With a stellar lineup and a beautiful location, we all had a feeling the inaugural Pilgrimage Festival was going to be something special. When I first read the lineup, I knew right away I’d be buying a weekend pass to see all my favorite bands (lookin’ at you Dawes). So, here’s an intern’s perspective on what went down at Pilgrimage this weekend.
Upon arriving slightly late to Pilgrimage on the first day, I walked up to the gate with the sound of Trampled by Turtles in the distance, setting the tone for my weekend. After nourishing myself with some Puckett’s and meeting up with friends, we headed over to catch Iron & Wine’s set on the Midnight Sun stage. With Sam Beam’s soothing, whispery voice, I figured this would be the perfect time to spread out my blanket and stay awhile. Iron & Wine played quite a bit of songs off their newest album Sing Into My Mouth as well as some favorites from older albums. I reached complete satisfaction when they played the crowd favorite “Boy With a Coin,” as the sun started to break through the clouds.
As a longtime Chris Thile fan, my main priority of the day was to see Punch Brothers perform. I’d seen Chris Thile with Nickel Creek on their reunion tour, but I’d never seen him with the band he founded in 2008. I expected Punch Brothers to bring it to this festival, but WOW they were even better than I imagined they’d be.The seasoned musicians in this band play their instruments with high energy. Thile, especially, has a way of pumping up the crowd though his priceless facial expressions and the fiery way he plays that mandolin while he runs around stage. I think the peak of all this energy was during “Magnet”, which is a song that would make any Thile or Punch Brothers fan swoon. I have no doubt they gained some new fans during that set.
I headed straight from Punch Brothers to Weezer, which is a really cool thing to be able to say. Having a powerhouse bluegrass band and an iconic alternative rock band at the same festival was a really great decision – props to whoever made that one. The energy I’d felt at Punch Brothers continued to rise as I jammed out to Weezer in the pouring rain. I’m sure I’m not the only one who felt appropriately grungy with soaking wet clothes and rings of black under my eyes. Umbrella or not, I had a blast hearing some of my favorite Weezer tunes like “Say It Ain’t So”, “Island in the Sun” and “Undone – The Sweater Song.”
I must confess that I did leave Weezer a tad early to go stake out a good spot for Wilco. I mentioned earlier that Punch Brothers was my main priority for the day…well, I may have to retract that statement. I could barely contain my excitement for Wilco, and the experience was better than I imagined. You know those bands you want to see so bad that you don’t care who you’re with or what anyone else is doing – it’s really just you and the music? That’s how I felt the whole time during Wilco. I found myself getting lost in Nels Cline’s guitar solos and almost weeping during my all time favorite, “Impossible Germany.” (Sidenote: If there’s one song I could listen to on repeat forever, that would be it.) Wilco played old favorites and new, which made for one incredible closing set on the first day of Pilgrimage.
My intern eyes were a little heavy when I arrived for day two, but Chris Stapleton soulfully wailing on the Gold Record stage woke me up pretty quickly. One thing I love about seeing Chris Stapleton is that you always know you’re going to get a sincere performance that demands your attention. Another aspect of seeing Chris is that you also get to see his wife, Morgane Stapleton. Seeing them sing to each other – his powerful gravely voice and her equally powerful, yet pure voice – is quite an experience because their harmonies balance each other perfectly.
The soulful vibes continued when I left Chris Stapleton to catch a bit of The Lone Bellow. Having seen them at a Lightning 100 secret show a few months prior to this, I knew about frontman Zach Williams’ killer performing antics. Whenever I see him I always find myself wondering how he is able to sustain his amazing voice because he just leaves every last bit of himself on the stage at the end of each show. Together with fantastic instrumental and vocal performances from members Kanene Donehey Pipkin and Brian Elmquist, The Lone Bellow really has a way of connecting to the individuals in the crowd. A particular highlight is when they urge the audience to take part in creating the harmonies during “Take My Love.”
I stayed at the Midnight Sun stage and craftily worked my way to front and center for my favorite band of the day. Dawes was practically the main reason I decided to go to Pilgrimage, and my expectations were set pretty high. Usually, high expectations mean a high chance for disappointment, but there’s no way these guys could disappoint. With honest lyrics, some surprising guitar solos (that’s right, Taylor’s guitar skills are just as incredible as his vocal and songwriting abilities) and an obvious band member chemistry, Dawes went above everyone’s already high expectations. The vibe during Dawes was infectious excitement – you could really tell that everyone was genuinely happy to be at Pilgrimage and to see this band. They closed the set with “All Your Favorite Bands” and gave us a sincere farewell, adding that they hope all of our favorite bands at Pilgrimage stay together. Dawes, I hope you stay together for a long time.
After Dawes, I carried on my pilgrimage to catch a glimpse of Nashville resident, Steven Tyler. How do I even begin to explain a performance by the legendary Steven Tyler of Aerosmith? People had all sorts of different ideas about how this show would play out, but it was the best version of every scenario imaginable. To the surprise and delight of many, Steven Tyler actually chose to play a substantial amount of Aerosmith songs in the short time he had. His voice was exactly like it was on the recordings from so many years ago, which is hard to believe, but believe it. I’d also like to mention that despite how famous this guy is, he treats fans with kindness rather than being an a-hole just because he can. Proof lies below in this photo where super fan, Fletcher, receives a warm hug from his idol after meeting him for the first time.
One of my favorite performances of the day was St. Paul & the Broken Bones. Talk about a guy that can make everyone get on their feet and dance for an entire set of music. Paul has more soul in his pinky toe than most people have in their entire bodies. It’s impossible to give him the response he deserves, but I sure tried to match his wild enthusiasm as best I could by dancing and yelling when the time was right. I’d like to think he singled me out at one point during the beginning of “I’m Torn Up” because he waved in my direction as he sang, “Hello sweetheart.” Of course, I waved back, sweetly.
The pinnacle of the night (and maybe my existence…?) was seeing Willie Nelson at sunset. The word I’ve used to describe it to friends has been “magical”, but really no words are good enough to describe the calm I felt during his show. The sun was setting serenely over the stage as Willie played all of the influential tunes that made him the star he is today. Even as an 82 year old, he was still in control of his voice, guitar and the flow of his show, playing songs and moving it right along with a short anecdote here and there. I went through a wide range of emotions during that show, from dancing and laughing during “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” to being on the brink of tears during “Always on My Mind.” I will forever remember Willie at sunset. It was the perfect way to end the inaugural Pilgrimage Festival.
– Maggie Adams, Lightning 100 Intern