Make the Pilgrimage Rain or Shine

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A late review is better than no review! Ha! Seriously though, I do have a very taxing day job and I’ve recently had some personal issues come up, so I’m sorry it’s taken me a while to get this typed up. Anywho…on to the show.

This year on September 26th and 27th, Taryn and I attended the Pilgrimage Music and Cultural Festival in Franklin, TN. I had to work every day leading up to the festival, so I most definitely ‘winged it’, which was a bit of a first for me as I normally attempt to vaguely prepare for these sorts of things, but there’s always a first time for everything.
Speaking of first times, this was the first, and hopefully not the last, Pilgrimage Festival. It was started by Better Than Ezra guitarist Ken Griffin and held in Franklin, TN at The Park at Harlinsdale (an historic horse farm that’s been converted into a park). The town, and the park itself, were both gorgeous and not at all off the beaten path, very conveniently located near I-65 and just 20 minutes outside of Nashville. Navigation was fortunately not at all anxiety inducing for me (I normally border on a panic attack whenever I have to navigate a new locale, city driving and parking is not in my wheel house). My only major complaint was the bipolar weather situation that weekend. It alternated between clouds, sprinkles, a legitimate downpour, and blistering sunshine.

Weather concerns aside though, I ultimately had a very enjoyable time at this two day, inaugural festival. With the exception of the last two songs from Lucius, it was my first time I got to see any of these artists. Things kicked off with Saint Motel, an indie/pop rock band out of Los Angles. They sounded intriguing and got me pumped up for the weekend. After them came my primary reason for even wanting to come to this festival: Neko Case.

I can’t express to you how dear Neko Case is to my heart. She is my all time favorite female vocalist and I’ve adored her for years. She was the act I was most anticipating and she did not disappoint in any way whatsoever. If anything, she exceeded my expectations. I nearly cried when she opened with one of my favorite songs, “Hold On, Hold On”. Her voice is as good live as it is on any record of hers. She sent just as many chills up my spine here as she ever does when I have her playing on my earphones. And as if she wasn’t incredible enough, she even took time out between songs to joke with the crowd (at one point she quipped that she was enjoying dancing to Trampled by Turtles, who were playing the next stage over, in between her own songs).

After Ms. Case, came one of the most roller-coaster shows I’ve ever enjoyed: Cage the Elephant. I knew of lead singer Matt Shultz’s propensity to go crazy during their shows, but I was not prepared for some of his wilder antics! He was truly channeling the Spirit of Rock N Roll during their set! He started off tame, jumping around the stage and swinging his microphone stand around. He then moved on to stage diving, singing from the crowd, crowd surfing, and eventually taking his shirt off. Talk about melting my face off!

The last act I saw on the first day was Weezer. I’ll be upfront and say that I had no idea if they’d be any good or not. I grew up listening to their music, but I haven’t kept up with them since circa 2008/09. I’m thrilled to say that they’ve most definitely still got it. Before they hit the stage, dark, ominous rain clouds had already gathered in the sky. It’d been sprinkling on and off throughout the afternoon, so at first I wasn’t too concerned, but about three songs in, the bottom fell out and it started pouring down rain. It didn’t let up at all during the rest of their set. If Weezer had been anything short of amazing, I’d have left right then and there. Fortunately they were incredible and made suffering through the rain more than worth it.

Sunday started out cloudy and throughout the day there was the occasional sprinkle, but this day held more sunshine then the previous one. The clouds deceived me and so I completely forgot my sunscreen and would later find myself burnt to a crisp (two weeks later and I’m still peeling skin off, such are the woes of a Scotch-Irish American in the south). Before the sun came out in all its glory though, the day was kicked off with Big Sam’s Funky Nation. They’re an energetic funk band from New Orleans and I quickly discovered that they were one of the few bands that can get me dancing (and anyone who knows me, know I’m no dancer). I later got the chance to interview Big Sam and the rest of the band, but as an overexcited and underprepared newbie (I’m also no interviewer) it didn’t get very far. The band was sweet and awesome to talk to, but my nerves were the worse for wear. Chalk it up to just another one of those interesting life experiences I guess!

I later trooped back to hang out with Taryn for part of Nikki Lane’s set before heading out to see one of my favorite bands, Dawes. This is where I got into trouble. It was at the Dawes set the Mr. Sun decided to make his grand appearance. I could literally feel my skin dying as the band was playing. If I wasn’t such a fangirl (and in the midst of texting the setlist live to fellow fangirl and friend Jess), then I might’ve just given up and tried to make my way back to the car for that much needed sunscreen. But lo and behold if the clouds didn’t return almost as soon as Dawes ended –I guess the sun just literally wanted to smile down on them or something. The scorching was worth it though, because they were amazing (as expected) and I think they were even better here than when I saw them at Bonnaroo earlier this summer.

After Dawes I found Taryn again and rocked out to the last half of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. From there we sought out food to the sounds of Steven Tyler’s solo set before making our way to the main stage for the last act of the festival: Willie Nelson. I have to admit, I was not prepared for awesome he turned out to be. I rarely listen to country music, I avoid it more then I seek it out, and it’s not a genre I can claim to know very well outside of Johnny Cash’s discography. I’ve always been mildly fond of Willie Nelson as a celebrity personality, but beyond that, didn’t really know all that much about him or his songs. What a set though! The man is 82 years old and doesn’t look or sound a day over 60, haha. He played it all from country, to outlaw country, to pop, to country rock, classic country (Hank Williams covers for the win!), and even gospel (and including my favorite “Fly Away”). He was a true delight to watch on stage and undoubtedly a perfect choice to close the first annual Pilgrimage Music and Culture Festival.

All in all I enjoyed the festival. The venue was great, the food was good, the vibes were chill, and of course the lineup was fantastic. Everything ran so smooth, you wouldn’t have ever known it was a first time festival. I hope this is just the beginning of even greater things for Pilgrimage and can’t wait to see what they have in store for the years to come.

Photos by Ricardo Chang.

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