Monday, May 6, 2013

Shaky Knees, Day One, Revisited

I've seen them before, hiking the trails of the sub-arctic rain forests of Alaska's Kenai Peninsula and bicycling the rainy streets of Portland, Oregon in February - people dressed in appropriate rain gear, protected from the elements, to whom drenching downpours do not matter.

With a forecast of 100% rain for the day, I briefly considered not going to the first day of the inaugural Shaky Knees music festival in Atlanta, but then, inspired by those whom I've seen before, decided to outfit myself appropriately and go for it.  Who was I to let a little wet weather get between me and a day of great music?  So I put on my best hiking pants, two Capilene t-shirts (one short- and one long-sleeved), a fleece vest, and not one but two raincoats, a lightweight hooded shell under a Mountain Gear raincoat I bought in Portland specifically for that city's rain.  I put on a pair of thick-soled Nike air sneakers that looked like they'd hold up against moisture, and headed across town.

Long story short - I was not dressed at all like one of those adventurers I'd seen in the past and got drenched.  I soon realized that the hiking pants had not been purchased for any water-resistant properties (they had none) but just for cool, light-weight protection for my legs when hiking on a hot summer day.  They got soaked and clung to my legs, even turning semitransparent for part of the day so everyone could admire the plaid boxers I was wearing underneath (my wardrobe malfuction).  Cold, wet, and clingy, they chilled me to the bone, leaving me borderline hypothermic by the end of the evening.

But I'm ahead of myself, and I'm quite sure no one came here to read about my sartorial selections, and that everyone else who attended that first day of Shaky Knees got just as soaked as I did.  Although I saw a few pretty impressive raincoats on some people, I also saw a lot of makeshift, trash-bag ponchos, the flimsiest of raingear, and a a lot of uncovered, wet heads, hair caked to their faces and scalps.  We all got soaking wet together, and that contributed to the spirit of camaraderie among the audience.  "Yeah, I'm wet, caked with mud, shivering, and looking ridiculous," we all realized at one point or another, "but so are you and so is everyone else here."  The few, the proud, the waterlogged.

By the time I arrived, a light rain was falling, the entry lines were short, and Roadkill Ghost Choir were on stage.  I had not heard of them before, but found myself enjoying them quite a bit.  Their sound reminded me at times of The War on Drugs, and they made good use of their several multi-instrumentalist players.

Their lead singer/guitarist said he was pretty impressed to see people outside standing in the rain to hear his band play music.

The rain picked up throughout their set, and continued to fall through the following set by LA's Vintage Trouble, an old school r&b/funk outfit that provided the perfect antidote to the lousy weather.  Despite the downfall, the band had people dancing, and lead singer Ty Taylor even put on a pair of galoshes and wandered out into the audience, belting out his song in the rain.

The band wore suits, bowler hats, and ties, which seemed a bit corny, but they made up for it in enthusiasm.  Their high-energy performance was exactly what the audience needed at that particular hour of that particular rain-soaked day.

Even my camera lens, like everything else, was getting soaking wet.

Despite the feel-good nature of their set, I left early to get a good position to see another LA band, Hanni El Khatib.  The gambit worked well, and I got a spot right at the front rail.

Hanni (the name is Palestinian) plays a fuzzed-out brand of garage rock that sounds equal parts street tough and psychedelic.  This was one of the acts I was looking forward to seeing, and part of my reason for braving the rain to make it out to Shaky Knees to begin with.  I don't think he's played Atlanta before, but I loved his song Loved One and posted the video of it on my other blog a year or so ago.  I was pleased to hear him end his set with an extended version of the song, hiding it with another before breaking into the distinctive guitar riff.

By the time his set was over, the rain had broken through all of my so-called wet-weather gear and every item of clothing I had worn was thoroughly soaked. Like most of the rest of the audience, though, I just resigned myself to being wet and cold, and marched to the next stage for the next act.

An amazing thing happened during that next set.  For a brief moment or two, the rain actually stopped, the only time during the entire day that it had let up, and as Wales' The Joy Formidable played, the sun actually peaked through the clouds, if even for a nanosecond.

We've seen The Joy Formidable before, at the Wonder Ballroom during MFNW 2011 and at Music Midtown the same year. Since that time, they've released a new record, but they still played a mix of their more familiar, older material (Austere, Cradle, etc.) along with their new music during their set.

After all these years, guitarist/vocalist Ritzy Bryan still manages to look surprised to find herself on a stage playing electric guitar to an audience.

 They can still create a wall of sound that raises in swells like waves that crash over the audience.  They're a terrific band live, and another good reason for attending Shaky Knees.

I needed to recover after the thundering climax of The Joy Formidable's set, as well as get a bite to eat, so I wandered around the festival grounds looking for a suitable food truck.  While wandering, I came across the Chicago band The Orwells:

the Memphis band Lucero:

and lots and lots of mud:

Refueled after devouring a nice Cuban panini, I watched the set by the current master of the electric blues, Gary Clark, Jr.

The rain was relentless.  After teasing us with a minute or two of respite during The Joy Formidable's set, it returned without a moment's relief, ranging from a steady drizzle to an outright downpour.  In all, nearly three inches of rain fell during the day.

We were not deterred.  A large crowd had gathered in front of the Masquerade Music Park Stage to see Jim James play at sunset.

We last saw Jim James playing with My Morning Jacket at a memorable concert, also at sunset, in Edgefield, Oregon.  James has a unique ability to mesmerize an audience, and even performing new material from a new album in front of a wet and freezing crowd, he was able to create and sustain his magic for a full 90-minute set.

The rain and the lights were playing havoc on both my auto-focus and my auto-exposure, making it difficult to take an even halfway decent picture of a performer playing no more than 20 yards away from me.

When James started playing the saxophone, you began to wonder, "Is there nothing he can't do?".

It's hard enough trying to perform after a Jim James set, but the rain didn't help things any as it continued at the medium to downpour level throughout headliners Band of Horses set.

We last saw Band of Horses at MFNW 2011, and on Saturday night they played a 75-minute set.  When they finished, the crowd, or at least a paying portion of the crowd, was finally allowed inside of The Masquerade and out of the rain for a late-night set by the enigmatic Swedish band GOAT and The Black Angels.  Soaked from head to toe, splattered with mud, fatigued from being on my feet since at least 2:00 pm, and literally shivering with cold, I got inside of The Masquerade and made it to the upstairs Heaven Stage, only to realize I had another 45-minute wait of standing around, dripping and shivering, before GOAT even took the stage.

There was no way I was going to make it.  Even if I did get through the 45-minute wait, as good as both bands are, I wouldn't have enjoyed the sets in my present condition.  Giving in to exposure, fatigue and old age, I called it a night and bagged it.   I would have loved to have stayed and seen both bands, but I also wanted to be able to appreciate them, and besides, I had another whole day of music ahead of me tomorrow.

So that was that.  It was still raining, hard, when I left The Masquerade, as I drove home, and as I got out of my wet clothes and finally into a warm bed that night.  Not to get ahead of myself again, but it was still raining when I got up the next morning.

I thought long and hard about whether or not I should even post this, but here's my poor battered camera's rain-soaked video digest of the day, raw and unedited and with atrocious audio quality (you might want to just turn the sound off entirely, if not just skip the video altogether).  You've been warned.

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