Candler Park Festival offers relaxed alternative

Photo courtesy of Andrew Najjar

Music festivals are a dime a dozen in the summer. Atlanta hosts quite a few of its own, but one of the most low-key offerings is the Candler Park Music and Food Festival. This year the two day festival kicked off on Friday May 31. Tickets for the entire festival only run about $40 after fees. 

The vibe of the festival was distinctly laid-back, making it unique to any other major music festival in the city. Festivals like Music Midtown and Shakybeats are full of attendees trying to have the wildest time they can, and as a result those festivals have a frantic feel to them. It is impossible to be fully conscious of everything that is going on when one is always worrying about missing out on something. 

The festival at Candler Park is very much the opposite. There is only one stage, so everyone at the festival is in it together. The crowd is not pushy, making it easy to weave through it to a spot with a good view of the stage. Groups of people always dancing, others talking, and others were even sprawled on blankets in the crowd, picnic style. 

This year’s lineup was wonderfully eclectic; the featured genres included reggae, alternative, bluegrass, folk and indie.  

One of the best performances of the weekend was Stephen Marley’s. These days, few people have ever been to a reggae concert, and most have probably never even considered it. Marley’s set was so much fun one would have trouble not falling in love with the genre. 

For the most part, Marley did not even move around, instead just sitting in the center of the stage with his hand drum, belting out his tunes. His band, on the other hand were kinetic and lively, and clearly had a good time listening and dancing to Marley’s music too. And yes, Stephen Marley is the son of Bob Marley.

Headlining the first night of the festival was Greensky Bluegrass, an aptly named bluegrass group. As the sun had set, the crowd seemed to find a little more energy, and the band capitalized on that. Their music, though all acoustic, was full of energy and very banjo forward. They strummed away and the crowd loved it. Greensky is almost exactly what comes to mind when one thinks of a bluegrass band — large men with long hair and country twangs. 

Dr. Dog’s performance was the highlight of the second day, and that show alone was worth a trip from Tech’s campus to Candler Park. The group has been around for twenty years, and in that time they have had some notable indie-rock hits. Their music’s themes are sometimes heavy and emo-ish but the melodies are always upbeat and fun to dance to, which the crowd definitely did. Most notable about their set was the sense of camaraderie between band members and the easy rapport they kept up with the audience. They managed to make the small festival feel even smaller and more personal. 

In the empty spaces between sets, there was still plenty to do within the confines of the festival. Near the entrance there was an artist’s market, selling the work of local artists, jewelry, clothing, and even records. The crowd of attendees were the perfect market for these vendors, and the lines reflected that. Closer to the stage there were classic lawn games like cornhole, alongside giant versions of childhood favorites like connect four. 

Staying true to the festival’s name, there were about two dozen food trucks off to the side, overing everything from classic hot dogs, to Indian street food, to pickles. There were even some Tech favorites at the event, including Bento Bus and Yumbii. There were also bar tents everywhere, but would-be attendees beware — within the confines of the festival a beer will cost nine dollars. 

Most festival-goers at Candler were older millennials. This really seemed to separate it from most other festivals in the area, which tend to attract a slightly younger crowd, and probably also had a hand in creating the refreshingly laid back vibe. 

Overall, Candler Park Music and Food Festival is a great way to spend a weekend. Anyone looking for an opportunity to hear some great music in a relaxed atmosphere and not break the bank should definitely check it out when it comes around next year.