Lately, it seems like a new festival pops up every other day, and most of them are done so, so wrong. Hoards of people, a venue on a parking lot and… “Isn't this the same line-up as that festival last weekend?” are just a few of the usual suspects making up the new festival in your backyard this weekend. I am immensely happy to report that the inaugural Pilgrimage Festival brought Music City back to its roots, and blew everyone in attendance away. Getting into the festival wasn’t the miserable waiting game many have gotten use to, but was an easy, quick process involving a short walk. The moment people entered the gates a vast farm flecked by historical houses and barns laid before them with rolling hills and soft pastures as far the eye could see. Toddlers rode on their dad’s shoulders as teenagers, hand in hand with young romance, flocked to one of the three stages. While grandparents posted up with their folding chairs, hippies twirled with their hula-hoops and tie-dye. Acres of green grass went untouched by attendee’s stomping feet, and you couldn’t help but think that this is what Bonnaroo looked like all those years ago.
Music began early on Saturday morning, but it wasn’t until around 1:30 in the afternoon that the first “big” crowd formed for Trampled By Turtles. “Big” is in parenthesis because at Pilgrimage Festival even the largest crowds could be easily navigated, no matter how late of an arrival time to the set. How refreshing it was to walk up to a show thirty minutes late and still experience it from the second row! As Trampled by Turtles finished up their breezy cover of The Band’s “It Makes No Difference” Lightning 100 favorites Saint Motel and Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear could be heard from across the venue, and Neko Case followed with a voice as sharp as Obsidian (Game Of Thrones addicts you’ll understand that reference).
Per usual, it was a trip watching Cage The Elephant’s mic man chase Matt Shultz across the stage and into the crowd as he dashed, danced, and dove without ever missing a beat. The band played plenty of throwbacks, with “Back Against The Wall” peaking the crowd’s energy. Across the way the ever so lovely Sheryl Crow crooned away on a set filled with classics. If only her feel good tune “Soak Up The Sun” had parted the cloudy sky, instead the heavens opened up on the festival as Weezer took us back to good ole days of pop punk. It was as if the downpour held out just for the rockers in plaid, reminding everyone of that emo phase they all went through in High School.
Sunday kicked off with a New Orleans groove set from Big Sam’s Funky Nation. Bandleader Big Sam wailed away on his infamous trombone with soul that can only be found in the heart of Nola. An hour later Chris Stapleton covered Deana Carter’s “Strawberry Wine” and stunned the crowd with vocal riffs one rarely hears coming from a man with a beard as long as his hair. Nikki Lane stunned in her lace up white bodysuit as she won the hearts of all attendees with her oldie “Come Away Joe”. You don’t have to be a country fan to be enticed by this little lady, it’s all in her smile and vulnerable, twang voice. Following Nikki on the Harpeth River stage was another New Orleans favorite, Preservation Hall Jazz Band. The second they rolled out their grand piano, the crowd began to buzz. For the next hour not a single person held still. The jazz caught ahold of people’s feet and it felt down right wrong not to swing for “Shake That Thing”.
Maybe the strangest yet most anticipated aspect of the festival was Steven Tyler’s quick thirty-five minute set. His backing band, Loving Mary, may not be Aerosmith but “Walk This Way” and Steven’s signature scream still had moms recalling why he was their first crush. Indie favorites Band Of Horses and The Decemberists overlapped each other, and ripped through mega hits like “Great Salt Lake” and “Down By The Water” respectively. Colin Meloy’s red wine sunk with the setting sun, and just like that it was about time to vacate the farm and for Franklin, Tennessee to return to its quiet state. Only one set left, ending the inaugural weekend was everyone’s beloved weed-smoking country idol outlaw, Willie Nelson. He played classic after classic, never wasting a moment of his seventy-five minute show. Plenty of homage was paid to Hank Williams with renditions of “Hey, Good looking”, “Move It On Over”, and closing the set with “I Saw The Light”. At eighty-two years of age, there is no doubt this man’s home is up on that stage.
And that’s a wrap. It is safe to say Pilgrimage Festival earned its right to return for a second year, and we’re already looking forward to it. The secret is out about Nashville’s quaint little sister, Franklin, so start making your plans for a bigger and better year two!
Written By: Rachel Oldham
Photos By: Fletcher Moore