I have never been to a music festival before. For someone so music-crazed as me, that is a tough realization to believe. I’ve been to concerts, sometimes with an opening act or two, but never with more than three distinct bands or artists overall. Now, this may be because of COVID or my age (thousands of packed bodies over many days can be a breeding ground for disease and just plain overwhelming), but I have finally reached a time when I feel like I can handle one. And the Shaky Knees Music Festival, an Atlanta-based annual event celebrating its tenth year, may be my first. The festival, complete with three days of performances, represents a variety of genres – indie rock, indie folk, alternative rock, and country. Tim Sweetwood, the festival’s founder, sought to create a musical experience that was focused on just that: the music.
So, as the festival approaches, I took a look at this year’s lineup and decided whose performances I’m most excited to attend. I’ve heard of most of the performers, whether from past listens, from my parents, or in passing, but I’m unfamiliar with many of their discographies. In reality, I would see all the performers if I couldMusic – live music especially – is something precious to me, and I intentionally choose not to limit myself to what kinds I try. What follows, then, is a shortlist of artists – some that I’ve dabbled in, and some whose work I have dove into – all of which I would go out of my way to see.
This band is one I am unfamiliar with. I haven’t listened to any of their previous work. But after I read about the indie rock group’s origins – created out of an urge to push past the overbearing and stifling walls of religious private school in the Atlanta suburbs – I became intrigued. Giving Manchester Orchestra’s latest EP – their sixth album, “The Valley of Vision” – a precursory listen, my intrigue has only deepened. The opening track, “Capital Karma,” is a powerful piano ballad. Slow and layered with an emphasis on the vocals, the song had me absorbed. Moving through the EP to “Lose You Again” – with vocals echoing Sufjan Stevens and lyrical aesthetics echoing Phoebe Bridgers – my urge to watch them perform and, in the meantime, dive deeper into their past albums, was cemented.
I first heard of Matt Maltese – the 27-year-old English indie pop/rock artist – in the same way many others did: through a song cover. “As the World Caves In” – the track in question, performed by Sarah Cothran in a pitch-perfect 2021 TikTok rendition – is, indeed, stunning. As Maltese later revealed in an interview, “As the World Caves In” satirized the political climate of the time, telling the story of two people tucked away in their home moments before nuclear disaster. With an indescribably gorgeous chorus and incredible ending, one sung to perfection by both Cothran and Maltese, “As the World Caves In” is a prime example of Maltese’s artistic power. In “Krystal,” Maltese’s 2020 album, this same power shines through in a different form. The title track is nostalgic and candid. With his mellow and intimate honesty, Maltese conveys emotion – especially in the live performances I’ve watched of his – in a truly unique way.
For many music TikTok frequenters, the name Suki Waterhouse is a familiar one. The 31-year-old London-born pop singer, actor, photographer, and model’s 2022 song “Good Looking” has become ubiquitous, and for good reason. The track is smoky and luxurious, reminiscent of the drunken magnificence of a scene in Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Waterhouse’s words are muted and hazy. Like the pink emanating off of the person submerged underwater in the cover art, Waterhouse’s voice effuses in an “opium haze.” It is the chorus, like with “As the World Caves In” that makes the song uniquely special. The “skyline falls” and so does her voice, cascading in an entrancing, rich, and mystic belt. In “Moves,” the first track of her 2022 album “I Can’t Let Go,” Waterhouse delves even further into her off-kilter dreaminess. Based on the live performances I’ve seen, and on my unbridled confidence in my ability to nail the “Good Looking” chorus, the multi-talented Waterhouse would be a must-see.
Sophie Allison’s stage name – Soccer Mommy – was enough to win me over a few years ago. It’s a plus that the 25-year-old singer-songwriter – born in Switzerland and raised in Tennessee – has continued to release indie-rock perfection. “Shotgun” – a track from her 2022 album “Sometimes, Forever“– sees Allison employing a menacing guitar and thin, filtered voice to describe a dysfunctional, always-at-the-ready love. “color theory,” Allison’s 2020 album, has consistently ranked in my top albums of the past few years. In “circle the drain,” Allison paints a feeling – one of unexplained sadness, uncertainty, and lostness – with her vivid, heart-wrenching lyrics. And in “yellow is the color of her eyes,” created as a response to her feelings touring while her mom continues to suffer from a terminal illness, Allison reaches stirring emotional depths and musical heights. The song captures sunset, and, in her case, the impending and incomprehensible end of life. Allison’s seemingly endless and entirely impactful musical breadth makes her a performer I’d be heartbroken to miss.
Snail Mail, the stage name and band of 23-year-old Maryland-born Lindsey Jordan, has been anything but dull. Jordan’s music takes influence from the punk rock of the 2000s. Jordan’s early musical roots are evident in her deftness in performance, composition, and vocals. I consider “Lush,” Jordan’s spacey and layered 2018 album, to be a masterpiece of beautifully murky and endlessly catchy indie rock. From the heartfelt “Pristine” to the mellow and wistful “Speaking Terms,” Jordan creates a gorgeous, lulling work. “Heat Wave,” my personal favorite from Lush, is the perfect encapsulation of a suffocatingly hot summer day, made more excruciating by the heat of stubborn, inescapable on-and-off love. Jordan’s 2021 “Valentine” sees her develop further, leaning into a quintessential muted rock sound with tracks like the witty “Glory” in which she mocks a self-centered lover. As with Soccer Mommy, Snail Mail is an artist I can’t stop listening to; if it means pushing through hot, springtime crowds of people to see her, or anyone on this list, so be it.