Despite the scorching 90-degree heat, tens of thousands of fans “made the pilgrimage” to The Park at Harlinsdale Farm in Franklin, Tennessee, to watch the third annual Pilgrimage Music and Culture Festival kick off on Saturday.
Steelism — the Nashville-based, instrumental duo — was the first act of the day to take the Synchrony Financial Midnight Sun main stage. The band warmed the smaller, morning crowd up with several instrumental cuts from their last two albums. However, it wasn’t until local songstress Ruby Amanfu joined the band for a few tunes from their newest album “Ism” that the crowd was truly won over.
The Shadowboxers took the main stage next, and brought arguably the grooviest, most funk-filled performance of the day. With soulful percussion and fantastic vocal harmonies, The Shadowboxers shone through performances of older material and their brand new, Justin Timberlake produced single, “Hot Damn.”
Shovels and Rope performed next, and brought its unmistakable folk-rock to a crowd still buzzing from The Shadowboxers funk-pop sound. Fortunately, the shift in genres worked perfectly. The beautiful soaring harmonies of Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst — set over the top of folky guitar licks and pounding drum beats — fit Pilgrimage perfectly.
In what was possibly the most jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring performance of the day, Trombone Shorty brought the jazz sounds of New Orleans to Pilgrimage’s main stage in an hour of incredibly synchronized, intonated jazz, funk and soul sounds. Every solo, flourish of instrumental skill or song finish drew massive cheers from the crowd.
Gary Clark Jr. blistered through solo-heavy renditions of classics like “When My Train Pulls In” and “Next Door Neighbor Blues” in front of the Infiniti Gold Record Road side stage’s second largest crowd of the night.
The Avett Brothers gave a beautiful performance, drawing a large portion of the crowd away from Walk the Moon’s poppy, main stage set. The sun setting on the Franklin hills as the North Carolina-based band played “I and Love and You” and “True Sadness,” was a breathtaking end to side stages’ day one performances.
Justin Timberlake took the main stage after Walk the Moon, and opened his set with a few quieter, country-folk style songs — a move that was surprising and may or may not have hit the mark. He eventually dove into performances of classics like “Suit and Tie” and “Rock Your Body,” which got the crowd moving once again.
But it was Timberlake’s surprise reunion with up-and-coming country star Chris Stapleton that drew the biggest reaction from the nearly 20,000 fans in attendance. Timberlake and Stapleton — reliving their incredible 2015 CMA Awards performance — once again dueted on “Tennessee Whiskey.”
It was an undeniably huge set from one of Franklin’s newest locals, and ended the night in appropriately huge fashion.
Check back tomorrow for coverage of Pilgrimage Festival’s second day.
Contributing reporting from Sara Scannell.