The Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival returned to Franklin, Tenn. Saturday for two live and loud days of southern-rooted sounds, from rock to folk, country, blues and beyond.
Brandi Carlile, Jon Batiste and Lake Street Dive were among the highlights on the first day of the family-friendly boutique fest, but there was far more to discover during nearly 12 hours of non-stop live music. These were our favorite sets from a Saturday spent on Harlinsdale Farm.
Growing up as a “gay country music kid” in Seattle, Brandi Carlile said on stage Saturday, “I didn't want to go to Disneyland. I didn't want to see the Grand Canyon. I wanted to come to Nashville.”
She remembered coming to town for the first time nearly 20 years ago, and playing local club 3rd and Lindsley.
“You don't think you're gonna stand on a stage and look out and see what I'm seeing right now.”
Her view, at that moment, was an audience of thousands, stretching all the way back to the to the limits of the festival grounds.
Headlining an event of this scale is fairly fresh territory for the singer-songwriter, and for the next 90 minutes, Americana’s brightest star was a beaming presence on Pilgrimage’s main stage, to say nothing of her wardrobe (“I’m so glad I wore my yellow suit for y’all,” she told the crowd.)
We’d say she went all out for the occasion, but that would suggest there were times on stage when she didn’t, and anyone who’s followed the 41-year-old’s career knows that has rarely, if ever, been true.
Still, closing out the night at Pilgrimage was something extra-special for Carlile. Though she was set to finish playing just before 10 (and she did), at one point she quipped, “I think a serious argument could be made to raise the curfew to midnight.”
Hard-driving ballads “The Story,” “Right On Time” and “The Joke” were obvious standouts, putting Carlile’s vocal strengths on full display. But softer moments, including “The Mother” – which pierced the collective heart of this parent-filled crowd – and the three-part harmony of “The Eye” packed just as much of an emotional punch.
Few of Pilgrimage’s top Saturday performers left the stage without playing a cover or two, and Carlile delivered three: David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” and Radiohead’s “Creep” (both with incendiary guitar solos from Celisse, who performed earlier in the day) as well as “Woodstock,” by a legendary friend.
“I don’t want to waste an audience like this without honoring the great Joni Mitchell,” she explained.
In the final moments – as her two young daughters joined her on stage – Carlile thanked Pilgrimage “from the bottom of my heart for putting a woman on as a headliner this week.”
“It means a lot to me, and it means a lot to a lot of people.”
Just 48 hours before he played his headlining set at Pilgrimage, Jon Batiste debuted his new symphony at Carnegie Hall.
It’s been an extraordinarily busy few days — even for a musical renaissance man who works five nights a week as Stephen Colbert’s bandleader, and also won the Album of the Year prize at this year’s Grammys.
But with the energy and enthusiasm Batiste displayed from start to finish Saturday night, you’d think he just returned from a two-week vacation.
His celebratory set at Pilgrimage was fueled by a nuclear level of glee he could barely contain — a sensation that would cause him to suddenly leap up from his piano bench and hop across the stage with a smile you could have spotted from the back of the field.
"This is more than a concert,” he told the audience. “This is spiritual practice.”
Lake Street Dive
Lake Street Dive’s silky sound — clearly indebted to the timeless soul of the ‘70s — provided the ideal soundtrack for a sunset on Harlinsdale Farm.
Led by frontwoman Rachael Price (who alluded to being raised in Hendersonville), the Boston-bred band exuded spunk, sass and precision on the main "Midnight Sun" stage.
Alongside originals like "Hypotheticals" and "Hush Money" (both funk-fueled standout from last year's "Obviously"), the band pulled out their famed cover of The Jackson 5's "I Want You Back," as well as a wholly unexpected, soulful spin on Shania Twain's "You're Still The One," with lead vocals by keyboardist Akie Bermiss.
Though she was the only prominent Gen Z performer on this year’s Pilgrimage bill, 23-year-old Lennon Stella quickly called the grounds of Harlinsdale “Home, Sweet Home.”
10 years ago, the Canada-born artist rose to prominence as “Maddie” on TV’s "Nashville," a break which came a few years after her family moved to Music City. She’s since embarked on a burgeoning pop career, releasing her major-label debut in 2020.
Her sound — the booming trap beats married with the Brill Building melodies of “Bad,” for example — was an island in a sea of acoustic-based sounds. She bridged the gap with a pair of vintage (to her crowd, anyway) covers, stretching back some 20-ish years: Keane’s “Somewhere Only We Know” and Dido’s “Thank You.”
“Tennessee energy is like nothing else,” she said, before introducing fan favorite “Golf on TV,” which she described as the first, and possibly only love song she’s written.
L.A. folk-rockers Dawes were among the last bands to actually take the stage at Pilgrimage’s 2018 edition – that year, heavy thunderstorms forced the fest to evacuate just hours after it began, and the grounds never reopened that year.
With nothing but sunshine on the horizon Saturday, frontman Taylor Goldsmith and company kicked out the jams – so, so many jams – during a sonically vast set that included several cuts from their latest, the prog-leaning “Misadventures of Doomscroller.”
That included the nine-minute epic “Someone Else’s Café / Doomscroller Tries To Relax” as well as ultimately hopeful “Comes In Waves” (“If you feel good about the future,” Goldsmith croons, “Then baby so do I.”)
Dawes really lifted spirits, however, with their signature, “When My Time Comes.” When Goldsmith asked the crowd to sing the final chorus on their own, without the band’s accompaniment, there was hardly a dip in volume.
“It doesn’t get cooler than this,” Goldsmith said. “A festival like this, a lineup like this? I feel so honored.”
She’s backed up the likes of Mariah Carey, Lizzo and Jon Batiste, but Celisse Henderson was the star of her own show — and the afternoon — during her mid-day set on the Midnight Sun Stage.
We’re betting the guitarist/vocalist will be many attendees’ favorite discovery of the weekend - between the scorching solos she unleashed in her original, soul-belting numbers as well as covers ranging from Aretha Franklin’s “Chain of Fools” to Bill Withers’ “Use Me.”
“Pilgrimage, you’re getting every single ounce of what I’ve got today,” she said as the growing crowd hollered in approval. It safe to say Henderson’s set melted more than a few faces – including her own, as she shared that she needed to wipe away the eyelashes she’d put on for the stage.
The Black Opry Revue
Saturday saw one of the most high-profile Nashville-area appearances yet for Black Opry, a movement of artists, industry figures and fans in the country/folk/blues realm.
The Black Opry Revue brought a half-dozen of these talents to the Gold Record Road stage, including Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Ruby Amanfu, who closed the set alongside Lori Rayne and Layna, singing her “Gotta Let Go.”
"These are local artists that you should definitely embrace, get to know, (and) get to love,” Amanfu said. “And we’re so happy to be here with you.”
As she and her band helped break in Pilgrimage’s biggest stage, Adia Victoria told her audience she hoped she wasn’t bumming them out too much. That’s exceptionally considerate of a blues artist.
“Y’all brought a southern witch out of the swamps of South Carolina,” she said, “Playing in the sun.”
Victoria, in fact, has now called Nashville home for more than a decade, and the bright surroundings of Harlinsdale Farm suited her brand of unvarnished blues.
On stage and off, Victoria makes her dedication to the artform clear, but in her songs, she charges headfirst into the future. She closed her set with “South Gotta Change” – which she explained was a song of defiance to those who tell her if she doesn’t love the south, she should leave it.
“'Cause I love you, I won't leave you,” she sang. “Won't let you slip away/ Come what may/ We're gonna find a way.”
This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Pilgrimage Festival 2022: The best performances we saw on Saturday