Was it Sunday church, the Titans’ football game, or maybe just the ridiculous heat that lessened the early crowd at the second day of the second annual Pilgrimage Festival? With not a single cloud in the sky, my guess is that it was Mr. Sunshine and the 90-degree heat that made many choose a late afternoon arrival. Judging by the size of the crowd after the sun went down, many in fact did eventually come and the festival could still be declared a whopping success. I did leave the two days of “festivaling” with this begging question: “Why don’t musicians shed their black jeans for shorts in this kind of heat?”
Starting my day right after lunch, I chose the cover of the small but aptly-titled Shady Grove stage for the music of East Nashvillian Tim Easton. Severely challenged by the sound bleeding from the main stage, Tim overcome the sonic obstacle with a solid 30-minute set of self-penned songs in his rootsy-bluesy style.
My next location was not so comfortable as I stood under the blazing sun to hear Nashvillian neo-soulster Anderson East and his band. Their Stax-influenced sound was a surprise, but nonetheless enjoyable despite my intermittent need to score some shade and hydrate. His originals were not foreign to the locals who I suspect hear his tunes on Lightning 100 radio. Anderson also managed to throw in some tasty covers from the Faces (“Stay with Me”) and Johnny Nash (“I Can See Clearly Now”). While young Anderson may not look the part of a serious soul singer, this lad must have watched enough James Brown videos to nail down his stage moves like a pro.
The best on-stage advice of the day came from Margo Price in her warning for us to drink water and “Take care of your livers!” Despite the continued sweltering sun, her captivating country sound had me mesmerized, and I unable to escape her spell. Unfortunately, she didn’t get the crowd she deserved between the heat and a set conflicting with another better-known female country singer.
Although I headed over to see that other female country singer more so to get a good spot for that act that would follow, I did find the set by Kacey Musgraves to be quite enjoyable. Her cute cowgirl outfit and her band’s tacky electric suits won them the best dressed award for the day. Not at all on my radar, I found her skillful songwriting and choices of cover songs (Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” and Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds”) impressive. She ended by donning a pair of electric boots to accompany a rework of Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walking.”
Kacey’s exiting crowd opened the way for me to get front and center stage for my personal festival highlight—the return of Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit. It has been almost 10 months since they rocked the Nashville area, and there still sound as strong and sharp as ever. Most noticeable was how comfortable and easy-going they all seemed. Jason’s better half, Amanda Shires was on hand for the local show as was their young daughter who made her Music City stage debut. It was the typical great set that we now come to know and expect from these guys. Looking forward to the new material they will be recording in January.
With their sets overlapping, catching all of Jason got me to see the day’s headliners Hall and Oates a few numbers in. Still claiming the nod as having the most intact voice of any of today’s aging rockers, tall Daryl Hall sounded great as did his shorter sidekick and local area transplant, John Oates. My only complaint was the over-extended noodling on “I Can’t Go for That” that would have been better left alone in lieu of two additional songs in the brief festival setting. Also, what ever happened to their reported special guest?
Walking home, my thoughts turned to who would I like to see at Pilgrimage next year. This is a truly remarkable festival with so few flaws after only two years’ experience. Great job to all involved.