September 29, 2021 | Festival Review by Traci Turner
The Pilgrimage Festival made its return to Tennessee this weekend and OC Music News was there. We caught Dave Matthews Band, Black Keys, Cage The Elephant, Black Pumas, Amos Lee, Khruangbin, Better Than Ezra, and more… and we did it all for you!
The two-day festival takes place on a century-old horse farm and was launched in 2015 by Better Than Ezra front-man Kevin Griffin and friends. Since its inception, the event has featured Foo Fighters, The Killers, Jack White, Eddie Vedder, Beck, Violent Femmes, Weezer, Counting Crows, and Cake. The diverse lineups have also included multiple regional bands and all styles of music from rock to indie to blues and bluegrass.
While attending a concert with 25,000 fans can be overwhelming – even without COVID as an issue – the staff handled everything well. Even with vaccine checkpoints and bag searches, we were in quickly and were in awe of the beautiful location surrounded by rolling green hills. In a rarity for Tennessee, the day was sunny and 80 degrees, but NO humidity. A fall miracle!
We started day one with the indie rock of Houndmouth, who has been getting attention with their songs “Ohio,” “Black Gold,” and “Sedona.” “Ohio” is one of the songs from their upcoming album, “Good For You,” which is due out November 5th. A good Southern rock band to check out.
We could not ignore the Marcus King Band if we wanted to because they were LOUD! Thankfully, they were worthy of that volume. Their funky rock sound drew in quite the crowd and their tune “How Long” was hot, along with their cover of Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman.”
Next we caught up with Jimbo Mathus, who you may recall as the front-man for Squirrel Nut Zippers. He had some very loyal fans and his honkytonk sound was a perfect afternoon chill in the shady tree zone.
One of the artists we had been looking forward to was Amos Lee and we were not alone. The first huge crowd we ran into was at Lee’s stage, but everyone was mellow. Lee commented that it was his first show with a band since 2019, which many of us totally understood. Whether singing his soulful ballads or funky groove tracks, the crowd was into it all. At one point, Lee declared, “This the perfect time of year, the perfect time of day. This is the shit!” He frequently thanked the crowd for venturing to the festival and sang hits like “Angel,” “Jesus,” and “Windows are Rolled Down.”
Better Than Ezra was next on our agenda and they did not disappoint. They jumped right in with “King of New Orleans” and played their biggie “Good” as the third song. The crowd screamed when they heard it begin and afterwards, front-man Kevin Griffin said, “Most bands play the big hit at the end. Not Better Than Ezra! This fucking rocks!” They blended in other artists’ songs into theirs, including “You Really Got Me” from The Kinks and a bit of Rush, but Griffin laughed, “You can only play a little Rush. If you play too much, you lose the women, but the guys are like ‘YEAH!’”
Griffin told the story of how the Pilgrimage Festival came to be and thanked the crowd for their continued support. He also reminded everyone that it was the 25th anniversary of “Friction, Baby,” which is home to opener “King of New Orleans” and “Desperately Wanting,” which was played next. After a brief “sexy” dance demonstration from Griffin, (“You can’t un-see that shit!”), the band continued to rock with a new song dubbed “Fuzzy” (courtesy of a late night of Tito’s Vodka and Red Bull mixed with an early sound check because of Black Keys) and a cover of James’ “Laid.” They paid tribute to the late Charlie Watts with the Rolling Stones’ “Miss You,” and wrapped up their festive set with versions of “O.P.P.” and “Don’t You Want Me” (Naughty by Nature and Human League, respectively).
The day’s headliner was up next and the area filled in more than it had been all day. Nashville’s own Black Keys always put on an amazing show and this was of course no exception. (They were actually the last band I saw before things shut down in 2020, so it felt like a good “welcome back!”)
They started with “I Got Mine” and the fans yelled and jumped the evening away. Big shouts for “Howlin’ for You” and “Gold on the Ceiling,” but we were in for a special night with some secret guests.
The duo of Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney paid homage to the blues musicians who inspired them, such as R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough whose songs became part of Black Key’s 2021 album of covers, “Delta Kream.” Guitarist Kenny Brown and bassist Eric Deaton – who played with Burnside and Kimbrough – played on “Delta Kream.” Auerbach explained, “When I was 18 years old, I went up to Cleveland to see R.L. Burnside play, and Kenny was playing guitar, and Cedric Burnside was playing drums. It changed my life and it’s such an honor to have him here playing with us tonight. So we’re gonna play a song that they played that night.” They did Burnside’s “Coal Black Mattie,” (found on “Delta Kream”) along with Kimbrough’s “Crawling Kingsnake.” A few more covers were included, but they ended as Black Keys with “She’s Long Gone,” “Lo/Hi,” and “Lonely Boy.”
