Editor's note: Each week leading up to Austin City Limits Music Festival, CultureMap will feature an exclusive artist profile from ACL's Artist Discovery Series. We kick things off with Austin's own Shakey Graves.
Hailed as Austin’s best one-man band, Shakey Graves is an artist of understated power and overt mystique. His bio simply reads, “Shakey Graves is a gentleman from Texas.” Perhaps that’s all you need to know before stumbling into his music — and stumble you should.
Rooted in the darker side of the folk tradition (think Townes Van Zandt), Shakey Graves magically balances lyrical depth with lighthearted accompaniment that creates an awe-inspiring, accessible sound. His two albums — Donor Blues EP and Roll The Bones — expertly capture the juxtaposition of a lo-fi aesthetic with energizing stage shows.
“Comprehending that I will now be standing on one of those mighty stages, singing from my heart to the city I was born and raised in, simply fills my heart to the brim,” Shakey Graves says.
The Donor Blues EP (released in 2012) catalogs previously unreleased home recordings using a subpar mic and 4-track recorder, whereas 2011’s Roll The Bones runs the gamut of charming folk tunes and haunting deliveries masked in up-tempo beats.
Standouts from Roll The Bones are abundant, making it no surprise that two years after its release, the album consistently ranks on Bandcamp’s top-sellers list.
Title track “Roll The Bones” is lyrically dense but cleverly constructed with simple instrumentation that begs you to tap your foot to the beat. “Unlucky Skin” swells with bluegrass overtones that are offset by soft vocals. And his cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire” is sparse and sexy, supplemented by female harmonies.
The true beauty in Shakey Graves as a performer is his ability to captivate an audience with subtleties. Armed only with a guitar, a soulful voice, and a kick drum fashioned from an old suitcase, his performance is not that of the passive singer-songwriter. From the moment the first drum beat sounds, you’re consumed by the experiential nature of his music.
After touring across the country and experiencing growing critical acclaim, Shakey Graves takes the stage at ACL Fest this fall for a performance that will solidify the native Austinite as a mainstay in the Live Music Capital.
“I remember standing in that dusty field watching the first ACL unfold while I was still in high school,” he says. “Comprehending that I will now be standing on one of those mighty stages, singing from my heart to the city I was born and raised in, simply fills my heart to the brim.”
Ahead of his festival debut, ACL Fest asked Shakey Graves to compile a playlist commemorating the end of summer. It includes a few of his favorite one-man band songs, too — one of which may surprise you. Take a listen to this playlist, perfectly constructed for the final days of summer freedom, and get a better grasp on Austin’s enigmatic one-man band.
Shakey Graves plays weekend two of ACL Fest on Saturday, October 12, at 4:30 pm on the BMI Stage. To listen to the playlist, visit the Austin City Limits Music Festival website.