By Sarah Skates and Eric T. Parker
Sometimes the unpredictability of an outdoor festival adds to the fun. So attendees didn’t let the overcast sky keep them from this weekend’s inaugural Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival. The event was a welcome addition to the Williamson County, Tenn. calendar, bringing a boatload of top-notch musical artists to the usually quiet suburb. The festival and its expected 10,000+ guests invaded Harlinsdale Farm, across from The Factory at Franklin.
The huge field offered plenty of room for attendees to spread out around three main stages, plus a children’s stage. In between the stages, numerous vendors sold jewelry, art, clothing, cigars, chocolate and more, mostly from local companies.
Many music fans took advantage of free admission for ages 10 and under, showing up with kiddos in tow.
Football fans enjoyed cheering on their teams while watching televisions inside the beer tent, but the long lines left them with short patience. Overheard from fans: “This line is too long. They’re losing money.” The response from another fan was clear: “No, we’re losing music!”
We arrived Saturday (Sept. 26) in time to see Cage The Elephant create a firestorm spectacle. Crowdsurfing frontman Matt Shultz was shirtless by the time he exited the stage. The Jay Joyce-produced band ran through their well-known songs including “Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked,” “Shake Me Down,” “Aberdeen,” “Cigarette Daydreams,” “Come A Little Closer” and “Back Against The Wall.”
On a different stage, Sheryl Crow accompanied her multitude of hits with a six-person band. Those standards included “All I Wanna Do,” “My Favorite Mistake,” “Soak Up The Sun,” “Everyday Is A Winding Road,” and a medley of “Picture” and “If It Makes You Happy.”
“It’s so fun to drive down the street to go to work,” said the Nashville resident.
Crow welcomed friend and fellow festival performer Holly Williams and her husband Chris Coleman to the stage for “Are You Strong Enough To Be My Man.”
Crow’s instrumental prowess was on full display behind a piano and harmonica when stagehands weren’t feeding her bass, electric, or acoustic guitars for other songs. Accordions, mandolins, an upright bass and steel guitar—thank God—all added flair to her solid set.
On another stage, the Punch Brothers were performing their brand of punchy bluegrass. Earlier in the day, Nashville mainstay Will Hoge was on the docket, as well as Iron & Wine and Neko Case.
Despite the threatening skies, we stuck around for Weezer. A full-on rain started as Rivers Cuomo sang “Say It Ain’t So,” echoing the sentiments of the drenched crowd. Many troopers waited it out in the downpour, and the band reciprocated with a slew of old and new hits.
Wilco was set to close out Saturday evening.
On Sunday (Sept. 27) Chris Stapleton was joined by wife Morgane Stapleton and five band members who all performed on his Mercury debut album, Traveller. For the festival, his all-star line-up included producer Dave Cobb, Willie Nelson’s harmonica player Mickey Raphael and Waylon Jennings’ steel player Robby Jennings.
As a tribute, the soulful outlaw performed a Waylon cover, “I Ain’t Living Long Like This,” and a David Allan Coe/George Jones cover “Tennessee Whiskey.”
After the first song (“Nobody To Blame”) was over, the smell of marijuana filled the air. “It smells good out there,” said Stapleton from the stage. Appropriately, his set also included “Might As Well Get Stoned.”
Steven Tyler’s set brought to life the sentiments expressed in his daughter Mia Tyler’s book about her father’s positive energy. The Sunday crowd lured the international rock star by chanting: “Walk this way, Steven!” The stage was finally ready about 10 minutes behind schedule, but Tyler more than made up for it with his trademark energy and about a 20-minute addition to his 30-minute slot.
The Hall of Fame songwriter performed many of his hits including “Sweet Emotion,” “Cryin’,” “Walk This Way,” “Jaded,” and “Dream On” while on a white Steinway piano. He played two covers: Janis Joplin’s “Piece Of My Heart,” and The Beatles’ “I’m Down.”
One thing is for sure, Tyler still has his magic touch. His larger-than-life energy led to him throwing aviator glasses to the crowd and a harmonica from his pocket. His six-person backing band, Loving Mary, features Tyler’s longtime co-writing cohort Marti Frederiksen as well as Rebecca Lynn Howard.
“I live [in Nashville] now,” announced Tyler, who has been working on a Big Machine Records country album. Tyler performed the forthcoming effort’s single, “Love Is Your Name,” written by Eric Paslay and Lindsey Lee.
Festival organizers, including Franklin resident Kevin Griffin (interview here), have already announced Pilgrimage will return in 2016.