The annual Pilgrimage Festival near Nashville has hosted a variety of incredible headliners from various genres: Foo Fighters, The Black Keys, Eddie Vedder, Dave Matthews Band, Violent Femmes, Beck, The Killers, Jack White, Weezer, Justin Timberlake, Willie Nelson, Keith Urban, and for 2022, Brandi Carlile and Chris Stapleton.
OC Music News returned to Pilgrimage, and despite only walking seven miles – compared to last year’s eight – we still managed to see several awesome acts.
In addition to Stapleton and Carlile, 2022 included Jon Batiste, The Avett Brothers, Lake Street Dive, Elle King, Lennon Stella, Trampled by Turtles, Dawes, Better Than Ezra, Marty Stuart, Celisse, Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway, Butch Walker, Black Joe Lewis, Adia Victoria, Bones Owens, Brittney Spencer, Jensen McRae, and even classes for kids, like creating your own jet pack and fairy wings, which sadly, we did not have time to complete.
The day was sunny and 90 degrees, but thankfully, not humid. The 100-year-old horse farm offers plenty of space to wander around and the only time it feels crowded is when the nighttime acts take over. The crowd is all ages and musical tastes; I saw tees for Greta Van Fleet, Phoebe Bridgers, Pearl Jam, Blackberry Smoke, Jason Isbell, Green Day, Janis Joplin, and my personal favorite, Taylor Fucking Hawkins (no, I did not add the middle name).
We arrived in time to catch Adia Victoria, a Nashville singer/songwriter who said the blues are sacred to her, like church, and it calls out to people. She has called her style “gothic blues” and mixes punk, rock, blues, indie, and folk. Her latest album, “A Southern Gothic,” was released last September, and I expect to play it while sitting on the back patio, sipping chilled wine on a summer evening.
Another singer/songwriter I intend to incorporate into my life is Santa Monica’s Jensen McCrae. Her chill vibe was perfect for the sunny day and she treated us to an unreleased song: “This is a happy song called ‘Smoking.’ You know when you first start dating someone and you just want to sniff them all the time, so you take up smoking their brand of cigarettes for that scent.” Ok, yes, I feel seen.
McCrae’s debut studio album, “Are You Happy Now?” was released earlier this year, so check it out, and please do not smoke cigarettes, kids.
When a friend saw Celisse was on my list of “who to see,” he called her a “guitar slinger reminiscent of Sister Rosetta Tharpe.” Me, not being a guitar expert, will take Brian Pepper’s word on that. Considering she was Lizzo’s guitarist on “Saturday Night Live” and stars in the Broadway national tour of “Wicked,” I am thinking she’s got some major skills. She did some of her own songs as well as covers “Use Me” (Bill Withers) and “Chain of Fools” (Aretha Franklin).
I enjoyed her soulful vocals and the bluesy rock she dished out with a particular favorite being “a song about being lost in a relationship,” appropriately titled “Lost.”
It was time to trek to the other stage for Better Than Ezra, who play Pilgrimage every year as it was launched in 2015 by front-man Kevin Griffin and friends. Their rock set started with “Misunderstood” and their major hit “Good,” after which Griffin jokingly said, “Hey! I know this song. I know this guy!”
A brief bit of “Tom Sawyer” from Rush was halted when Griffin laughed, “Just a little! Just a little Rush! The girls will leave and it will just be dudes.” In addition to the Better Than Ezra tracks most of us recall from the ‘90s, like “King of New Orleans” and “Desperately Wanting,” they did some covers, including “Laid” (James), “I Wanna Be Sedated” (well partially did it, Ramones), “Jailbreak” (Thin Lizzy), and after declaring, “You must sing along to every word!” they did “Wonderwall” (Oasis).
Another band I had been looking forward to was up next – Dawes – and they did not disappoint! While the afternoon had been a lot of “chill,” the Los Angeles band brought things up, including the volume, to a rock show level.
The band released “Misadventures of Doomscroller” this summer and front-man Taylor Goldsmith told the audience, “This album is as much about you as it is about us.” They played several tracks off of it including the title track, “Ghost in the Machine,” “Comes in Waves,” and “Everything Is Permanent.”
The crowd was very into Dawes and loudly (in a good way) sang along to several of the songs: “When the Tequila Runs Out,” “Time Spent in Los Angeles,” and “When My Time Comes.” A highlight for me – and much of the crowd it seemed – was “All Your Favorite Bands” which Goldsmith said was “about everybody here” with its lyrics: “I hope the world sees the same person that you always were to me, And may all your favorite bands stay together.”
