FRANKLIN, Tenn. — Thousands of people attended the Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival Saturday under clear blue skies, setting the stage for a weekend of live music.
The annual festival was canceled last year due to the coronavirus pandemic and reopened this year at full capacity with negative coronavirus test or full vaccination requirements. Pilgrimage emerged as the last outdoor festival left standing in Middle Tennessee after severe weather washed out Bonnaroo.
General Admission tickets sold out by Friday, putting the festival on track to reach its maximum number of 25,000 guests daily. The festival’s media relations team didn’t immediately provide exact attendance counts, but despite the ticket sell-out, the crowd was a slow trickle of people early Saturday when the gates opened.
Previous years drew a line of people at the gates before they opened, eager to get a prime spot for the day’s headliner act. Stage viewing areas weren’t jam-packed early Saturday afternoon, with few rushing to the front.
It took several hours for the crowd to swell. By late afternoon, thousands poured into the venue, spilling onto the grass of the historic farm. As early acts rocked out Saturday, the relaxed crowd grooved to the music from the comfort of colorful picnic blankets and lawn chairs.
Saturday’s lineup featured Katie Pruitt, Houndmouth, Maren Morris and headliner The Black Keys.
Sunday’s schedule features Jamestown Revival, Black Pumas, Cage the Elephant and headliner Dave Matthews Band closing out the festival.
Jerry Dixon, who lives in Franklin and attends the festival every year, said the coronavirus restrictions might have impacted crowd size. He said the crowd was much smaller than previous years.
With the coronavirus pandemic still raging, Pilgrimage implemented safety protocols consistent with what other festivals have required: full vaccination or proof of a negative test. The decision came from following peers in the music industry and having talks with artists who have requested tighter protocols, producers said.
“This is the lightest turnout so far,” Dixon said.
Festival puts Franklin on map as a music destination
The chill vibe, different from many other music festivals that pull out a party and rave crowd, is what attracted some attendees who prefer the quiet over rowdiness.
The Gaby family of Winchester attended Pilgrimage for the first time Saturday. Carlie and Andrew Gaby used to attend Bonnaroo before they had kids. When their boys are older, they said they’d consider the camping festival, but for now they’d stick with Pilgrimage due to its safety, cleanliness and family-friendly atmosphere. It was quiet Saturday for a music festival, but the laidback feeling was perfect for some attendees.
Two-time attendee Megan Napier came to the event with high expectations. Her first year at the festival was cut short by severe weather, which prompted a chaotic evacuation and most of the festival to be canceled.
She, her husband and two children planned to attend New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival this year, but it was canceled because of the pandemic, leaving Pilgrimage as a top choice for festivalgoers seeking a place to experience music with their family. The festival has an area dedicated to kids — “Lil’ Pilgrims” — where they can listen to children’s music and play games.
Living in Franklin, it was easy for the Napiers to attend Pilgrimage. As Napier sat with her baby son at the children’s stage, performers dressed as pirates entertained a small crowd of kids.
“Since we’re local, we want to support what they’re trying to do here,” she said. “It’s amazing.”
And what producers are trying to do is create a music festival destination for families and an older crowd not served by most festivals. Producers Kevin Griffin, Brandt Wood and Michael Whelan all have ties to New Orleans and its annual Jazz Fest and were inspired by it when they crafted Pilgrimage. Waylon called it a “showcase of Franklin.”
Franklin is already a popular tourist destination for history buffs and those visiting Nashville that want a taste of an Americana city. Many tourists are drawn to Nashville as a country music destination, but Franklin doesn’t have much of a reputation as a music city. The producers want to change that.
The festival had an area dedicated to the Americana Musical Triangle, which producers identified as Memphis, Nashville and New Orleans, a triangle of Southern creativity that has roots in jazz, country, blues and R&B music. Towns outside these music cities, like Franklin, also have something to offer to music tourists, which the producer trio tapped into when they launched Pilgrimage. Like the New Orleans festival, Pilgrimage offers a diverse lineup with representation from different genres.
“We’ve created a reputation within the industry and across the country and the world as as a festival that’s talked about among the best ones,” Waylon said.
Reach Brinley Hineman at [email protected] and on Twitter @brinleyhineman. To stay updated on Williamson County news, sign up for our newsletter.