The Road to Pilgrimage 2019
This year, on September 21st and 22nd, Franklin, Tennessee will host the 5th annual Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival. Franklin is about 20 miles south of Nashville in middle Tennessee, and while I’m not native to the area (I’m over in the eastern part of the state, in Chattanooga), I have to just start by noting how amazing it is to write that. 5th annual!
With exception of last year’s festival, I’ve been lucky enough to attend nearly every year Pilgrimage has been active, and it’s been a real pleasure to see how successfully it’s grown in that time. I so enjoyed it the first two years in particular, that I remember enthusiastically gushing to fellow Hoppers, Taryn and Ricardo, that I hoped this would carry on and become a fixture for years to come. So far, it seems to be doing just that, and each year they seem to be getting better and better. Before digging deep into this year’s offerings though, let me try to give some background on my own journey with Pilgrimage and why this year has me more excited than ever!
Pilgrimage was originally kick started by songwriter, vocalist, and guitarist Kevin Griffin (a fellow Libra and native Louisianan!) of Better Than Ezra fame. It debuted in 2015 with headliners like Wilco, Willie Nelson, Sheryl Crowe, and Weezer (who powered through 30 minutes of rain to win me over and earn my lifelong respect). That first year was a strong start and I wrote up a review for ConcertHopper that year detailing the adventure and how it ran so smooth, even in the rain, that you’d never know it was a first time festival. 2016, the second year, proved just as rewarding with headliners like Hall & Oates, Jason Isbell, Grace Potter, and, possibly one of the greatest artists I’ve ever seen live, Beck.
I went the entire weekend those first two years and apart from some extreme weather (rain during day one of that first year and blistering heat the rest of the time –welcome to the south in September, what can I say?), both of those experiences were pretty awesome. The venue, The Park at Harlinsdale, boasts some great terrain for a festival of this size; the food options were amazing (I’m not Kade, so unfortunately no detailed food reviews here, I just remember they had fantastic options in multiple areas); and the crowd both years was a decent number. I don’t have exact figures, but it was crowded enough that you knew it was popular and successful, but not so crowded that you were having an anxiety attack and standing in line for water or the bathroom for an outrageous amount of time.
This is a family friendly festival, so both of those years also had fantastic activities and shows for kids of all ages. Most extraordinary of all though, they showcased local artists in an ‘Art Barn’ that made touring it feel like a fun, local, curated museum. I really can’t praise those first two years enough. I remember feeling like I was going to die of sunburn that first year, but also feeling like it’d all been worth it.
All that heaping of love for those first two years though is NOT to say that my next experience was terrible or anything. Initially in 2017, the third year of the festival, I wasn’t going to go. Not because I didn’t like the lineup, but because tickets had sold out so fast and I had so much going on in my personal life, that I depressingly was resigned to having to skip that year. Justin Timberlake had recently come on as one of the producers of the festival, and he was the main headliner that year alongside Eddie Vedder, The Avett Brothers, and Mavis Staples. In a strange twist of fate though, Taryn (who also was initially resigned to skipping due to sellout as well) nabbed two tickets literally at the last minute! Seriously, this festival was a Saturday and Sunday affair, but she had miraculously found second hand tickets like that Thursday. It was sold-out, this was literally a last minute decision, and so we didn’t have time to prep or plan or anything. I’ve joked many times in the past about ‘winging it’ at certain festivals, but even then I’d always been semi-prepared and had an idea of what I was doing.
Pilgrimage 2017 was my one, and thus far, only time truly ‘winging it’ at a festival and it definitely had mixed results. I in no way shape or form blame the festival for our own lack of planning and ineptitude (I take full responsibility for my actions). Basically we were so under prepared that we ultimately only came for part of the Saturday that year, I think we only caught three or four acts in total, and never once had an opportunity to explore the grounds or see how much more the festival was offering that year. You could literally say we came for Justin Timberlake, (who put on an amazing show that was definitely worth the whole trip), and that was it.
The festival was sold out and so it was definitely more packed than anything we’d experienced the first two years. Something we loved about it those first two years was how easily accessible it was for Taryn to navigate in her wheelchair, and it wasn’t completely bad in 2017, in fact the staff were amazing in aiding us when we needed them to, but it was definitely overwhelming trying to move around with so many people that year. It felt like a Bonnaroo crowd almost, only in a much smaller area. This is in no way a criticism of Pilgrimage by the way, just an observation that I think we all underestimated how popular homeboy JT was going to be! Seriously though, it was worth it, that was an amazing show that he put on –made even better by a guest appearance by Christ Stapleton! The 2017 lineup had so many other amazing acts though, that I do regret we didn’t have the stamina or the foresight to see them. (Again –our bad!)
This brings me up to last year’s festival, their fourth one. I didn’t attend, not because I didn’t want to, but because I was on vacation seeing Father John Misty up in Cleveland, Ohio. (I’d follow FJM to the Andes Mountains if I had to, but that’s a story for another time.) It too had a great lineup, one I would have loved to catch, especially Jack White (I’d been blessed to see him at Shaky Knees in May of 2018 and by all accounts his tour last year was spectacular, so I was eager to see him again if possible). I hesitate to talk about a festival I didn’t attend, but it’d be wrong for me to avoid the elephant in the room: the weather fiasco. Last year I did have many friends who attended, some who came from many states away, not just because of the lineup, but also because of the positive reputation this festival has gained over the years. My social media that weekend was filled with a range of sadness and frustration at the festival ultimately being cancelled.
