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Pilgrimage Festival 2019: Franklin’s Redemption.

At 2018 Pilgrimage fest Adam Duritz of Counting Crows told the audience that a storm is coming and they have to shut it down. It’s completely clear out, and the worst we can see is some clouds in the distance. Hundreds refused to leave the festival and try to stick it out. But the storm proves its point and the festival is cancelled for the entire weekend. In short, it was a bummer and lackluster way to end out the summer. My friend and I were devastated.  With Pilgrimage 2019 I’m sure that owners and heads of the fest were nervous, but I can assure you this was a redemption year for last year’s festival. I’ll talk about my time at the festival this weekend and since I’m one person I couldn’t take it all in, but that’s something I see as a positive.

Pilgrimage almost feels like a fair without the rides, the amount of music and other such exploits you can enjoy seems endless. There are eight total stages you can stop by,  at the ASCAP Shady Grove stage you can sit underneath the shades of trees and watch the musical stylings of Shooter Jennings, Bre Kennedy, Anna Shoemaker, and Kacy & Clayton. Some of the most earnest songs you can hear at this festival will be played on this small stage. The environment allows you to relax and not worry about the heat, and you can take in every lyric. A festival venue fit for songwriters.

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Bre Kennedy at the ASCAP SHADY GROVE , by Tristan Sickles

Experience and learn about the culture at the American Music Triangle Experience, a tent area which has thoughtful talks and discussions throughout the weekend. This is something you definitely won’t find at most music festivals. You had the Montgomery Gospel Trio discussing the music of the civil rights era, Cedric Burnside after his bluesy set at the Solo Cup Harpeth River stage talked about recording at the legendary recording studio Muscle Shoals, and Ben Jaffe thecurrent creative director of the Preservation Jazz Hall Band talking about the history of the project. At the Gold Record stage you can find more contemporary acts like The Head and the Heart, The Wild Reeds, Phosphorescent, and stadium country heavy hitter Keith Urban finished the stage out for the weekend.

The Solo Cup Harpeth River stage has some of my favorite underrated performances at the festival this year. The stage is off to the side from the rest of the festival and had no shade to face this weekends tough heat. So crowds were going to have to rough it out in order to see some truly great performances. Songhoy Blues is a desert blues music group from Timbuktu, Mali. I’ve been waiting to see this group since their 2015 Tiny Desk Concert performance. They got the crowd up and moving from their lawn seats to dance and groove to real blues rock, gritty and not clean cut studio rock. Caroline Rose played after, at which I felt I was at a completely different festival. Rose’s excellent synthy organ rock transported me to something I might see at the Exit/In in Nashville, not at a mostly country-Americana festival in Franklin. Her sound has more pop and alt rock sensibilities, but she puts on one hell of a show with vibrant energy and deadpan banter. Molly Tuttle entranced the entire crowd, her mastery of the Bluegrass style guitar put me flat on my back. She performed a haunting cover of Cold Rain and Snow, a classic American folk murder ballad but with a gender bent twist. A performance so good that the heat went away, at least in the audience’s heads.

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Caroline Rose at the Solo Cup Stage, by Tristan Sickles

The Fender Midnight Sun stage had the heavy hitters all weekend, when the stage opened no act was a let down and all brought something special to the stage. Leon Bridges came on as the sun was slowly starting to set and he swooned the entire crowd. He lead on the crowd onto dance, or at least some of the crowd. The Pilgrimage crowd is more of the watch and appreciate type crowd, which has its pros and cons. But Leon wasn’t the only one who brought the soul, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats killed it and brought a dive bar performance to a big stage. Rateliff’s sound is not futuristic at all, its takes all its cues from vintage rhythm and blues. But unlike most modern soul bands, Rateliff and his band do a great job of taking influence but keeping his own voice.

On the first night The Killers played, it was like watching an hour and half long Super Bowl show with every song having a new visual and dance sequence. Brandon Flowers is the dictionary definition of a frontman, his performance had the confidence of a honey badger in a snake pit. I’ll be honest I forgot how many hits these guys had, every song they played brought me back to radio morning shows in the 2000s. Also playing a synth-pop version of “Mr.Brightside” as an intro to the original version of “Mr.Brightside” was just too perfect.

Photo by Rob Loud
Photo by Rob Loud

The Foo Fighters played out the festival, while I’m not the biggest fan of them a friend explained to me very well why they’re so beloved. They are one of the last bastions of a truly huge rock and roll band. Dave Grohl kept screaming to the crowd “Do you want to hear some rock ‘n’ roll!” Almost felt like I was watching a parody sketch of the band, but it’s nice to see such a huge act genuinely care. You can see that Grohl and crew are thankful that this is their job, and they get to play songs they wrote sung back to them by a thousand voices. And no drug can pump you up like singing “My Hero”, with a bunch of other former alternative-rock kids.

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FRANKLIN, TENNESSEE – SEPTEMBER 22: Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters performs onstage during day 2 of the 2019 Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival on September 22, 2019 in Franklin, Tennessee. (Photo by Terry Wyatt/Getty Images for Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival)

Nothing is better than seeing a happy crowd. Whether they were upfront screaming right back at Grohl or sitting far away watching and relaxing with family. As we look for escapes in a troubling world, music festivals allow you to have an energetic filled weekend where you plan to see all your favorite artists. Or you go on a whim with a couple of friends, bring a blanket and set up shop at one stage.  I’m glad I made the pilgrimage this year. There were many great acts I didn’t get to see, but talking to other folk at the fest it seemed that everyone was pretty pleased.  If you love pure rock, folk, and country, you should try and make it to Pilgrimage in 2020.

Written By Tristan Sickles/ @tristan_sickles

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