FESTIVAL REVIEW: Pilgrimage Music and Cultural Festival
As we reported last year, the Pilgrimage Music and Cultural Festival faced a lot of backlash after it was cancelled after just a few hours due to storms. You can check out the details on that at our review here.
The Comeback Kid
Needless to say, the festival was working hard to rebuild its reputation with this year’s fifth festival. Our opinion?They absolutely knocked it out of the park September 21-22 in Franklin, Tennessee. First of all, the event could not have asked for better weather. Saturday saw clear skies and scorching temperatures but with just enough breeze to break up the monotony. People were definitely running between shade spots, but fans were in high spirits and pushed through an otherwise amazing day. Sunday saw the roll-in of some amazing puffy white clouds and a slight break in the temperature, which was great for fans who wanted to spend some time outside of the shade.
The festival also did a wonderful job of showing fans how it was more prepared this year by making a very cheesy but effective “Safety Video” that played between shows at the main stage. It covered inclement weather policy, how to get info, hydration, and various rules patrons should expect to obey. Roll the great weather, greater transparency, and a stellar lineup together, and the festival definitely seems to have earned its way back into the hearts of music lovers.
Speaking of That Lineup
This year’s musical lineup was one that was clearly crafted with care. An amazing mix of modern rock and roll, some of the best and up-and-coming in Americana and roots music, and just a dash of pop favorites mingled together to create a series of musicians playing in such a way that there was not a bad choice to be found.
Highlights of the weekend are almost too many to count. First of all, the closing set by Foo Fighters was unbelievable. With nearly two and a half hours of playing time, the band held nothing back, playing all of the songs we knew, with the entire crowd singing along. We also cannot stress enough the fact that Dave Grohl may be the most fit man in rock and roll. He’s definitely the most fit for his age, but I think that there are kids a third of his age who would gas out halfway through the performance he gives. Headbanging, screaming, running, all while singing and playing the guitar, and he somehow is never out of breath. The man’s lungs could probably propel a plane.
While the Foos are what brought out many fans, they are far from the only amazing act of the weekend. Saturday saw amazing shows by Kacey and Clayton, The War and Treaty, and Leon Bridges. We were, however, slightly disappointed by Saturday’s closers, The Killers. It’s not that the band is not amazing; they put on one of the best shows touring right now; it is just that they have been headliners at so many festivals over the last two years and no longer seem like a treat. Sunday, however, brought renewed energy, with Bishop Gunn leading off the day with a performance reminiscent of old-school Sabbath or Zeppelin. We could name-drop pretty much the whole Sunday lineup here as far as amazing entertainment value goes, but I think the real star of Sunday’s show was on the second-smallest stage, where Shooter Jennings and his band showed the Pilgrimage crowd that outlaw style country music is still alive and well. Seriously, if you go check out one band from the lineup, it should be them.
Let’s Talk about That Crowd
Last year we likened the crowd at Pilgrimage to a frat reunion. While some of that did persist into this year, the crowd appeared to have diversified. For starters, the crowd’s medium age seems to have dropped by a couple of years. We will credit this to the expansion of festival culture and the fact that while not many of the acts have seen numerous top-billed spots, many of them are regulars among the festival circuit, which as a whole plays to the younger crowd, and many of those people have grown to love these bands. Take Preservation Hall Jazz Band as a prime example. This band has quickly become a “can’t-miss” show for many festival faithful who had never heard of the famous New Orleans group until somebody took them to a show at a festival.
There’s also a large number of families in attendance at Pilgrimage, with many parents toting around wagons with hearing protection-laden children. We have noticed a striking uptick as old-school festival kids are getting older and starting families of their own, and that is festivals working to cater to these people. Pilgrimage is no different, with its “Lil Pilgrims” stage offering singalong-ready performances all weekend long.
One thing that the crowd loves at Pilgrimage is their chairs. Various styles line the back area at most stages, with a fairly strictly-enforced policy to keep the chairs there, with standing room only at the front of stages. Some venues just opt out of the option of chairs, but Pilgrimage embraces this creature comfort, so invest in a good one and get your comfy on if that is important to you (and your back).
Complaints and Conclusions
So, what things at Pilgrimage needed improvement this year? It can’t all be sunshine and rainbows, and we do have a few things we would love to see the festival fix in the coming years. The first of these is a higher dedication to zero-waste and sustainability. The festival offers plenty of free and refillable watering stations but is still selling water in plastic bottles. Many festivals have moved away from plastics and are now only offering canned or boxed water and insist that vendors utilize only plant-based and compostable utensils and cups. It’s time for a change, Pilgrimage, and the mini-city formed by festivals should definitely work to be a part of that. The second gripe we have is not really with the festival itself, but it is the expense of parking. Yes, Pilgrimage offers onsite parking, but that can be expensive when combined with the cost of tickets. Neighboring businesses and organizations offer parking but at a steep fee of $20+ per day. Depending on where you land, that $20 can still mean a mile or more of walking. We know, we know, the money is often going to organizations, but hear me out. Williamson County, where Pilgrimage is held, is in the top ten richest counties in the nation. Somehow I doubt that their VFW is hurting for money, but I guess maybe they need the cash to fund that third yacht.
Overall, this year’s Pilgrimage Music and Cultural festival was a smash hit. The festival offers an amazing and diverse lineup, supports local businesses with amazing craft vendors of both goods and foods from the region, and has worked itself to the bone to earn back fan loyalty. We give Pilgrimage Festival a solid 4.5 out of 5 stars. If they dedicate themselves to sustainability in 2020, we will definitely throw than that last .5.