The Pilgrimage Music and Cultural Festival rebounded strong in 2019, following a tough 2018 when a large portion of the Franklin, Tennessee-based event was cancelled for heavy rainfall and flooding. Attendees coming out to Harlinsdale Farm September 21st and 22nd got dust and punishing heat instead, along with performances from the Foo Fighters, Keith Urban, the Killers, and Jenny Lewis, among others. From Dave Grohl’s guitar heroics to Jenny Lewis sequin-covered set, here are the best things we saw at Pilgrimage 2019.
1. Phosporescent Gets Cathartic
The songs from Phosporescent’s, aka Matthew Houck, newest album, C’est La Vie, are personal reflections on the ephemeral nature of everything in life we love and nurture: partners, children, existence itself. But on Saturday afternoon, they translated into cathartic moments of communal groove — with the full band on stage, including Houck’s wife/keys player Jo Schornikow (who released her own excellent album, Secret Weapon, this year), tracks like “Around the Horn,” “Christmas Down Under” and “New Birth in New England” felt as expansive as the fields, yet stunningly intimate at once. M.M.
2. Jenny Lewis Embraces the Rock God Within
Though the night might have been headlined by the Foo Fighters, Jenny Lewis was a rock & roll god and more at her Sunday afternoon set, taking the stage in head-to-toe sequins despite fry-an-egg-on-the-asphalt temperatures, because superhumans never sweat, anyway. Giving a shout out to Dave Grohl “because I can,” Lewis delivered stellar versions of On The Line‘s highlights, like “Wasted Youth,” “Little White Dove” and “Red Bull & Hennessy,” along with a reggae-tinged take on “The Voyager.” As usual, Lewis took a call on stage — and the Watson Twins, whom she featured on her 2006 classic Rabbit Fur Coat, answered, joining her for Rilo Kiley’s “I Never” and a cover of the Shirelles’ “Met Him On a Sunday.” M.M.
3. Foo Fighters Crank Up and Turn Loose
“Good morning!” Dave Grohl shouted at the crowd on Sunday afternoon, as the Foo Fighters launched into their 6 p.m. headlining set with a throat-shredding take on “The Pretender.” For fans who’d already spent an afternoon beneath the hot, shadeless skies, it certainly didn’t feel like daybreak. Even so, this was still an early-bird gig by typical Foos standards, with the sun remaining high in the sky for nearly half of the two-hour performance. While that might’ve hampered the Foo Fighters’ light show, it did little to sap the band’s energy, which remained constant throughout a 19-song setlist spanning 24 years of material. Along the way, Grohl and company walked a fine line between preaching the glory of rock & roll and satirizing some of the genre’s Spinal Tap-worthy indulgences. Case in point: Taylor Hawkins’ drum solo was performed atop an elevated drum riser that rose dozens of feet above the stage — a move that would’ve seemed like overkill had Hawkins (clad in skin-tight spandex pants resembling Eddie Van Halen’s red-and-white “Frankenstrat” guitar) not clamored to the front of the stage 20 minutes later to take the lead on a half-serious cover of “Under Pressure.” Of course, the show’s real star was Dave Grohl, whose guitar solos — often a flurry of Chuck Berry-styled bends and modern-rock riffage — drew a clear connection between the band and their rock & roll predecessors. Rock & roll no longer rules the roost like it did during Foo Fighter’s infancy, but for two hours on Sunday night, it certainly ruled the farm. R.C.
4. Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real Have Something for Everyone
Willie Nelson headlined the vey first Pilgrimage Festival back in 2015, so it was bit of a family full-circle event to have son Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real at the farm this year. A day after appearing at Farm Aid, Nelson and his band played a set that satisfied both noodle dancers — as on the extended jams of “Find Yourself,” “Bad Case” and an exquisitely trippy cover of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s “Carry On” — and those who love Nelson’s more contemplative moments, such as “Forgot About Georgia.” As usual, Nelson displayed his uncanny, genetic guitar chops, but also belted some of the highest, most impressive vocal notes of the entire weekend. M.M.
5. Rayland Baxter Gives an Impromptu Performance
Pilgrimage has prided itself over the years on its quirky, unexpected pop up moments, and Rayland Baxter and his band taking over the mobile music box from New Orleans-based non-profit Music Box Village definitely fit the bill. After an exceptional main stage performance, Baxter used the interactive sculpture to make a series of beats and gather an impromptu crowd. It was a unique moment to bridge the gap between the artists and the fans, and deliver on a little but of that Pilgrimage promise that anything can happen. M.M.