spots on the album are overshadowed by the boot-stomping, hand clapping pace, strong songwriting, and consistent mingling of harmonica, fiddle and banjo across tracks. This album will certainly continue to grow the band’s fan base in different directions and motivate new fans to catch a live O.C.M.S. performance, which is where these boys really shine, much like a big ol’ full moon over that muddy Cumberland River.

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Album Review – Jack White’s “Lazaretto”

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Through a cloud of lingering personal drama and potentially damning press, eccentric-rocker Jack White emerges triumphantly with his second solo album, “Lazaretto.” White, who is well-known for blurring musical boundaries in unpredictable ways, presents an appealing juxtaposition between Detroit blues and rock and Nashville honky-tonk country on “Lazaretto.”

To follow up the success of his first solo album, “Blunderbuss,” White decided to take a new approach to songwriting, making the two albums quite distinct from one another. “Lazaretto” pulls inspiration from a collection of plays White wrote when he was 19 years old and recently rediscovered. Over the course of a year and a half, characters and storylines from White’s 19 year old imagination found homes in each of the album’s 11 tracks.

The album opener, “Three Women” is a funky blues tune in which White fills emotional voids with a woman in every port. The title track follows, providing an electric mash-up of rock and rap reminiscent of Rage Against the Machine as White shows off his guitar prowess and jagged verses. “Lazaretto” also gives listeners the first hint of Nashville influence as the song closes with a wailing fiddle, before leading into “Temporary Ground.”

“Temporary Ground,” along with “Entitlement,” capitalize on traditional country instrumentation and harmonies, but do not commit completely to the genre. On both tracks, White stays true to his distinct vocals, but surrounds them with twang harmonies, pedal steel and fiddle, submitting his own take on country music. A river of sarcasm runs through “Entitlement,” and while it may have been influenced by White’s observations in the mid-90s, lyrics like, “Though the world may be spoiled and getting worse every day, don’t they feel like they cheated somehow,” seem to ring even truer today.

“Would You Fight For My Love?” features intense percussion and eerie howls, but what stands out most is White’s passionate yet panicked vocal performance, implying that perhaps his more recent turbulent relationships weaseled their way into the song. The album’s only instrumental, “High Ball Stepper,” takes listeners on a dark ominous walk through the woods, as a banshee-esque violin hollers underneath White’s lightning rod electric guitar solos.

“Just One Drink” is a fun juke-joint cocktail of blues and country that channels a little Buddy Holly, while “Alone in my Home” ramps up the pop factor with flirty keys and day-dreamy female harmonies, despite the song’s dejected theme of solitude.

“That Black Bat Licorice,” which competes with “Lazaretto” as the album’s top rock and roll track, brings in yet another genre with reggae-like backbeats. With ironic lyrics like, “I want to cut out my tongue and let you hold on to it for me, ‘cause without my skills to amplify my sounds it might get boring,” perhaps White is foreshadowing the need to keep his strong opinions about others to himself, or perhaps not.

“I Think I Found The Culprit” has a dramatic outlaw feel with rock-country flair that peaks and dips throughout the track. The final track, “Want and Able” is like having an angel and devil perched on each shoulder and trying to make a decision. Here, as on many “Blunderbuss” and “Lazaretto” tracks, the keys play a central role in the collective sound of the song. Whether through the buzz of an organ or the tickling of ivories, White’s appreciation for the piano continues to be evident with “Lazaretto.”

Overall, “Lazaretto” translates like a collection of short-stories written by different authors, reaffirming that White’s experimental nature is alive and well in Music City. The album offers listeners a genre clash that could initially feel distracting, but instead keeps ears perked for nuance and surprises around each bend of the chords. The instrumentation, while crazy and impulsive at times, stands tall against the lyrics, proving once again that White is not in it for the songwriting glory, but rather the overall auditory texture of the song.

As White’s personal life and professional opinions continue to stand blazing hot in the media’s spotlight, it is obvious that strong ties will be made to the themes in “Lazaretto.” However, the truth is that while many of the tracks could be interpreted as intimately tied to his current woes, listeners and critics will never quite know whose story White is telling, and in that intention lies the genius that is Jack White.