Up next was Lennon Stella, who scored with the setting sun and dropping temps, encouraging a much livelier audience. While some may hate comparisons, I have to say she sounded very much like Lorde and I dug it. The Canadian singer may be familiar if you watched the TV show “Nashville” where she portrayed Maddie Conrad.
Stella’s debut studio album “Three. Two. One.” was released in 2020, and after opening with her songs “Bend Over Backwards,” “Bad,” and “Fancy,” she did a cover of “Somewhere Only We Know” (who remembers Keane!?) and “Thank You” (Dido). I was enjoying Stella’s voice and music a lot, but wanted to catch Lake Street Dive, so had to hoof it to another stage.
Brooklyn-based Lake Street Dive offered up a funky ‘70s sound with the sultry vocals of Rachael Price, which you can see in SoCal next week when they open for Jack Johnson at Hollywood Bowl. With a mix of their own songs and some covers, it was a perfect party vibe. In addition to their originals, they did fantastic covers of “I Want You Back” (Jackson 5), “Automatic” (Pointer Sisters), and “You’re Still The One” (Shania Twain) sung by keyboardist Akie Bermiss. Look for Lake Street Dive’s recently released EP, “Fun Machine: The Sequel.”
It was time for the church of Jon Batiste to open! This dude is doing all the things… You may know him as Stephen Colbert’s bandleader, the symphony he just launched at Carnegie Hall, or his Album of the Year Grammy win from earlier this year.
The crowd was on their feet as soon as the lights went down to signal his arrival on the stage and the party vibe and screaming kept up the entire set. He started with “We Are” and told the audience he felt “so blessed” to have this journey and this life. Batiste exuded love and happiness the entire performance. It was like James Brown mixed with a gospel church choir and high-energy R&B show. He frequently laughed with his band and back-up singers and they all appeared to be having a blast onstage, plus they were all amazingly talented.
Before launching into “I Need You,” Batiste said, “It never gets old up here. Sharing love. I love you and I thank you for being who you are.” He continued, “If you come from a place of love, it will always work out. I love you,” and had the audience make the sign language gesture for “l I love you.”
He did several more originals, jokingly threw in some “Home on the Range,” and when the fans sang the final line of it, he said, “See! We need each other!”
Batiste’s vocals were fantastic and when I moved to the very back of the massive field (I needed a glass of wine; sorry, not sorry), I could still hear the crowd singing along. Truly spectacular.
It was going to be difficult to follow Batiste’s performance that night, but Brandi Carlile was the perfect candidate for the job.
After her twin guitar players had a dueling guitar jam, Carlile stepped onto the stage in a brilliant yellow suit to thunderous applause. She started her set with “Broken Horses” and “Mainstream Kid,” then told the audience, “Oh my god what a vibe this day has been! Headlining a festival! This is the shit that makes you nervous, but it is so cool, it feels so very cool!”
Carlile radiated joy the entire performance. She told wonderful stories about John Prine, parenting (“Our daughter was born to two mothers… on Father’s Day!”), and joked about being “a happy gay.” She moved fans to tears with “The Story” and “The Mother” (done acoustic). She brought Celisse out to jam along and a beautiful string quartet. She gave us covers of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” and Radiohead’s “Creep” that I did not know I needed in my life. At one point, Carlile sat at a piano and said, “It should be illegal to play a festival this size, and sit at a piano, and not start some Freddie fucking Mercury!”
There were more fan favorites played like “Right on Time,” “The Joke,” and a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock.” As the 10 p.m. curfew approached, Carlile said instead of playing the encore game where she pretends she’s done, then the crowd yells, then she waits, then she comes back, she was just going to keep playing. The crowd loved it and everyone went home with a smile on their face to get some rest for day two.
Another hot day awaited Sunday’s crowd, as well as another day of great music.
With a bio that reads “Black Joe Lewis is the realest motherfucker there is,” I knew I had to check him out. The Texan and his band, The Honeybears, gave a bluesy jam with an excellent horn section to boot. A nice – and realest – start to the day.
I actually did not intend to check out Marty Stuart, but one of my friends demanded I do so saying, “He used to play with Johnny Cash!” Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives were definitely the best dressed of the festival and I would venture to say the most musically talented.
Their blend of country, bluegrass, rock, and even surf, was an entertaining set that could put some youngsters to shame. A five-time Grammy winner and member of the Grand Ole Opry and the Country Music Hall of Fame, Stuart is no slouch!
I left my Stuart-loving friends to hop over to see Trampled by Turtles, another band I had heard about more than once, yet knew nothing about. The bluegrass act has played Coachella, Bonnaroo, Stagecoach, and Lollapalooza, so obviously I needed to know about them!
