Recap: Tennessee’s Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival Shows Strong Inaugural Year

pilgrimage festival 2015

The inaugural Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival took place in Franklin, TN this weekend for a two-day affair of some of country, Americana, folk, and rock’s most impressive talents. The festival, located 20 miles south of Nashville, barely stretched into the evening hours, with music ending around 7:30, making for a much more relaxed and family-friendly vibe. Though it rained intermittently throughout both days, and spirits and sounds remained strong throughout.

“What a crowd, what a mob, what a show!” – Steven Tyler

FRANKLIN, TN - SEPTEMBER 26:  Neko Case performs onstage during Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival on September 26, 2015 in Franklin, Tennessee.  (Photo by Erika Goldring/Getty Images for Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival)
FRANKLIN, TN – SEPTEMBER 26: Neko Case performs onstage during Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival on September 26, 2015 in Franklin, Tennessee. (Photo by Erika Goldring/Getty Images for Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival)

The only artist to ever have received a lifetime ban from the Grand Ole Opry, folk-indie phenom and former New Pornographers member Neko Case brought her crisp, expressive vocals in full force Saturday afternoon. From older classics like “This Tornado Loves You,” with which she closed her set, to newer songs, Case’s voice led the charge, for a captivating performance.

FRANKLIN, TN - SEPTEMBER 26:  Will Hoge performs onstage during Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival on September 26, 2015 in Franklin, Tennessee.  (Photo by Jason Davis/Getty Images for Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival)
FRANKLIN, TN – SEPTEMBER 26: Will Hoge performs onstage during Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival on September 26, 2015 in Franklin, Tennessee. (Photo by Jason Davis/Getty Images for Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival)

With his unassuming demeanor, undeniable energy, and charismatic personality, Will Hoge delivered a performance that proved he truly deserved to be among the impressive line-up at the first annual Pilgrimage Festival. Hoge treated fans to songs from his latest album, Small Town Dreams (released April 7, 2015) including “Middle of America” and “Little Bitty Dreams,” which with a mix of soulful and rock influences was a true testament to his artistry. Throughout his set, the singer charmed the crowd with little anecdotes about his home life and quirky personality.  Despite his worst fear of it raining during his set coming true, Will Hoge delivered a performance that kept fans happily grooving in the rain. He ended his set with a lively, relatable tune titled “Till I Do it Again” and showed the audience his gratitude before fleeing off to his sister’s wedding. Overall, Hoge was entirely charismatic and enjoyable to watch.

FRANKLIN, TN - SEPTEMBER 26:  Sheryl Crow performs onstage during Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival on September 26, 2015 in Franklin, Tennessee.  (Photo by Erika Goldring/Getty Images for Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival)
FRANKLIN, TN – SEPTEMBER 26: Sheryl Crow performs onstage during Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival on September 26, 2015 in Franklin, Tennessee. (Photo by Erika Goldring/Getty Images for Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival)

Early Saturday evening, Sheryl Crow took to the stage, opening with “Real Gone” from Disney Pixar’s Cars soundtrack. This opening song set the tone for a light-hearted, family-friendly show that the audience seemed to thoroughly enjoy. Mid-set, the singer was joined on stage by Holly Williams, in which the two broke into the beloved “Strong Enough.” The weather may have been slightly gloomy, but Crow kept fans’ energy up with her slew of hits such as “Soak Up the Sun” (albeit ironic) and “All I Wanna Do.” She also took a moment to encourage the crowd to continue buying music to help support the artists they love. Unsurprisingly, Crow’s performance was that of a true pro—fun to witness and inspiring to watch.

FRANKLIN, TN - SEPTEMBER 26:  Jeff Tweedy of Wilco performs onstage during Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival on September 26, 2015 in Franklin, Tennessee.  (Photo by Erika Goldring/Getty Images for Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival)
FRANKLIN, TN – SEPTEMBER 26: Jeff Tweedy of Wilco performs onstage during Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival on September 26, 2015 in Franklin, Tennessee. (Photo by Erika Goldring/Getty Images for Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival)

Despite heavy rain early into the set, Wilco closed Saturday evening with a strong set and an eager crowd, who remained dancing and swaying to the indie-rockers long after the sun had set, providing a brilliant finish to a strong day of great music.

