By: Joseph Kathmann
Rounding out my group of festivals for year is once again Pilgrimage. Nestled in beautiful Franklin, TN (about 15 miles south of Nashville) the festival has always been a great spot to escape from the troubles of the world in a somewhat intimate, somewhat hippie atmosphere. The lineup predominantly consists of folk, jazz/soul, and indie rock, which I always appreciate, but there's always a pop artist or two thrown in as well. The festival takes place at the historical Park at Harlinsdale Farm and, even though this year was its biggest year yet, it has yet to feel even remotely cramped. I've gone every year (and even provided the merch for them last year) since the festival began back in 2015, and have been amazed to see how far it's come in the past few years. The festival features a ton of local food vendors, as well as local arts and crafts vendors, and because of this pricing around the festival is very reasonable. This year the festival partnered with Bells Brewery, which mean every drink tent had a healthy selection of Bells Beer. Needless to say this was by far the best beer selection I saw at any festival this year, and that doesn't even mention the craft beer hall at Pilgrimage. The musicians were good, too. Here's some of the good, the bad, and the out of place acts that this festival had to offer.
Leading the charge for me this year at the festival was the legendary Mavis Staples. Boy, am I thankful I can now say I've heard this great soul singer's voice in my lifetime. Staples had a shortened set, and a few times had to sit down because "She can't keep up with us nowadays," but her set was still enticing and engaging. The crowd watched her set with the reverence she deserved, and it was pretty awe-inspiring. Staples has done a great job this year putting her name back at the forefront of the genre thanks to several high-profile collaborations in recent years, and her voice is still something to behold. Check this set out if you can.
For those who may not be familiar, Amanda Shires is the wife of Jason Isbell, who may very well be the best singer-songwriter of our generation. Derek and I have repeatedly praised his talent, but I was excited to see his better half and see how talented she is in her own right. Shires did not disappoint. She, too, is able to craft vivid stories in her songs, and also has a great deal of stage presence. I had a blast during this set, despite it being in a hotbox of an area (please guys, do something about this stage the gravel makes it 10 degrees hotter than everywhere else it's miserable) during the height of the heat for the day. It was also neat to see Jason Isbell on stage, but doing is his utmost to not take away any limelight from Amanda. I don't even think most of the crowd realized that was him playing rhythm guitar and providing the occasional backup vocal. (On the far left in the pic) Now that's true love right there.
Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue
Walk the Moon
Fitz and the Tantrums
You probably could've seen this one coming if you looked at the bill and saw their name on it. Derek and I have gone out of our ways to criticize the looooong, hard fall of a band that was once one of our favorites. Unfortunately this downfall has affected their live show as well. The band was, once again, lifeless in the performance of their hits, and are very clearly just going through the motions. Their new material, unsurprisingly, sounds awful live, and, despite the atmosphere, Michael Fitzpatrick and co. didn't change their setlist at all. As a result most of their set was their pop-y new material, instead of their soulful older material. It showed with the crowd too: most of the time the audience was very bored and talking over the set. I was included in that mix, and ultimately I decided to check out some football in the beer tent instead of watching the rest of the trainwreck. Hard pass.
The Out of Place
This is by far my biggest criticism of Pilgrimage 2017. The atmosphere and talent all jived well with each other this year, (minus Fitz and the Tantrums) but the headliners felt grossly out of place. While Vedder makes this list simply because of how boring his performance was, Timberlake is the primary complaint here. He did his best to appeal to the tone of the overall festival, even bringing Nashville superstar Chris Stapleton on stage for a few songs, (Timberlake is part owner of Pilgrimage now and lives in Franklin, TN too) but the crowd he brought just did not follow suit. Timberlake's day was far busier than Vedder's other day at Pilgrimage, but a great majority of Timberlake's crowd came in and camped at the main stage waiting for him, and were pretty awful in the other sets before he came on. It reminded me a lot of the Lolla vibe we saw this year, particularly before Chance's headlining set, but the second I left the main stage and went literally anywhere else, it was gone. I don't know if this set, and the obvious money it brought in, is a sign that Pilgrimage is going to try and go more mainstream in the upcoming years, but this year it did not fit in well the rest of the festival at all. Vedder is on here too because....it was just him. I was really expecting Vedder to bring out a band and showcase his solo material in addition to some Pearl Jam staples, but what we got was just Vedder and a guitar. He was just a glorified singer-songwriter, and for a festival that has provided us with some great headliners in years past (Beck, Willie Nelson, Wilco, and Hall & Oates) this year's group was either out of place for the crowd or very weak.
Despite this (once again) being the hottest festival of the year for me with highs both days well into the 90s, I had an overall great experience with (most of) the acts and the vibe of the festival. The atmosphere is great, the prices are reasonable, and the crowds are (mostly) fun. Why can't they all be like Pilgrimage?
Who are we?
Derek Jung and Joseph Kathmann -- Just two ordinary (debatable) guys that love talking about music. You can read more about us here: