Georgia’s springtime music festival season is always wonderfully saturated and varied, and it just keeps getting more and more stuffed as established fests grow and new ones jump into the mix. This year, Georgia in the spring (and late winter/early summer) offers an unprecedented number of enticing options, both large and small, for festivalgoers of nearly any musical taste. Here’s a brief overview of some of our favorites:
For its third year, Atlanta’s Shaky Knees Music Festival is loading the rock, alternative and Americana mix to new heights that have some observers calling it a stronger lineup than Bonnaroo and Coachella, minus the camping. This year, the fest also relocates for the second time, setting down roots at Central Park—yes, Atlanta has its own Central Park, in the Old Fourth Ward near the Civic Center; in fact, it was used several times as a location for the Music Midtown Festival before that one took a break and subsequently moved to Piedmont Park upon its relaunch. Some of this year’s heavy hitters at Shaky Knees, May 8-10, include Wilco, the Avett Brothers, Pixies, The Strokes, Ryan Adams, Tame Impala and Georgia acts Mastodon, Neutral Milk Hotel, Manchester Orchestra and the Black Lips.
The organizers of Shaky Knees are launching a spinoff festival this year focusing solely on country and Americana music. Titled Shaky Boots and happening the weekend after Shaky Knees at the Kennesaw State University Sports and Entertainment Park northwest of Atlanta, the inaugural lineup is already poised to draw even bigger crowds than its parent fest with established veterans and hot newcomers alike, including Blake Shelton, Brad Paisley, Dierks Bentley, Rascal Flatts, Dwight Yoakam, Jason Isbell, Georgia acts Kip Moore, Kristian Bush (Sugarland), The Whiskey Gentry and Jim White vs. The Packway Handle Band. Dates are May 16-17.
From the crafty beer geeks at Georgia’s most popular brewery, Sweetwater Brewing Co., comes the fifth annual Sweetwater 420 Fest, now a three-day mix of rock, jam, singer-songwriters, hip hop, reggae and electronic music – and of course, cold beer – in downtown Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park April 17-19. Among the offerings: Snoop Dogg, 311, Thievery Corporation, Primus, Slightly Stoopid, The Wailers and Gov’t Mule. Running the tie-in 5K race the morning of the 18th will help you justify drinking all those delicious Sweetwater beers.
The Savannah Music Festival always presents a classy selection of diverse performances throughout numerous Savannah venues, bringing fans of classical, jazz, country, blues, folk and more together for the pure love of music itself. Running from March 19 through April 4, there’s plenty to choose from this year, including Americana sweetheart Lucinda Williams, jazz vocalist Dianne Reeves, Nashville royalty Rosanne Cash, gospel/R&B great Mavis Staples, banjo explorer Bela Fleck, Toronto ensemble The Barr Brothers, country-rock couple Shovels & Rope, zydeco torchbearer Buckwheat Zydeco, coastal Georgia ring shout traditionalists McIntosh County Shouters, acclaimed European classical guitarist Milos Karadaglic and…well, that’s just scratching the surface, but you get the idea.
Perhaps you’re in the mood for a little grittier Savannah-based fest? Try on the Savannah Stopover for size. Now in its fifth year, the indie-centric fest capitalizes on the vast number of acts traveling across the region in early March on their way to Austin for South by Southwest. Among those “stopping over” in Savannah March 5-7 are Southern Culture on the Skids, Generationals, Matthew E. White, Hiss Golden Messenger, Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires, Beach Day and numerous Georgia up-and-comers including Cusses, Triathalon, Ruby the RabbitFoot, White Violet, Crazy Bag Lady and Axxa/Abraxas.
Taking a somewhat similar approach (netting a few of the hundreds of SXSW acts) but on the back end (March 26-29) is Athens’ upstart Slingshot Festival. While “electronic art, tech and comedy” all play a role in the fest’s offerings, music is the centerpiece. This year, in venues and on stages spread over five blocks of downtown Athens, expect to enjoy Reptar, Prince Rama, Peelander-Z, Juana Molina, Glenn Kotche, Jamie xx (of the British band The xx), DJ sets from James Murphy (LCD Soundsystem) and Washed Out, and others.
A colorful stew of jam, hip hop and electronic artists is putting this year’s CounterPoint Music and Arts Festival on the radar of many regional music fans. Happening Memorial Day Weekend – May 22-24 – at Kingston Downs, near Rome, CounterPoint offers carnival rides, an art village, a game center, food court, yoga workshops and (unlike the other fests we’ve mentioned) camping areas. But you really want to hear about the music, right? Widespread Panic, Zedd, The Roots, Umphey’s McGee, Dillon Francis, Galactic, RL Grime, Lettuce, Futurebirds and Yung Lean are but a sampling of what you’ll experience.
South Georgia metalheads, your day has come at last. We’re talking about the Albany Metal Fest, an all-day headbangerthon happening Feb. 21st at the State Theatre in Albany. It’s an all-ages affair organized by James Gillham, who operates a small, independent metal record label called Black Earth Records. With much of the lineup hailing from south Georgia, expect to damage your eardrums with the likes of Dog Head, Invert the Idols (both Albany-based), Dead Hand (Warner Robins), Apollo (Perry), Machinist!, Dying Whale (both Valdosta) and Acruce Mortem (Atlanta), along with various malcontents from Florida and North Carolina.
Back in the state capital, the annual Chicken Raid in memory of late Atlanta country-blues legend Frank Edwards has been announced for March 21 and 22 at durable Atlanta blues dive the Northside Tavern. With proceeds benefitting the Edwards estate, barbecue provided by Fat Matt’s Rib Shack and players spanning the generations, the lineup features Beverly “Guitar” Watkins, Albert White, Roy Lee Johnson, Essie Mae Brooks, Cody Matlock, Robert Lee Coleman, Eddie Tigner and, naturally, stalwart Atlanta blues/roots institution Mudcat, led by event organizer Danny Dudeck.
Blues flans should also check out the 22nd annual Blind Willie McTell Blues Festival on May 9th in Thomson. The festivities honoring the legacy of Thomson’s native son and the composer of “Statesboro Blues” take place in a beautiful pastoral setting just off Highway 78. This year’s lineup includes Marsha Ball, John Hammond, the Golden State-Lone Star Revue, Chris Smither, Mingo Fishtrap and the Bruce Katz Band. One of the highlights of the festival is always the local food vendors serving up fried fish, fried pork rinds, bar-b-que and other down home Southern fare.
We realize this is #11, but by early summer you’ll surely need a little savin’ after all these far-flung festivals. What better way to accomplish that than the second annual Gerald Crabb Gospel Fest, set for July 9-12 at the Northwest Georgia Trade and Convention Center in Dalton. Among the offerings: father/son duo Wilburn & Wilburn. Grammy-winner Jason Crabb, his younger sister Terah Crabb Penhollow, Weston & Christy Hinson, Brian Free & Assurance and The Freemans. There’s also a talent search, a songwriting workshop and morning chapel services led by Gerald Crabb, patriarch of southern gospel group the Crabb Family, who’ll also wrap up the fest with a prayer breakfast and performance on July 12.