FRANKLIN, TN - SEPTEMBER 27:  Jacob Bryant and John Davidson of John & Jacob perform onstage during Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival on September 27, 2015 in Franklin, Tennessee.  (Photo by Erika Goldring/Getty Images for Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival)
FRANKLIN, TN – SEPTEMBER 27: Jacob Bryant and John Davidson of John & Jacob perform onstage during Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival on September 27, 2015 in Franklin, Tennessee. (Photo by Erika Goldring/Getty Images for Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival)

Siblings John & Jacob are brilliantly harmonic and groovily energetic, and they reinforced these strengths in their stellar set early Sunday afternoon.

Chris Stapleton takes the stage at the inaugural Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival (photo credit - Terry Wyatt)

Chris Stapleton blew minds, shattered expectations, and out-sold many #1 airplay artists with his solo debut album Traveller, and the singer/songwriter’s set on Sunday was, unsurprisingly, an absolute treat. From gems on the record like “Fire Away,” “Tennessee Whiskey,” and the heart-stopping Tim McGraw cut “Whiskey and You,” to a cover of “You Are My Sunshine” led by wife and vocal goddess Morgane Stapleton, the talent’s soul-worn vocals and modest humor made for a spectacular performance.

FRANKLIN, TN - SEPTEMBER 27:  Steven Tyler performs onstage during Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival on September 27, 2015 in Franklin, Tennessee.  (Photo by Erika Goldring/Getty Images for Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival)
FRANKLIN, TN – SEPTEMBER 27: Steven Tyler performs onstage during Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival on September 27, 2015 in Franklin, Tennessee. (Photo by Erika Goldring/Getty Images for Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival)

While much of the festival was marked by a modesty and low-key grunge innate to indie and folk talents, Steven Tyler’s performance, from head-to-toe animal print to his signature fabric-adorned microphone, was that of an unabashed rock star (including, as rock stars are wont to do, running 20 minutes over his set time). “What a crowd, what a mob, what a show!” Tyler exclaimed mid-set, before launching into the Aerosmith classic, “Cryin’.” Through Aerosmith hits and his current country song, “Love Is Your Name,” Tyler’s charisma and flair shone.

Willie Nelson closes out the inaugural Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival (photo credit - Terry Wyatt)
Willie Nelson closes out the inaugural Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival (photo credit – Terry Wyatt)

As the sun set on Pilgrimage Fest, Willie Nelson closed out the weekend to a packed house. His set was filled with folksy tunes that were a perfect match for the chill vibe of the festival. The crowd responded warmly to Nelson’s performance, dancing and singing along, cheering loudly for the classic country-music legend. During his set, Nelson gave the audience a taste of his personality when he tossed his famous bandana into the crowd and replaced it with a pair of flashing, colorful glasses. The singer was also joined on stage by Holly Williams and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band—the group added a wonderful energy to the stage that was appreciated by the fans. Staying true to his character, Nelson exuded gratitude and class by addressing the crowd with “I hear you, thank you very much” after hearing the applause after each of his songs. Throughout the show, it was evident that fans were witnessing an unforgettable performance.

Holly Williams, Preservation Hall Jazz Band and more join Willie Nelson's set for the ultimate Pilgri-Mashup at the inaugural Pilgrimage Music & Cultural festival (photo credit - Terry Wyatt)
Holly Williams, Preservation Hall Jazz Band and more join Willie Nelson’s set for the ultimate Pilgri-Mashup at the inaugural Pilgrimage Music & Cultural festival (photo credit – Terry Wyatt)

Aside from the less-than-stellar weather conditions, Pilgrimage Music and Cultural Festival appeared to be a success for a first-year festival; the line-up was rather impressive and offered fans a variety of talents within several genres. The relaxed atmosphere and endless supply of performances allowed for music discovery and a stress-free weekend for attendees.