When Tim Sweetwood set out to create a music festival, he wanted cohesion and unity. For Sweetwood, who has booked bands at the Masquerade for the past eight years, too many festivals around the nation present a plethora of disparate artists, pasting together a mishmash of genres to interest as many festival-goers as possible.
The Shaky Knees Festival, which will take place Saturday and Sunday, May 4 and 5, on three outdoor stages in Historic Fourth Ward Park and the Masquerade Music Park, has a winnowed-down focus. Sweetwood has gathered headliners including the Lumineers, Band of Horses, the Drive-By Truckers, Jim James, Dr. Dog and Heartless Bastards for the event, molding a lineup where attendees are more apt to be interested in every band that takes the stage. Two-day ticket packages for $99 have sold out; single-day tickets are available for $61.
“I wanted to create something that had a little bit more of a flow to it as far as the talent is concerned,” Sweetwood explained. “I’m trying to gear to a festival that everyone can enjoy from the first note to the last note, and if that means that I don’t have certain genres, so be it.”
Traditionally, festival promoters have engaged big-name acts, regardless of genre, in order to create a buzz. (Featuring R&B artists at the Atlanta Jazz Festival is just one example.) For ticketed events, famous acts sometimes help support lesser-known artists. But Sweetwood’s goal wasn’t to put out a flashy name for the festival; he simply wanted to appeal to the estimated 10,000 people who will fill the area each day. “I’m not trying to be Music Midtown and do 60,000 people every year,” he said.
Last September, the Music Midtown festival returned to Piedmont Park after a five-year hiatus, presenting a diverse array of bands over two days of music. It was counted a success, and while some might see Shaky Knees partly through the lens of that fall event, Sweetwood says the two aren’t related at all. After a relative lack of intown ticketed music festivals, he thought the time was just right for a late-spring event.
“If Music Midtown wasn’t here, I’d be doing this now anyway,” he said, noting that he has now finally been in the industry long enough to generate the needed contacts to support such an event. “This particular part of town has just transformed, and it’s finally there. Two years ago, where we’re having the festival, there were still abandoned warehouses, and now there’s a nice beautiful park.”
Sweetwood points to economic optimism as a driver for the event. He said people are starting to spend more disposable income while at the same time looking for the best deal possible. When some of the bands featured at Shaky Knees come through Atlanta, Sweetwood said, they charge $30 a ticket; to see nearly 30 bands at the Shaky Knees price, he said, is a steal.
Sweetwood said the one-day passes are going quickly. And this success — “it’s looking like it will completely sell out” — has him planning ahead. If everything goes well, Shaky Knees could emerge as the spring indie rock festival to balance out Music Midtown’s fall offering.
“Looking down the line, I definitely would like to establish it being in the spring,” he said. “We’re going to do it every year.”