Kevin Griffin on Pilgrimage Festival: “It’s More Refined”

Kevin Griffin was on a run in Franklin, Tennessee, the day after Thanksgiving in 2013 when he decided to go a different route, heading north when he normally goes south. He stopped to catch his breath, realizing that he was overlooking Harlinsdale Farm watching the sunrise over the rolling hills and natural amphitheater. “This is the finest setting for a festival I’ve ever been to,” Griffin recalls to American Songwriter of what he thought at the moment. 

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That thought manifested into the Pilgrimage Music and Cultural Festival which made its debut in 2015. Born and raised in New Orleans, Griffin wanted to take the diversity of genre, food, culture and artisans that are the hallmark of Jazz Fest and bring it to Middle Tennessee. With the presence of countless festivals with established legacies like Jazz Fest, Coachella and Stagecoach, along with several new ones that pop up each year, Griffin and team were intentional about not competing, but rather creating their own lane with a specific goal in mind.

[RELATED: Pilgrimage Festival Announces 2023 Schedule]

“We were like, ‘Let’s do a boutique festival,” Griffin describes of the concept of creating a “smaller, more refined festival.” “We’re going to do this other lane because it was already a saturated festival market.” Pilgrimage’s first-year lineup accomplished this goal by offering a diverse array of artists from Willie Nelson to Cage the Elephant to Dr. John.

Wanting to target all ages, Pilgrimage leans heavily into Americana for the adult crowd while the Franklin Fun Farm brings arts and culture to children. “Those things aren’t mutually exclusive,” Griffin says of making a cool festival that’s accessible to children. Over the years, Pilgrimage has drawn pop legends like Lionel Richie and Justin Timberlake to rock stars The Killers, Foo Fighters and Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder to revered country superstars Chris Stapleton and Kacey Musgraves.

The festival continues its theme of showcasing superstar talent alongside rising stars with the 2023 lineup that sees The Lumineers and breakthrough country phenom Zach Bryan as headliners, with Griffin describing Bryan as “lightning in a bottle.” The Black Crowes, Yola, Ashley McBryde, Margo Price, Yellowstone star Luke Grimes, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats and The War & Treaty are among the many others that round out the impressive roster.

“The thing that I’ve always said is that you have to have authenticity,” the Better Than Ezra frontman expresses.  “I found, especially in Nashville, real music fans love authenticity. Whether it’s Justin Timberlake, or insert any artists, they just bring it. You may not normally be into that genre, but you respect them, and that’s what we will always want to bring to Pilgrimage.”

The festival takes place September 23 and 24 at The Park at Harlinsdale Farm.

Photo by Terry Wyatt/Getty Images for Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival

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