A Look Back at the Very First Pilgrimage Festival

Pilgrimage Festival
Willie Nelson

Today, Sept 26, would have been the kick-off to the sixth Pilgrimage Music Festival; however, event organizers made the decision in May to cancel this year’s festival.

As we are missing heading to picturesque Harlinsdale Farm for a weekend of music, we are honoring Pilgrimage by taking a look back at the very first Pilgrimage Festival, held in 2015.

About the Festival
When the first Pilgrimage Festival was announced, the idea was unlike any other music festival hosted in Williamson County – a two-day event with music playing from morning until sunset, plus local food and local vendors. Although the Nashville area is known for country music, Pilgrimage presents a multi-genre music festival.

The very first Pilgrimage Festival in 2015 featured Wilco, Weezer, Sheryl Crow, The Decemberists, Chris Stapleton, Cage the Elephant and many more, including some new discoveries. Another feature that makes Pilgrimage unique is that it is promoted as a family event, with an expansive area for kids with a play area and a kids stage, not something you see at other festivals.

Highlights from Pilgrimage 2015

Willie Nelson
photo by Pilgrimage Festival

1Willie Nelson

To hear Willie Nelson sing “On the Road Again” in Franklin at Harlinsdale Farm isn’t something I soon will forget. The country music legend didn’t disappoint and kept the crowd entertained, singing a few Hank Williams songs –  “Move it on Over” and “Hey Good Lookin.” He ended his set with the Preservation Hall Band and Holly Williams joined him on stage.

Better Than Ezra, performing at Hootenanny at the Factory

2After Hours Party

The festival ended around 8 pm each night. On Saturday night, that first year, there was an after-party called the “After Hours Hootenanny.” Musical guests included Better Than Ezra (lead vocalist Kevin Griffin is also co-founder of Pilgrimage Festival) along with Jars of Clay who entertained a small crowd at The Factory in Franklin. That was the only year they held an after-party.

Steven Tyler

3Steven Tyler

Remember that time Steven Tyler came to Franklin to perform? The lead singer of Aerosmith moved to Nashville in 2015 to release a country music album. Tyler was backed by the local band Loving Mary and fans heard Tyler sing a few Aerosmith songs and his new music. No Country for New Nashville stated Taylor Swift was in the audience for his set and at one point, Tyler motioned for her to come on stage but it didn’t happen. Maybe we will see Taylor Swift at 2021 Pilgrimage with her latest song “Betty.”

Chris Stapleton
photo from Pilgrimage Festival

4Chris Stapleton

I hate to admit this, but I only heard one song from Chris Stapleton that year at Pilgrimage. In 2015, Stapleton just released his debut solo album Traveller. And as they say, the rest is history, as Stapleton went on to win numerous CMA Awards later that year – Album of the Year, Male Vocalist of the Year, and New Artist of the Year. Stapleton performed at the CMA Awards with Justin Timberlake. Both performed at Pilgrimage Festival – Timberlake in 2017 and Stapleton again in 2018.

Pilgrimage Festival
Emi Sunshine

5Emi Sunshine

I’m still not sure why Emi Sunshine was performing at the Little Pilgrims stage and not on the main stage. The bigger than life voice drew quite a crowd at the very small kids staging area. And at 11 years old at the time, Emi Sunshine knew how to capture a crowd. Even now, she’s still performing, we could see her returning to Pilgrimage Festival.

Pilgrimage Festival
Sheryl Crow

6Sheryl Crow

Local favorite Sheryl Crow performed at the inaugural event. In looking back, that was Crow’s only local show in 2015, right after she headed to Carnegie Hall where Ed Sheeran was also performing.