The Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival in Tennessee roared back to life this weekend.
After a disastrous 2018 — when rain forced the festival to cancel 75% of its programming — nothing got in the way of the thousands of fans in Franklin and two full days of live rock, Americana, country and soul.
Among dozens of memorable performances, these 10 acts truly made an impression.
“Good morning,” Dave Grohl said ironically Sunday evening as he and his band began their weekend-closing set.
The 50-year-old rocker strode on stage in a black T-shirt with the name of the band that closed out Pilgrimage three years prior — Hall & Oates. That underscored the fact that his band is easily the most raucous and rowdy to play Pilgrimage, let alone headline.
“I know we’ve got the sun right now, but we’re gonna stay here and play until that sun goes down,” Grohl bellowed. “Til they kick us out the (expletive) stage!”
Grohl’s post-Nirvana project is now celebrating its 25th anniversary.
“Which means not only do we have a lot of songs, but we have a lot of people who may have come to see us for a long (expletive) time, like the old-school Foo Fighters fans — old people. Sorry. I don’t mean to call you old, but you’re (expletive) old. So am I,” he said.
For the rest of the crowd, Grohl and co. offered “Foo Fighters 101,” with a set spanning from the humble beginnings of “Big Me” to the towering “Sky Is A Neighborhood.”
You could predict most of the courses though surprises included ”La Dee Da” with the Nashville rock frontwoman who lit the recent track up on record (Alison Mosshart) and “Congregation,” the Music City ode the band wrote upon visiting Nashville for their TV series “Sonic Highways.”
Those eager to hear The Killers kick off Saturday night’s show with a booming rendition of “Mr. Brightside” would have to wait a little bit to come out of their cages.
Instead, the band started its headlining set with a timely tribute.
“Tonight is for Ric,” band frontman Brandon Flowers proclaimed.
The group kicked into a lively rendition of the Cars’ 1978 classic, “My Best Friend’s Girl.” Cars frontman Ric Ocasek died earlier this month at age 75.
From there, the band kept its 90-minute set to pure Killers.
Flowers, drummer Ronnie Vannucci Jr. (the band’s two remaining original members) and a slew of backing musicians brought to life a 16-song set spanning the band’s career. The night’s conductor of wild western lore, Flowers led the audience through the band’s turn-of-the-millennium Las Vegas synth rock to Springsteenian grandeur to go-to guitar hitmakers.
“Somebody Told Me.” “Smile Like You Mean It.” “For Reasons Unknown.” “The Man.” Each made a suitable appearance during the speedy set.
As the sun hammered down Saturday afternoon , Keith Urban extended a taste of guitar-riffing reality to sunburned and squinted-eyed onlookers.
“I had no idea at the beginning of summer how true this song would be,” Urban jested.
The track? “Long Hot Summer,” an on-the-nose ode to the heat that greeted early festivalgoers at the Park at Harlinsdale.
Leading daytime performances, the reigning CMA and ACM Entertainer of the Year defended his title with charisma and grace. Jovial chants, prolific picking, a simple ballad — at a festival where leading rock names take top billing. Urban showed why he’s a performer who can push his music outside the familiar and still fit right in.
Taking the stage to 5 p.m. heat, Urban opened with the slick punch of 2018’s “Never Coming Down.” From there, he paraded his signature guitar tone with lick-heavy cuts like “Coming Home,” “Day’s Go By” and show standout “Somebody Like You.”
He transformed radio cuts into all-out jams, making time between leg-kicking solos to lead echoing chants and sign autographs for front row followers, including taking his guitar off and signing it before handing it to a fan.
Afternoon looks good on Leon Bridges. A jazzy, funky and undeniably groovy Bridges took stage at Pilgrimage to “If it Feels Good,” a bop ready to send the lousiest dancers into hip-swaying rhythm. The genre journeyman ventured into riff-ripping blues (“Mississippi Kisses”), nostalgic pop (“Better Man”) and neo-soul (“Shy”) — all in the first 20 minutes of his set.
They’re currently celebrating the 25th anniversary of their eight-times-platinum album, “Throwing Copper.” Naturally, alt-rock legends Live fell right in the wheelhouse of the middle-aged moms and dads who fill up the fields at Pilgrimage. That crowd was rewarded right away, as Live kicked things off with two of that album’s grungy classics: “All Over You” and “Selling The Drama.” They extended the nostalgia by covering a few of their favorite songs: R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion” and The Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black.” Frontman Ed Kowalczyk and his bandmates inevitably wrapped their time up with their hit power ballad (it counted as one in the ‘90s, anyway), “Lightning Crashes.”
Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats
For the thousands of fans setting up camp for the Foo Fighters’ fest-closing set two hours later, the Colorado band was a hearty appetizer of tambourine-rattling rhythm & blues. To sweeten the deal, Rateliff and the band had the brilliant brass muscle of their friends in Preservation Hall Jazz Band, who’d played on the same stage earlier that day.
And make no mistake: quite a bit of this crowd was on their feet and hollering along throughout the set, and never more so than on the band’s breakout, floor-stomping hit, “S.O.B.”
“That breeze feels good, doesn’t it?” Jenny Lewis asked, as the wind showed some mercy between her songs on the main stage.
The crowd agreed, but no one needed the breeze more than the Los Angeles/Nashville singer-songwriter. Donning a floor-length sequined gown with full sleeves and fur trim, Lewis stared straight into the Tennessee sun on Sunday afternoon. Her new album “On The Line” is similarly unflinching, examining a breakup through the lens of classic West Coast rock, from the “Gypsy” groove of “Red Bull and Hennessy” to the cheery ‘60s bounce of “Wasted Youth.”
But the real treat was an appearance from The Watson Twins, the fellow Nashville residents who teamed with Lewis on her landmark 2006 indie-country album “Rabbit Fur Coat.”
They joined her for “I Never,” a tune by her former band, Rilo Kiley, and closed with an a cappella cover of The Shirelles’ “Met Him On a Sunday,” which Lewis dedicated to the Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl — “Because I can.”
Days removed from confirming her first arena tour, soulful Christian crossover Lauren Daigle showed Pilgrimage why she’s ready to fill some of the world’s largest venues. Backed by an eruptive 10-piece band (and one unforgettable cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke”), she filled Pilgrimage Festival with her booming voice and Louisiana charm.
The Head and the Heart
Across the Pilgrimage grounds from Daigle, indie rock staple The Head and the Heart entertained Saturday afternoon festival fans with the upbeat “Missed Connections,” vaudevillian “Ghosts” and sobering 2013 song “Another Story.” Embracing the afternoon heat, the band earned a raucous response to top-charting alternative single, “All We Ever Knew.”
Rollicking rock ‘n’ roll songwriter (and grade-A record producer) Butch Walker battled the heat for an exuberant early afternoon set. His blend of foot-stomping roots rock played best during set closer, “Hot Girls in Good Moods,” which saw Walker jump into the audience for a sweaty dance party.
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