SK16 Day 1 Decisions: Crystal Fighters, The Sword, or July Talk


Shaky Knees 2016 is upon us, ready to kick in gear next Friday, May 13th. This year in downtown Atlanta at Centennial Olympic Park and International Plaza, Shaky Knees is bigger than ever. With over 75 bands, like any larger festival, the decisions become difficult when picking which sets to attend.  Whether it’s two of your favorite bands playing at the same time, or you are looking for something new to discover that you may not know yet, there’s always tough decisions to be made. 

A week away, now it’s time to start planning out your own personal schedule for this year’s Shaky Knees. Once again this year, Shaky Knees has 5 stages, with 2-3 stages going at any one time slot on both Friday and Sunday. Yet on Saturday, the time slots are staggered around more. Depending on how you look at it and ease of getting stage to stage, there may be more opportunity to bounce around to catch multiple sets. We’ve combed through the Friday and Sunday time slots to bring to you what we deemed the toughest choices of the festival for the non-headliners. These time slots cover bands that you may not know and need to hear about, or perhaps have multiple bands playing that could offer more crossover appeal to fans of the other bands playing at the same time. 

For those difficult decisions, we present to you our yearly Shaky Knees Death Match. We will have each band in the time slots we’ve chosen, pitted against each other. You make the decision on who you must catch. Keep checking back throughout the week as we offer our thoughts on those decisions and our must catch acts for Saturday.

Shaky Knees Friday Day 1, 4:15PM time slot has three artists that have built great followings over the years, all bring something quite different. This is one of those time slots that if you know any of these bands, you are probably going to see that band, but if you don’t already know these bands, time to figure out where you should be. Which set is your choice for the 4:15 time?

Crystal Fighters – Ponce de Leon Stage:

Crystal Fighters

Crystal Fighters

Spain’s Crystal Fighters hasn’t released new music since 2013’s Cave Rave, but that’s not really an important tidbit when it comes to the band. Sure they are touring the world again this year, and it seems like new music is on the horizon. Crystal Fighters have always been known to play new tracks and remixes during their live sets since their humble beginnings.

You could dive into the back story of a deceased Grandfather’s diary being discovered in his Basque country home in Spain with a skeleton of an incomplete opera. It’s where the band’s name, inspiration, and exploration of Basque folk instruments came from. It’s an interesting story. But all of that won’t matter at Shaky Knees.

What will matter is can the band help make this year’s Shaky Knees experience one of the best ones yet? The simple answer is “hell yeah they can.” I saw Crystal Fighters open for Portugal. The Man a few years back, and I can attest this band likes to have a great time. The band are usually dressed in some sort funky clothing, known for their dramatic and eclectic stage performance, a sure sign of good times ahead. Crystal Fighters are like one of those foot stomping family folk bands that sing songs of inspiration and preach loving life and having a great time. Except they aren’t just stomping that one strong foot, they like to rave, mixing in use of heavy synths with their large folk drums to get your whole body moving. But there are a myriad of other influences you hear throughout their songs that keep it interesting, starting with the Spanish instruments, Hispanic and African dance, Mexican electronic, gospel, folk, psychedelia, all thrown together. What you get is a great time, and if you are looking to totally let loose at Shaky Knees and dance around in a sea of strangers dancing along, then the Ponce stage and Crystal Fighters is your must see. – MG

The Sword – Boulevard Stage:

The Sword

The Sword

Austin, TX’s retro metal four piece The Sword have been making waves on the circuit since their 2006 debut Age of Winters. They’ve received critical praise across the board and even hit #17 on the Billboard charts with 2012’s Apocryphon. Live, you can be assured of loud piercing guitars, heavy baselines, head banging, and some good ole fashioned rock ‘n’ roll. It’s what they were built their huge following on, and whether that’s something you listen to on your headsets on the regular, one thing is clear, it’s the type of music that’s impossible to deny live. Sometimes you just need to let loose and go hard, and The Sword is the band to do it.

But one of the more interesting things about The Sword is their last album, 2015’s High Country, they’ve mixed it up more, earning the band even more critical praise. Concentrating more on backing vocals and harmonies, implementing more synthesizers and percussion elements, the band brought a new fresh sound to the table that brings even more crossover appeal into other psychedelic rock parts of the spectrum. While that can sound like a big change, this wasn’t one of those changes that completely scared away the fan base they’ve built over the years. Instead it left their fans even more invigorated with the new music, while bringing in new fans at the same time. They are still going to completely melt your face off at Shaky Knees, there’s no doubt about that.   – MG

JULY TALK – Buford Highway Stage:

july Talk at Aisle 5 Atlanta

july Talk at Aisle 5 Atlanta. Photo By John McNicholas

Oh the conundrums. I like a wide variety of music so this is a hard choice. The Friday 4:15pm time slot offers up some of the best of the best. The Sword is an absolutely fantastic metal act that really shines in a live setting and while I haven’t seen Crystal Fighters live before I am seriously digging their dance-pop singalongs from start to finish. But for me the smart money is on JULY TALK.

July Talk, from Toronto, Canada is an absolute powerhouse live. A rock/blues juggernaught powered by the dual lead vocals of Peter Dreimanis and Leah Fay, pushing each other back and forth both physically and verbally over the top of driving rock beats with lots of riffs and heavy drums full of stops and starts, howls and screams.

July Talk at the EARL in Atlanta. Photo By John McNicholas

July Talk at the EARL in Atlanta. Photo By John McNicholas

As good as their records are, July Talk are one of those bands that has to be seen live to get the full experience. The playful and unpredictable interplay between Peter, Leah and the audience are always the show’s wildcard that keeps everyone’s eyes locked on the band. Expect them to venture out into the crowd a few times to dance, share a drink, or as was the case the last time they were here, wonder off into the audience just to size us up. – JM


For those that love a good playlist on the go, we’ve added these tracks to our Monomania playlist on Spotify for your listening pleasure:


Contributors: John McNicholas (JM); Mike Gerry (MG)


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Mike Gerry

Head music fiend at OpenEars Music

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