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Album Review – Lake Street Dive’s “Bad Self Portraits”

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Photographs are the gateway to the past. These 3×5 glossy prints serve as tangible memories capable of unleashing an emotional flood the instant the image and retina meet. While photographs convey moments locked in time and place, they can also inform and inspire the present and future — much like music.

On their breakout LP, “Bad Self Portraits,” Brooklyn-based jazz-pop-soul quartet, Lake Street Dive, taps into the curious power of the photograph, with a throwback twist. The band itself has a bit of a vintage vibe, with lead singer Rachel Price fit to be a 50s pin-up girl, upright bassist Bridget Kearney looking straight out of an episode of Mad Men, and drummer Mike Calabrese and multi-instrumentalist Mike Olson sporting just enough flashback hipster gear to round-out the look.

While it is easy to describe the band’s onstage appearance, it is much harder to pigeon-hole Lake Street Dive into a specific genre of music. On the album, Price’s smooth vocals offer a buttery mix of Motown soul and southern rhythm and blues, while the band adds a punch of doo-wop, swing and jazz. Collectively, the melding of musical styles finds a sweet intersection across all 11 tracks.

The album opener and title track is a bluesy take on the modern-day selfie phenomenon. With Laurel Canyon undertones and vocals that stand up to blues-rock icons Bonnie Raitt and Susan Tedeschi, this track jumpstarts the album with soul and presence. The doo-wop swinger “Stop Your Crying” speaks to the cyclical nature of letting the wrong kind of love come back around. With lyrics like, “I am a photograph, a moment stuck in time,” this track is a realistic glimpse into how love can cloud better judgment.

The album slows down on “Better Than,” a smoky ballad with a sadness reminiscent of Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me.” As Price’s vocals dip low, Olson adds muted trumpet tones that further drive the melancholy home. After the quick piano pick-up jam, “Rabid Animal,” Lake Street Dive puts their best feet forward with “You Go Down Smooth,” the song that blew minds and propelled the band to fame at T Bone Burnett’s “Another Day, Another Time — Celebrating the Music of ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’” concert in NYC last fall. “You Go Down Smooth” is not only lyrically brilliant, with cocktail metaphors galore, but it also highlights all of the band’s best features — Prince’s sultry jazz-singer range with the bands crisp harmonies and instrumentation.

“Use Me Up” is an ironic flip on Jackie Wilson’s “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher,” telling the tale of a parasitic love that leaves little left over. “Bobby Tanqueray” is a dreamy combination of retro rock cosmic flair and “Little Shop of Horrors” corner-shop doo-wop. It is fun and clearly one of the album’s best, despite feeling a bit overproduced.

“Just Ask” is five minutes of pure R&B bliss, with distant gritty guitar and ghostly backing vocals layered behind Price’s velvet vocal elegance, while “Seventeen” capitalizes on the band’s collective talents and falls in line with the more modern blues style of John Mayer.

By this point in the album, listeners may start feeling like the album’s protagonist is a bit of a pushover. Just in time to dispel this assumption, “What About Me” gives the album the sexy confidence it needs, and gives the love story a real backbone. However, just as quickly as the confidence appears, it withers as the album closes with “Rental Love,” a murky lounge reflection of a one-sided love affair that features Price’s powerful pipes one last time.

Overall, “Bad Self Portraits” covers the spectrum of emotion that accompanies the journey of love. Each track is a snapshot into past relationships, both good and bad. Throughout the album, Price displays a vocal prowess that makes Amy Winehouse’s absence seem a bit more bearable. Lake Street Dive offers a unique perspective on music’s past while catching the attention of listeners today. In the blink of a flash, “Bad Self Portraits” chronicles the band’s contribution to music and will hold its color and composition in the albums of music for decades to come.

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Review – Shaky Knees Festival 2014

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Shaky Knees, an Atlanta music festival in its sophomore year, was by most accounts a success on a grand scale. The festival relocated to a single Atlantic Station location this year from its bifurcated presence last year in Fourth Ward Park and Masquerade Music Park. While there was initially some noise regarding the somewhat less central location of the festival, the new site proved to be a boon, allowing for improved transportation to and parking at the festival. While festival organizers strongly urged ticket holders to use public transportation, there was ample parking and a discount agreement with Uber for the weekend.