Day one’s lineup also included country superstar Maren Morris (who proved extremely popular with the crowd), Valerie June, Katie Pruitt, Local Honeys, Jake Leg Stompers, and more. It was a great day on its own, but day two was hours away…
Pilgrimage day two was once again filled with perfect weather and an easier entry into the venue.
We arrived in time to hear JD McPherson declare it was time to “let the good times roll” and that he did. His rock vibe was a nice welcome back to the festival. We heard a bit of several great artists including Morgan Wade, Lilly Hiatt, and Butch Walker.
A surprising performance was Tank and The Bangas. I confess I had never heard of them, yet they were nominated for a Grammy in 2020 for best new artist. Their hip hop funk was the best party music for a summer festival. The New Orleans band was fronted by Tarriona “Tank” Ball and she knew how to work the crowd. From the welcome of “If you believe in the power of live music, you’re in the right place,” to asking fans where we could all travel to next, they gained more fans this weekend (definitely this reviewer!).
Multiple people told us we had to check out Khruangbin, so we did. A chill vibe of mostly instrumental psychedelic grooves greeted us and once again, we felt like lying around to enjoy the festival atmosphere. The band from Houston includes Laura Lee and Mark Speer wearing black wigs that changed colors in sync with visual effects on the big screens. Their drummer Donald Johnson was solid and they ventured into other artists’ music with a cover of “Right” from David Bowie and samples from Elton John, Dick Dale, and AC/DC.
Khruangbin will be at the Greek November 3rd through the 5th, so it would be a good place to check them out for yourselves.
Another act we were looking forward to, and were not disappointed by, was Black Pumas. Fresh from Ohana Fest, Eric Burton and Adrian Quesada brought a full band with them and had a crowd waiting. The Austin duo busted right out with their soul/psych tunes and “Next to You,” showcasing Burton’s excellent voice. Burton welcomed the crowd with “You all act like you came to get down!” and he was not wrong. After a great song, “Know You Better,” Burton exclaimed, “Can we turn it up!” and got even more folks dancing. Other favorites were “Black Moon Rising” and “Colors,” plus a surprise appearance by Dave Matthews for “Dirty Dirty.” The duo showed why they are rising so quickly and why they are Grammy nominated – and it is well deserved. Plus ten internet points for Burton’s “I wrote a song about it. Like to hear it? Here it goes!”
By the way, you can catch Black Pumas on December 12th at Pechanga Arena in San Diego or House of Blues Las Vegas on December 18th. Totally worth a road trip!
As much as we wanted to chill and listen to Black Pumas for hours, we had to dash to another stage to catch Cage the Elephant. Press often has to sign waivers at shows that we will not sell artist photos for our own personal gain or publish horrendous photos. This was our first “sign this waiver excusing the band from any legality if they injure you.” Ummmm, what?! We understood once Cage the Elephant appeared. Take that back. First, they brought out band member’s daughters who just wanted to say hello to the crowd. Oh so sweet! But then, greeted by what felt like all 25,000 attendees, a rock show commenced. Hard. It’s no wonder why they’ll be opening for Metallica in November.
In a shiny metallic jumpsuit, knee pads, gloves, and full head mask, front-man Matt Shultz was airborne, jumping, flailing, showing off his pelvic skills for “Broken Boy.” The waivers were applicable as he jumped in the photo pit and greeted the crowd as much as possible. The Grammy winners showed why they are one of the hot tickets these days and Shultz begin unpeeling his many layers and adding other clothes as he went through “Cold Cold Cold,” “Social Cues,” “Shake Me Down,” “Ready To Let Go,” “Cigarette Daydreams,” and of course “Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked.” The crowd sang along to every word, sometimes loud enough to cover choruses for the band.
The entire crowd then shot over to the big stage for the closer. When the lights went down, the screams and yells were deafening. Like, the most deafening I’ve ever experienced (thank you ear protection!). When Dave Matthews appeared, the crowd only got wilder. “It’s a beautiful day to be outside with y’all!” he said and launched into the two-hour set of 18 songs. Just as the sun set, the sounds of “One Sweet World” got the fans dancing. Every member of the band was phenomenal, especially the horn section that included the double-fisted (well, holding/playing two trumpets!) Rashawn Ross. That’s more skill than this non-musically talented writer can handle. The signature DMB sound was there through classics and covers: “So Much to Say,” “Too Much,” “Can’t Stop,” “I Want a New Drug” (Huey Lewis and the News), “Sledgehammer” (Peter Gabriel), and “You and Me.”
Matthews danced, chatted, and scatted. The crowd sang and danced… and had some incense of some sort going (*wink*). After a tease of “Kill the Preacher” and then “Grey Street,” they closed the show with “Ants Marching” and a mash up of “All Along the Watchtower” (Bob Dylan) and “Stairway to Heaven” (Led Zeppelin).
We caught performances of 11 bands, walked eight miles, forgot to eat, and had a fantastic time at the 2021 Pilgrimage Festival. We look forward to 2022!