There is a genre of festivals where a band curates the event—Moon River up in Chattanooga hosted by Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors, High Water in Charleston hosted by Shovels and Rope, and Pilgrimage just south of Nashville hosted by Better Than Ezra to name a few. Being musician-focused has a noticeable impact on the festival, from having a hand-picked lineup to choosing the location to fit the vibe that the artists’ envision. I’ve attended all three of these festivals, with Moon River being my favorite mainly for it being a true city festival. However, a new challenger approaches: Highball located in Atlanta at Pullman Yards, a reclaimed industrial complex turned venue. This new artist-curated festival, hosted by Athen’s own Futurebirds, brought the polished vibes of Music Midtown with the indie-driven intention of Shaky Knees. It was my 45th festival and a true delight to attend, featuring headliners Band of Horses and The Head and the Heart with Futurebirds supporting both nights.
I’ve been to Pullman Yards a handful of times for various events, including Goose last fall for their two-day Atlanta run. Highball was in a part of Pullman Yard I’ve not been to yet as the complex itself is large. The stage for the festival was nestled outside between two large buildings with a ceiling of decorative clothes forming a canopy over the entire crowd. The entrance to the festival was located directly in front of the stage, so from the second you arrived you could hear the music. When you walk inside and to the right, a small food vendor area opened up, filled with local heroes including Grindhouse and Sweet Auburn BBQ. Then, inside the building that made the right wall of the stage area was a sports lounge with multiple TVs showing football games and merch. The back part of the building towards the stage housed the VIP area with a separate merch vendor. All of the indoor space came with plentiful seating during the sets, something hard to find at many festivals. And when you walk out of the side of the building towards the crowd and stage, you were instantly hit with a wall of music and a crowd full of smiles. The overall layout of Highball deserves praise for giving its demographic of Athens alumni what they want: football and live music.
I definitely see the potential for Highball moving forward, even if they keep it at Pullman Yards as there is plenty of room for it to expand to probably double its current size. However, Atlanta festivals have a tendency to shift around until they find their true space. An example is Shaky Knees as it started at Masquerade Music Park (RIP) then went to Atlantic Station and finally settled into Central Park. Pullman Yards should allow for enough growth to hit the sweet spot for this festival in my opinion, but if it outgrows the space I won’t be mad. Highball definitely hits the right notes for becoming another iconic Atlanta festival and will be one to look forward to in the coming years.
I hope you were dancing with me at Highball this year. As this year’s festival season wraps up, I hope to see you in the pit in 2024!