The Good

It’s not often that the entrance to a festival is located within a large strip mall, but the unused, paved lot behind the Atlantic Station live-work-play development proved a worthy space for a burgeoning event. While the festival was not long on real estate, the available space was well utilized and easy to navigate. Two stages on each end of the lot ran on impressively precise schedules- when one band finished its set, the band on the neighboring stage picked up within seconds, keeping the energy of the crowds high.

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros were as unpredictable as they were talented. Alex Ebert, the lead singer, was down from the stage and in the crowd within the first three minutes of their set. The Sunday show took place on his birthday, and he was in no way shy about celebrating with the audience. Ebert included plenty of audience participation in the show, and the band’s popular single “Home” was kicked off by a fan proposing to his girlfriend onstage. Ebert took time to showcase songs from several members of the ten-member band; however the female vocalist of the band, Jade Castrinos, was conspicuously absent. At times songs seemed on the verge of falling apart, such as their closer “Om Nashi Me”, only to burst into climactic and perfectly timed reprises.

Portugal. The Man played an impressive set on Saturday afternoon. Having heard about the previous day’s deluge, John Gourley performed the entire show wearing a hooded raincoat and sunglasses. The band focused heavily on their latest album, 2013’s Evil Friends, both opening and closing with “Purple, Yellow, Red and Blue.” While the band played all of the favorites, one of the most notable songs of the set was a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall Part 2,” which reminded the audience just how rock ‘n’ roll Portugal. The Man is at its core.

Tokyo Police Club proved once again that they thrive at an outdoor festival. Opening with the nearly nine minute long suite “Argentina (Parts I, II, III)” from the brand new album Forcefield, the band showed that they’ve grown up quite a bit since the release of Champ in 2010. That said, the setlist neatly combined the two albums, delighting already-fans and winning over those unfamiliar with the band’s indie-pop sound. TPC closed with the first track of their first album, “Cheer It On,” bringing the show full circle and reminding fans exactly who they were.

Closing the festival with her performance Sunday night, Britney Howard of Alabama Shakes continually told the audience between songs that she wasn’t an eloquent speaker. However her raw and melodious songs spoke for themselves. The band played “Hold On”, the hit single from their album Girls and Boys, with the same energy as if they were playing it for the first time. The Alabama Shakes also debuted a new song “Miss You”, which combined tender verses reminiscent of a Motown classic, with a chorus that was unapologetically Rock ‘n’ Roll. They split their show with the interlude “Gemini I and II”, an eleven minute song involving voice effects and a slower pace, which was the only part of their show that dragged or lacked energy. The band’s performance at Shaky Knees was their last stop before returning home to Alabama to begin recording their second album.

The Bad

Though the addition of local food trucks to the festival sounded kitschy and even appealing, the execution was off here. The front of the park had only three options to contend with roughly half of the crowd. While the back had more options, they were arranged in a tight U-shape where people hopped in lines for anything (or nothing) and never seemed to make much progress. I’ve never wanted a hot dog so badly in my life.

As mentioned earlier, this festival took place on an asphalt lot. On the upside, it wasn’t a giant mud pit by the end of day two. On the downside, there wasn’t much around to absorb sound, and it certainly bounced resulting in a somewhat fuzzy sound quality from the audience. There were also instances of sound competing from opposite sides of the park. Jenny Lewis fought to be heard as she was blasted by The Replacements set playing at the same time.

The Ugly

As some other Atlanta natives have famously said, “you can plan a pretty picnic, but you can’t predict the weather.” Such was the case for Shaky Knees. In fact, wash outs seem to be par for the course for this festival, making back-to-back appearances in 2013 and 2014.

That said, there were very few ugly parts of this largely successful new festival. It seems that in time Shaky Knees could easily develop into one of the more popular festivals in the Southeast.

Story and photos contributed by – Emily Yerke and William Ruff

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