The “Top Gun” theme started playing and the band – do I call them Turtles? – sauntered out. The crowd that had been lounging jumped up, ready to start dancing along. The sets were starting to get longer as the day started turning into late afternoon and theirs included 14 tracks. Basically, a whole concert on its own! They played favorites like “Whiskey,” “Wait So Long,” “On the Highway,” “It’s So Hard to Hold On,” and “Kelly’s Bar” and the fans ate it up.
I dashed back across the field to catch a bit more of Marty Stuart and wait for Elle King, and I have to say I am so glad I did! She is such a badass; I want to do a bunch of shots with her, and then go bury a body.
With glitter in her hair and her super sweet voice, yet covered in tattoos, she is all sorts of adorable yet tough. Backed by the Brethren, King started with “Good for Nothin’ Woman” and “Out Yonder.” She greeted the audience and said, “I like to drink. You don’t have to drink to have fun. I just like to,” then launched into “You’re the Reason I Drink.”
The crowd was up and moving to her songs, with a lot of hands and drinks raised and voices singing along. She took them through “Chain Smokin, Hard Drinkin, Woman,” “Move Back to Tulsa,” and when she got to the hit most people know her for, “Ex’s & Oh’s,” a loud cheer went up.
Seriously, with song titles like “Got Trouble on My Mind” and “Good to Be a Man,” how can you not enjoy King? She is currently opening for Chris Stapleton on his tour and she’ll be at Stagecoach in April if you’re headed out for that.
I had to tear myself away from King to run over to check out The Avett Brothers, and if bluegrass is your thing, you can see them in person on October 16th at FivePoint at the Outlaw Music Festival.
When I got to the area for the Brothers, I was a little blown away. The crowd was HUGE. It was a tad overwhelming, and when the band walked out to the stage, the cheers were insane. From my spot way in the back, it sounded like a sonic boom of yells.
With their first song, “Laundry Room,” the crowd became a jumping ocean of bodies. This was not a punk show and I was not expecting this! The fans were absolutely in love with The Avett Brothers and enjoyed every moment of their 15-song set. They busted out favorites “Old Joe Clark,” “Ain’t No Man,” “No Hard Feelings,” “Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise,” “Satan Pulls the Strings,” and “Live and Die.”
But, I must confess, I did head back to watch Elle King’s final two songs before The Avett Brothers were done and was able to hear “Drunk (And I Don’t Wanna Go Home)” and “Little Bit of Lovin.’” Sorry, but I am now a King fangirl.
There was only one act remaining and that meant all 17,000ish attendees were joining together in one field. The excitement was filling the air, people were taking selfies and in a celebratory mood. The scent of something was in the air…
The lights shut off and then… Chris Stapleton took the stage. Surrounded by a stacked set of musicians, the headliner that has been selling out arenas across the US was greeted by thunderous cheering and hollering. Stapleton’s blend of country, rock, and bluegrass has garnered his eight Grammys, a bazillion country music awards, and he was named the Academy of Country Music artist-songwriter of the decade in 2019. As “Zoolander’s” Mugatu would say, Stapleton is so hot right now. He will also be at the Outlaw Music Festival at FivePoint.
Stapleton went through a catalogue of hits in his 22-song set: “Nobody to Blame,” “Parachute,” “Starting Over,” and during the loving lyrics of “Millionaire,” he kept his eyes on his wife/duet partner, Morgane Stapleton.
Stapleton went solo and acoustic for “What Are You Listening To?” and “Traveler,” after which, someone yelled that it was their birthday. “It’s your birthday?” Stapleton asked. As other people started raising their hand too, “And yours? Whose birthday? Everybody’s! Well here’s the saddest song ever!” and he started “Whiskey and You.”
The full band joined him onstage to kick things back up for more favorites “You Should Probably Leave,” “Might as Well Get Stoned,” “Free Bird / The Devil Named Music,” “Joy of My Life,” “Outlaw State of Mind,” and “Broken Halos.”
But of course, the night could not end without the song that let the mainstream know who Chris Stapleton is. Stapleton recorded a cover of “Tennessee Whiskey” in 2015 and performed it that year at the CMA Awards with special guest Justin Timberlake. The appearance made history and shot the song up the charts. Stapleton joined Timberlake at Pilgrimage in 2017 to perform the song, so there was a tiny hope it would happen again tonight. While the reunion didn’t, the fans didn’t seem to mind as the cheering seemed endless.
That wrapped up another successful Pilgrimage Festival! We’ll see you next year!