I’ve never been to a music festival before, mainly because for the most part I don’t listen to the type of “musicians” that play at them. If I were to walk up to anyone standing in line at a Mac store I wouldn’t be able to introduce them to a band that they had never heard of before.
Proof that you can always judge a book by it’s cover. This was the music festival made up of every “Dude, you gotta check out this band.” band. The fans of these almost famous bands were exactly what you have pictured in your head. Hundreds of people wearing tight pants cuffed just above their $80 shoes designed to look ‘Goodwill chic’, paired with one of the 10 shirts they packed for the three day festival in order to make it look like they don’t care what they wear. All individually singing along in unison to the words sung by the band that only they know about. Meanwhile this hipster utopia was surrounded by capitalist consumerism and those in attendance, myself included, couldn’t be happier.
Shaky Knees 2014 was hands down the greatest musical event I’ve ever been to. The atmosphere was one of “When I have my own festival one day this is how I will run it.” There were portapotties for miles, drink stations as far as the eye could see, medics and police officers ever present but never in the way, all crammed into a mall parking lot with plenty of room left over to truly explore your own taste in music. I never considered myself one to go with the flow, I’ve always went against the grain of the mainstream. Luckily for me there were 18,000 other people with the exact same ironic outlook on what’s popular. It was a heard of people who hate the idea of sheeple.
Upon entering the venue we were greeted by a group of volunteers who actually wanted to be there, hence the title of volunteers, not a staff of employees treating my good time like another day at work. Getting our three day pass was breeze, they checked our ID’s at the gate to avoid the hassle of digging through rain ponchos and shed layers of clothing in order to get another over priced beer. Even the police officers patting down the guys in tie dye t-shirts wished us a “good time”.
Once inside the concrete playground we were immediately lost in a world of possibilities. Four stages of good music, food trucks full of delicious smelling tapas, and what seemed like an endless sea of generous people willing to move to the side so we could get a better look at the bands they also paid good money to see. The desire to have a great experience was only trumped by the need to make sure your neighbor was too.
We made our way to a stage in order to take in the sights and sounds that our red wrist bands promised us. We were greeted by the faint humming of an amplifier being set up on stage while the end of a set performed next to our stage of choice trailed off into the crowd assembled just feet away from us. The lights went dim, then a few strums of a guitar was met with an uproar of cheer, applause…..and rain drops. The band was almost inaudible over the sounds of praise and precipitation. This was the bliss your brain was trying to trick you into feeling every time you sang along to your favorite song in the shower.
As the curtain fell to let you know the set was over, the rain chose to do the opposite and the clouds parted to a full moon illuminating the black top beneath our feet. Giving us the perfect amount of light to stumble our way to a busy street corner to hail a cab. Once our uber expensive cab ride was over we arrived at our home away from home. An air mattress on the floor of a college buddy’s apartment. As we drifted off to sleep with the last song of the night still ringing in our ears, we all said “good night” a little too loudly then promptly passed out.
As the sunlight broke through the half closed curtains in the living room I was awoken by the sound of coughing and giggling. My festival friends had decided to start the day on a high note, I enthusiastically chose to fall victim of peer pressure and joined them. As I opened my laptop and began to look up the band names that I had texted to myself from the day before I caught a glimpse of the clock in the corner of my screen which read 7:30 am. As I turned around to exclaim my discovery to my peers I see one of them pouring whiskey into a coffee mug. The day had begun.
We decided that we must find food. Because of the hour of day and the local restaurants hatred of money no one was delivering food. Because of the chemical alteration and strenuous DUI laws in Atlanta, GA no one was driving. So we did what any middle class food scavengers would do: we walked to Publix in search of omelet ingredients. Over priced meats and cheeses now acquired we exited the supermarket and started back towards our home away from home. Once back, the pan hit the burner and the whiskey hit the coffee mug. Breakfast had begun.
