New country festival shakes up Atlanta

Courtesy of Shaky Boots Festival

Although Atlanta has long-been a destination for some of the most popular music festivals across the country, this year marked the introduction of Shaky Boots, a country-themed spin-off of the alternative rock Shaky Knees festival.  With over 15 food trucks, endless drink tents, and plenty of field space and stadium seats available, the venue was a perfect destination to accommodate some of the biggest names in country music.

The first day of the festival took place on Saturday, where the even-hot-for-May Georgian heat blasted through the day and led to a perfect, breezy evening full of good music, fun vibes and happy concerters decked out in their best cowboy boots and hats.  The three stages, aptly named “Peachtree,” “Piedmont,” and “Ponce de Leon,” featured a variety of artists over the course of the afternoon, beginning with the likes of Sugarland-less Kristian Bush and ending with The Band Perry, Dierks Bentley and, of course, the 2014 Country Music Association’s “Male Vocalist of the Year,” Blake Shelton.

While Joe Nichols entertained the crowd with some of his best-known hits (such as “Sunny and 75”) and ballads (including “The Impossible”), former One Tree Hill star Jana Kramer showed her vocal range with a variety of well-known covers including Alanis Morissette’s “Ironic” and Hozier’s “Take Me to Church.”

The remainder of the artists also provided a wide range of what country music truly entails. Kip Moore’s raspy voice blended the worlds of country and rock-and-roll, while The Band Perry effortlessly showed their pop range through covers of Fall Out Boy and Ariana Grande. The latter trio of siblings created an unmatched energy on-stage, with a country-pop version of “Uptown Funk” that got country- and non-country-lovers alike singing along.

As the sun set, Dierks Bentley set the party mood by shotgunning a beer with a fan onstage and promising the crowd that he was going to marry a “Georgia Peach” one day.  His most widely-recognized tunes, including “Drunk on a Plane,” “Tip It On Back,” and “Feel that Fire,” showed his lovable drawl and raw talent.

Out of all of the artists performing throughout the festival, perhaps the most loved was Blake Shelton.  Blake’s personality has been forefront through his stint as a judge on “The Voice,” allowing America to fall in love with his sense of humor, stellar wit, playful persona and brotherly bickering with fellow judge Adam Levine.  Blake showed this same endearing personality to the packed stadium of nearly 20,000 fans, saying, “I’ve only been here 10 minutes or so, but I freaking love Shaky Boots!”  His line-up included all of his award-winning and chart-topping songs, starting with “Neon Lights” and ranging to one of his very first hits, “Austin.”

The second day of the festival may not have had the same clear skies as its predecessor, but that did not mean the acts weren’t just as hot.  Although sporadic thunderstorms plagued the majority of the afternoon, fans and performers alike powered through.  The crowds were noticeably lighter than the first day, understandably so, but the performances were nonetheless lively and the crowd was undoubtedly still rocking. The all-star lineup began around noon with alt-country-rock band Cracker, led by lead singer David Lowery, who rocked the stage in a Johnny Cash tank and guitar around his neck.  The afternoon acts grew in force, with The Cadillac Three—a Tennessee trio that unfortunately began performing seemingly seconds after a drenching deluge; the Eli Young band—an obvious crowd favorite with popular radio hits such as “Dust” and “Drunk Last Night;” Justin Moore—who continued the day’s earlier rock-country feel with songs such as “Point at You” and “If Heaven Wasn’t So Far Away;” and Sara Evans who energized the crowd with (appropriately) “Here Comes the Sun,” personal melodies such as “Perfect,” and incredible covers including Rod Stewart’s “My Heart Can’t Tell You No.”

Rascal Flatts served as perhaps the most well-known artist that did not secure a headlining spot, with nearly each and every song known verbatim by the crooning fan base.  “Love You Out Loud,” “Rewind,” “Me and My Gang…” the list of top-played radio hits was endless as fans were easily reminded of the country-pop gang’s ability to blend swoon-worthy ballads and catchy anthems into a cohesive set.  From the upbeat “Summer Nights” to the slow and soulful “What Hurts the Most,” the crowd seemed engaged for every last word.

Finally, Brad Paisley had large shoes to fill, given that he was the final performer to wrap up two days of some of the biggest names in country music—and fill them, he did.  His setlist was jam-packed with some of his old-time favorites, including “Then” and “Celebrity,” which featured a comically endearing background video satirizing fame and stardom as well as newer tunes, such as “This is Country Music” and “Crushin’ It.”  Furthermore, the West Virginia native singer/songwriter, with over 12 million album sales and three Grammy Awards to his name, seemed to genuinely enjoy himself: he mentioned the touristy attractions he visited in Atlanta during the daytime, walked back-and-forth to engage the wide-ranging crowd, showcased his stellar musical talents on the guitar and continually praised the numerous artists that had preceded him on stage.

Like Paisley himself, the palpable pleasure of attendees gives hope that the very first annual Shaky Boots festival will not be the last.