From the storm of 2018, Pilgrimage organizers find their way forward

From the storm of 2018, Pilgrimage organizers find their way forward

PHOTO: Michael Whelan reads off a list of Pilgrimage sponsors and supporters while fellow organizers Brandt Wood (left) and Kevin Griffin share the stage at Tuesday’s announcement of bands for the 2019 festival. / Photo by John McBryde


It’s been nearly six months since the fourth annual Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival ended abruptly with rain and lightning and a big muddy mess, and what followed were weeks and weeks of repairs to both the grounds of The Park at Harlinsdale Farm and the spirits of the festival’s organizers.

As most know now, the two-day festival in late September 2018 was cut short on Saturday due to approaching storms and caused festivalgoers to miss acts such as Lionel Ritchie and Jack White. Sunday proved worse, as heavy rains and more storms caused the whole shebang to be canceled and for a day’s worth of bands, including headliner Chris Stapleton, to go unheard.

None would be the wiser, however, as the Pilgrimage organizers rolled out the lineup for the 2019 festival during a luncheon at the Franklin Theatre Tuesday. Highlighted by Foo Fighters, The Killers and Keith Urban, the list of bands was presented through an electrified video that was played twice so the audience could fully absorb the diversity of bands and brands of music that will be performing on Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 21-22, at a fully restored Harlinsdale.

“We have to pinch ourselves to believe we’re at our fifth anniversary,” Brandt Wood said from the stage as he stood alongside fellow Pilgrimage organizers Kevin Griffin and Michael Whelan.

There could have been disbelief as well over the level of excitement felt on Tuesday considering Pilgrimage’s crawl from out of the proverbial swamp of Sept. 22-23, 2018. Just seeking approval for a 2019 permit from the Franklin Board of Mayor and Aldermen was met with contentious pushback from some aldermen who wanted more answers from the organizers as to how they will be more prepared for the 2019 event.

Franklin Deputy Fire Chief Todd Horton presented an after-action report in December that pointed out specific problems the 2018 festival faced and how those would be improved for the next one. The permit was granted in January.

“To be here at year five with this kind of lineup and this support from the city is just humbling, and we’re full of gratitude,” Griffin said after Tuesday’s event had ended. “If you build this festival that we did with the city, and then people buy tickets and are told six hours in they’ve got to leave because of the rain and lightning, that’s a tough pill to swallow.”

But perhaps it’s a pill that does go down easier with the Foo Fighters, one of the world’s most exciting rock bands.

“We’re sitting here in Franklin, Tennessee, but the world — the music business — loves this festival,” said Griffin, whose band, Better Than Ezra, is part of the lineup. “It’s not just another festival to them. So when an artist like Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters say they want to play your festival, you listen. And we don’t take that lightly. We fought for them and we got the Fighters. We fought for the Fighters.”

It could certainly be argued that acts from previous years haven’t exactly been shabby, judging by the festival’s growing popularity among concertgoers, those in the music industry and various business partners.

“In my opinion, the acts at the festival have been tremendous every year,” said Ellie Westman Chin, president and CEO of the Williamson County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “And they continue to impress me. … [This year’s] lineup is amazing. To have The Killers and Foo Fighters headlining and all those other amazing artists, it’s incredible.”

Westman Chin is also impressed with tourism numbers that Pilgrimage generates.

“Every year we’ve seen the overnight visitor increase,” she said. “And what we saw in year three, which was very exciting for us, was that they were coming in earlier. We saw people all over Franklin and Williamson County on Friday and Monday [before and after the festival].

“So they came in to experience what we have to offer as a town, whether it’s going shopping or going to the distilleries or going to our house museums, and then going to the festival and staying another day and doing more things before they head home. That’s been really exciting to see, that they come and turn a two-day experience into a four-day experience.”

It’s been a five-year experience for Griffin, Wood and Whelan, who set out to make sure this event benefited Franklin in good weather or bad.

“In our wildest dreams, this has become what we wanted it to be, which is part of the community,” Griffin said. “Yeah, it’s a business, but it’s more than that. It’s got purpose in that it gives back to the community with our charitable partners. And when it’s done right, that’s when it really has roots and the buy-in. That’s when people are your supporters, when it’s sunny and when it’s lightning.”

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