Pilgrimage Music Festival: A 6-and-a-Half-Hour Tale
All photos courtesy Erika Goldring
The first day of fall (September 22nd) started in high spirits for Pilgrimage Music Festival, as the cloudy skies did not dissuade attendees from coming out to enjoy a wonderful slice of the Americana experience just 30 minutes outside of Nashville in beautiful Franklin, Tennessee.
Pilgrimage is definitely not a festival known for its “vibes,” and you can definitely see that when looking around the crowds. You will not find twenty-somethings clad in skimpy outfits or fun costumes here, with the fashion du jour seeming to be just at home at a 10-year fraternity/sorority reunion as it is listening to music. The grounds are scattered with six stages of varying size, luxury brands like Yeti sponsoring free water fountains, and a local craft-makers village; the festival is definitely one well funded and billed towards a slightly older, more affluent crowd.
With early performances from powerhouses like Amos Lee, Matt Kearney, Dawes, Elle King, and The Record Company, the crowd was fully prepared to endure a little rain to keep the music playing. The rain, however, brought lightning, and patrons quickly found themselves evacuated for safety, a normal protocol for most festivals wanting to avoid liability. The Counting Crows were stopped in their tracks, while Hozier never quite got off of the ground. Attendees were instructed to exit the grounds and seek shelter in cars; those without a nearby car were offered alternative locations a short distance away. After several hours of silence from event organizers, the day was finally halted at 7 PM per order of local law enforcement due to concern for patron safety. This was, of course, after many had already called it a day themselves and wished to leave. Those parked on-site, an optional paid “perk,” would find that difficult, however as they were barred from leaving for the entirety of the suspension due to the fact that the driving road for exit intersected with the path of exit for pedestrians leaving the festival grounds. This barring was done without staff appearing to have knowledge of why they were not letting patrons leave. Because of this, many of these cars were left sitting in the mud while rain poured down, and many found themselves stuck once they were finally allowed to exit.
Pilgrimage’s Facebook page comment section was filled with attendees outraged over this situation, as well as many reports of staff yelling at people who were seeking shelter under on-site tents and a general discourse about the lack of communication for if and when festivities would resume. Other than the subpar communication and the issue with paid attendees being forced to stay on site in their cars due to a poor exit plan, this was not our experience. When exiting we chose to take the long way, passing several exits and staff people, all of whom were generally pleasant and happily telling patrons they would see them as soon as the storm blew over, though they did not seem to have any training on the actual plan for this type of situation and therefore could not tell patrons about things such as the radius that was being surveyed. For the record, there were 69 official lightning strikes recorded in the festivals watch radius during the shutdown, many more than the 2-3 patrons were able to see and hear from the edges of the festival grounds. This knowledge would have allowed many patrons to understand why the festival was not allowing patrons back on to the grounds, and the same goes for not explaining to those parked on site. To summarize, the biggest sin of Pilgrimage was not having adequately prepared paid staff on an evacuation plan on a day where hazardous weather conditions were predicted.
The following morning, the second day of the festival was cancelled, and vague rumors of refund plans began circulating. Generally speaking, the festival did a much better job of staying in communication with fans about plans, policies, and just generally letting people know that they were in fact working on things rather than leaving people out in the dark. Days later the festival is still working to finalize the percentages for its refund strategy, and it may take several weeks for fans to get an actual dollar amount in their bank account, but these are the risks when when you enjoy events that Mother Nature might play a hand in! Many other festivals also found themselves cancelling throughout the weekend and even the next. Overall, we could give this year’s Pilgrimage Music Festival a C+ for their efforts and hope that they return next year for a make-up exam!