I want to just say that those frustrations are completely valid, and I know if I’d been there and experienced it, I too would have been upset. Unfortunately, that’s the risk we all take though when we attend outdoor festivals. I was never there during any of the infamous mud events of Bonnaroo, but even that pinnacle of festivals has had its fair share of weather problems. I think it’s worth nothing though that Pilgrimage did refund ticket goers for the cancelled festival and they made sure to clean up The Park afterwards. While I had been there in 2015 for a significant rain event, the one last year by all accounts was on another level and eventually lead to flooding and conditions that prevented them from reopening the next day. Look, none of us can tame Mother Nature, a rained out festival is just one of those things we have to take in stride. The safety and security of patrons should always take priority and we need to acknowledge that Pilgrimage did just that when the time came.
With all of that out of the way, the good, the ‘eh’, and the “that’s life for ya”, let’s get into the 5th annual Pilgrimage and what it has to offer!
First off, the lineup. This festival has consistently had great lineups and this year is no exception. Keith Urban, Leon Bridges, The Killers (who were life changing at Bonnaroo in 2018!), and the freakin’ Foo Fighters (who are just above Beck in my list of ‘greatest shows ever’) are just the beginning. One of the things I’ve always loved about Pilgrimage lineups is how diverse they always are. You can satisfy your cravings for country, pop, soul, gospel, jazz, folk, and rock all in one weekend. The “about” page on their website briefly compares the idea and concept of Pilgrimage to the historic Jazz Fest in New Orleans, and for good reason –in its five years of operation, it’s been one of the few festivals, particularly in the southeast, that can boast a truly diverse lineup of genres.
Not to mention it’s family friendly! I’m not a parent, but honestly, I’d probably never think of taking a kid to festival like Forecastle (no disrespect, adults need their own space too), but I’d definitely bring them to Pilgrimage. At Pilgrimage not only is there a stage for music specifically aimed at children, but it also offers craft activities and a songwriting workshop (seriously, how cool is that?!).
The lineup though, it’s very rich and deep in it what it has to offer this year. Not only the previously mentioned big names, but acts like Jenny Lewis, Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats, The Head and The Heart, Live, Justin Townes Earl, The War and Treaty, Better Than Ezra, Preservation Hall Jazz Band and so many more. I’ve been fortunate enough to see some of these artists at other venues, and none of them are worth missing. There are many more though that I haven’t seen yet and would love to catch at festival like Pilgrimage.
Something they started back in 2017, but I unfortunately missed out on, is the ‘Farm to Turntable’ food truck park. It’s literally a park of food trucks that includes picnic tables, seating, and most importantly in the Tennessee heat, shading. Since I didn’t have the opportunity to check this out in 2017, I’m really curious about how this operates (I’m a Millennial, so food is very important to me, LOL). When I was there those first two years, I vaguely recall they had two main areas of food along with a few food trucks, set up like a lot of festivals, near stages where people would walk up and get what they wanted, but I’m intrigued by this idea of a designated area outfitted with seats and shade! I hate eating at an outdoor festival with the sun beating down on me in death rays, so this sounds rather nice and convenient.
Another thing of note that also piques my interest is the Americana Music Triangle Experience. I briefly encountered them in a small tent back in 2015, fascinated by the concept. I honestly forgot about them, filing it away in the back of my mind for whenever I could coordinate a vacation around it, but this is one of the things I’d recommend checking out. (Especially if you’re like me and remember them as that small tent with the cool music history lesson, back at the first Pilgrimage.) The Americana Music Triangle refers to the geographic triangle of Nashville, Memphis, and New Orleans, and all the communities along the way and in between that helped foster and shape the American music experience. I didn’t forget these guys because they’re not memorable, I just have a lot of competing interests, but this is something that really appeals to the history and travel lover within me. They offer many different driving trails on the historic routes of American music (if only I had the time and money to check all of them out! #LifeGoals I guess!).
I can’t put it any better than their website: “Follow the Gold Record Road through the Americana Music Triangle, the first-ever comprehensive collection of historical, musical and cultural attractions that define the birthplace of our country’s greatest cultural export. Pick a route, pack a bag, and experience the very places where history made music, then music made history.”
Want to plan your next vacation, but you want it centered on music and the history and roots of said music? Then you can get a taste of what to expect and get a leg up on planning it with a visit to the Americana Music Triangle Experience while you’re at Pilgrimage!
Honestly, just reading over everything they have to offer this year at Pilgrimage is a real delight. Not only do they have a great, diverse lineup, but they’re also living up to the “Cultural Festival” part of their name with things like the Art Barn, the Americana Music Triangle Experience, local vendors, and the various crafts and activities for kids and the whole family. Not to mention the food options (I really want to check out this Farm to Turntable based on the name alone)! So what are you waiting for? Go secure your ticket now!
Pilgrimage Music and Cultural Festival will be held this year on September 21st and 22nd at The Park at Harlinsdale in Franklin, Tennessee. Tickets are on sale now, but are in limited quantity, so get yours while you can! As of this publishing they are still selling tier two tickets (tier one has sold out) for full weekend passes and have just started selling tickets for individual day passes. VIP and special packaging tickets are available, parking passes are a must (this is not a camping festival like Bonnaroo), and they do offer layaway payment options at checkout. And like ALL festivals, it is rain or shine, so prepare for any kind of weather! This is Tennessee after all, so you might get all four seasons in one day, haha.