Now full and moderately intoxicated we packed a flask and called a cab to take us back to the parking lot venue we had just left less than 12 hours ago. When we arrived our buzz was matched by one of amplifiers being set up on stage, was this Déjà vu? No this was Shaky Knees Day 2. We breezed past security with our red wristbands and joyfully skipped down the the concrete staircase. Once on the ground floor we were immediately greeted with PBR wristbands which we took as a sign from the one true festival God that we must procure libations (Am I using that pretentious word correctly?). Once the contents of the tall boy can hit the back of my throat I knew that today was not going to be like yesterday. Today was going to be the type of day you write about.
We made our way back to the main stages where we had ended the night before, and if I hadn’t been there myself I wouldn’t have believed it was the same place. For starters the place was spotless. Every empty can and rubbed out joint that once carpeted the parking lot was pleasantly absent. Where there used to be passed out patrons, there were now couples sharing blankets and pre packed picnics. Needless to say we were out of place. As we danced our way closer and closer to the stage the sobriety of the crowd drifted further and further from legal. We settled on the outskirts of a large group passing around a flask that one of the females produced from her cleavage. I had found my people. I quickly met their flask with my own and we toasted to our delinquency.
After a few songs we needed to refill what had become our whiskey chasers so we made the less than 20 yard trek to one of the beer tents. Refills in hand we decided to check out the smaller stages. The atmosphere was more intimate and relaxed there which made for easy conversation. Everyone who was in these crowds considered the band on stage to be their favorite and they were quick to indulge in comradery once we displayed our head nodding of approval to the songs. This is where we met our new festival friends.
They were an adorable couple from out of state who made the trip and bought a one day pass just to see this particular band. My normal scoff of disbelief at such a claim was washed away in a cloud of kind smoke. I offered up my flask as a thank you for their generosity and they obliged. The male counterpart of the couple then offered me a flask of his own and with that simple act; he cemented our festival friendship.
We spent the next few hours “buying the next round” for each other while stumbling from stage to stage. With out me even noticing night had fallen the larger named bands started to take to the stages. I was in a state of intoxication. Not one of the liquid form, even though I was quickly approaching it, but rather one of pure bliss. I was immersed in the sound of amazingly unfamiliar music, the occasional pat on the back and approving smile from a stranger, and the seemingly endless supply of free intoxicants.
This is the part in the movies where the overplayed pop song fades out while the good time montage seems to endlessly carry on as the screen fades to black. Then smash cut to a close up of my face and then the camera slowly pans out to show the rest of my body floating on an inflatable frosted doughnut in the fountain that is in the breezy way of our beloved home away from home. I’m not entirely sure how my body managed to make the trip, however my brain came back online as I lifted my arm out of the water with a handful of what I thought at the time was sand, later I would discover it was a chlorine solution that had not fully dissolved yet. As I laid carelessly adrift upon my pastry I gazed at the Atlanta skyline and hummed along to my new favorite songs.
When I finally realized that I was taking a dip in the water feature that the people on the bottom floors of this very nice apartment complex pay extra money per month to have a clear view of, I quickly exited their amenity and stumbled my way into our apartment. I emptied my pockets onto the bar top and discarded my shoes before I extended my arms and fell fell backward toward the inflatable mattress at my feet. My new favorite band played loudly in my head as my lifeless body was met by the embrace of the unmade sheets. I muttered “good night” to my ambient audience as I crowd surfed my way into unconsciousness.
Day 3 was on a Sunday, and because we are “young professionals”, we often study the art of Sunday fun-day. However due to the impending Monday morning wake up call we were faced with the same dilemma that fat people encounter at buffets. “I paid for all of this, I better get my money’s worth”. I wish I could tell you that we made it to the desert bar of Shaky Knees 2014, but we decided to ask for the check and leave shortly after the opening acts of day 3. We left feeling full, satisfied with our experience. Unfortunately just like when you get home from the chinese buffet riddled with MSG, we were hungry for more. I suggest to the group that no matter where we end up moving to in the country over the next year we make the journey back to Shaky Knees next May. My festival friends enthusiastically agree and we all start to wonder what next year’s experience will be like. If it’s anything like these past 3 days I now have a reason to look forward to returning to Atlanta (words I thought I would never say).