Much like the rowdy youths who flock to them, even music festivals themselves have growing pains. Pilgrimage Music and Cultural Festival, a two-year-old weekend event that takes place at The Park at Harlinsdale—a 230-acre farm—in Franklin, Tenn. experienced some of them this past weekend.
Founded in 2015 by Kevin Griffin of 2000s pop-rock trio Better than Ezra, and with recent financial backing from partner and producer Justin Timberlake, Pilgrimage purports to be a family-friendly, mid-sized music festival with a line-up broad enough to appeal to even the most diverse demographics of Tennessee. This year, headliners included alt rock icon Beck and classic soft rock duo Hall and Oates. The country contingent included Jason Isbell, Kacey Musgraves and local hero Margo Price while the blues folks ranged from 84-year-old Leo Bud Welch to new interpreters like Son Little and the Dan Auerbach-led band, Arcs. Institutional collectives like the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Big Sam’s Funky Nation also brought out time big brass jams.
But even a stacked lineup couldn’t save Pilgrimage from is own shortcomings. Poor scheduling plagued the event, pitting artists against each other, as well as considering everything else happening in Nashville and the surrounding region. At the fest itself, placing Musgraves and Price, two of the leading young women in country music today, in the same time slots did a disservice to both of their burgeoning careers and the fans who want to support them. Plus, the overlapping sets forced attendees to race around the park after just a few songs in order to catch parts of all their favorite acts (that is, if they didn’t just succumb to the heat and park at the main stage all day). Outside of Franklin, the Americana Music Association held its six-day Americanafest all throughout Nashville, with conferences, panels, showcases and more shows than humanly possible to attend. On Saturday, University of Tennessee hosted bitter rivals University of Florida in Knoxville and on Sunday, the Tennessee Titans beat the Oakland Raiders at home in Nashville. As a result, too many festival attendees packed the lone beer tent in an effort to seek refuge from the blazing heat and watch the games instead of the music, contributing to the mediocre attendance.
Sound and shade were the two other main issues at Pilgrimage this year. Although shows ended promptly at 8 PM, the sound during sets blared and bled between stages. Generally, the levels were simply too loud for the limited number of people sweating in open fields. But the most egregious sound failure came when Mr. Steve the Music Man sang “The Hokey Pokey” (however adorably) on the Lil’ Pilgrim kids stage and it could be heard near the main stage as indie-folk band Blind Pilot sang about the death of a family member. Finally, while festival organizers could in no way be blamed for the abnormally scorching late-September weather, the lack of coverage and easily accessible water stations proved frustrating.
The best part of Pilgrimage was not something that was tangible or even particularly noticeable over the weekend. In this culture of big-box festivals, corporate showcases and music-events-as-Instagram-fodder, Pilgrimage is an anomaly with its 501©(3) status and mission, “to honor the diverse music and culture of Franklin by providing resources to the City of Franklin to aid improvement projects at Harlinsdale Farm and the community at large.” A portion of each reasonably-priced $69-single-day ticket went to benefit the City of Franklin and Franklin Parks and MusiCares, The Recording Academy’s non-profit that offers musicians and members of the music community financial assistance and resources for addiction recovery.