Q&A: Lori McKenna Chats Pilgrimage Festival, Playing “Rifle” Songs Live

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In the past year, singer-songwriter Lori McKenna has won a Grammy (“Girl Crush”), released her tenth record (The Bird & the Rifle), gone on tour, and – most recently – picked up the CMA award for Song of the Year (“Humble & Kind“). She also checked off performances at Americana Fest and Pilgrimage Festival in September, where she answered a few of our questions about her latest work.

Between Americana Fest and Pilgrimage, this week has been packed with shows and events in Nashville. What made Pilgrimage Festival worth a visit?

I’ve heard amazing things about Pilgrimage from other artists and friends who played there last year, and I am a big fan of a ton of the artists on the bill.

You’ve checked off plenty of shows over the last several months. Are there any songs from The Bird & the Rifle that have become unexpected favorites to perform live? 

I think the most surprising audience reaction has been with “Old Men Young Women” – it’s mostly the line, “You say he’s so nice, he treats you so good / Well he’s had enough damn practice he sure as hell should.” I wasn’t expecting the laughs I get from most audiences when I play it live. It’s been fun to play off. The sing-alongs usually come with “Humble & Kind” or “Girl Crush.” We’ve already seen some people singing along to the new songs on the record, and that’s always an amazing feeling.

Do you have a process or stick to a formula when selecting songs for an album? How do you choose from your catalog, and do you have a go-to friend or colleague who helps you make those decisions?

For this record, my management helped me pick from a long list of songs (there were songs on there from years and years ago). “Wreck You” made the record because it was on everyone’s list, even though it is eight years old. Once we have the “anchor” songs for the record (in this case, “The Bird & The Rifle,” “Humble & Kind,” and “We Were Cool”) I usually just try to make sure the other songs fit into that world. Also, I need to be able to play and sing them solo and be able to pull it off.

What do you like about playing festivals compared to your usual, more intimate venues? (And vice versa!)

Festivals are a completely different world for me because I’m used to theaters and small performance halls, but there is such a community in a festival setting. The artists have a great time hanging out and seeing one another – that’s always a huge part of it for me. Also, playing with a full band is a highlight for me because I play so often solo or as a duo.