Kevin Griffin Talks Pilgrimage Music & Culture Festival ‘Vibes’ – Hollywood Life

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Image Credit: Ray Garbo/Shutterstock

Kevin Griffin is “cool as a cucumber” when speaking with HollywoodLife. At the time, there were less than three weeks until the 2022 edition of the Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival (which takes place tomorrow, September 24-25, at the Harlinsdale Farm in Franklin, Tennessee.) This year’s edition of the long-featured running festival Chris Stapleton, Brandi Carlile, The Avett Brothers, Elle King, Jon Batiste, and a stacked range, but the Better than Ezra the leader – and co-founder of the festival – didn’t care about the details. “Honestly, it’s like summer camp. Everyone starts coming next week, and when it wraps up, and we do the autopsy, tear things down, and clean up the park, it’s that kind of “sad end of camp” vibe.

“Me and my partners, W.Brandt Wood and Michael Whelan, had the chance to grow up going to the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival,” Griffin shares. “And what Jazz Fest is is a celebration of the best music, food, culture, artisans and merchants from the southern Gulf – New Orleans has expanded – and man, you have hipsters and indie scenes with kids and families – and there’s a big foundation, the Jazz & Heritage Foundation, which supports music programs and different charities in the city – all of those things. I grew up thinking, ‘Hey, all festivals are like this.’ It’s family. It’s cool.”

Kevin Griffin (Ray Garbo/Shutterstock)

“And, and musically and familially engaging are not mutually exclusive. They can exist together, and because I saw, I grew up with that,” he adds. This is the case of the Lil’ Pilgrims Family Stage And Mare Barn Theatre, one of the five stages of the Pilgrimage Music Festival. Families can enjoy the sights and sounds of the festival throughout the day and return in time to see Jon Batiste and Brandi Carlile close Saturday on the Gold Record Road and Midnight Sun stages.

Better than Ezra (Robby Klein)

The pilgrimage offers its own unique experience. When Kevin moved to Franklin, Tennessee in 2013, he wanted to bring that “Jazz Fest feeling” to his new home. “Even in 2013, there was already Bonnaroo; there were already a ton of festivals. But I was like, this upscale, smaller festival experience, there really is a way for that. Maybe you went to Bonnaroo, partied in your tent, and now you have a family. Or, you’d love good food, but you’re still thinking, “Man, I still like cool music.” It’s really cool what you can do here in town. It just clicks.

Helping this year to “click” is focused on American music. “If you look at our past rosters,” Kevin says, “it sort of changes. We had a few years that leaned towards the American country, like this year. We had a few years that leaned more pop, like Justin Timberlake and walk the moon. And then, more rock like foo fighters and The killers. And we just feel what we are in this year, and what feels like that year.

Sometimes “the queues fall together,” says Griffin. “Sometimes it’s by accident, and sometimes it’s on purpose. This year we locked in Chris Stapleton and Brandi, that kind of set the tone. And we’ve always wanted to have Jon Batiste – and we may be one of his few public performances this year. He doesn’t do any festivals because he is struggling with his wife’s poor health. So we are very grateful to have it. But, it’s a very specific ground that we are targeting this year, and we feel we have chosen well.

However, what really sets the Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival apart is the focus on the second half of the title: culture. Griffin tells HollywoodLife it’s not just a ‘speech’ or branding, but that the festival celebrates the impact the region has had on modern music. “We have this huge tent called the American Music Triangle tent. And the “musical triangle” is the triangle that surrounds the Mississippi Delta. If you make a triangle from New Orleans to Memphis to Nashville and back down to New Orleans, this region – from Louisiana to Mississippi, to Alabama, to Tennessee – is arguably where not only music American (rock, blues jazz), but it has infiltrated the whole world.

“So we have this tent where municipalities all over the triangle – Greenville Cleveland, Tupelo, Muscles Shoals, New Orleans, Memphis – even in San Antonio with Tejano music, they all have booths there. And we have Mike Wolfe of American Pickers keeping the room with all these antiques from his private warehouse. When you enter this tent, it’s like stepping back in time. You have people talking about musical genres on stage, and then you have an artist exhibiting that. We really reinforced the cultural part this year.

“We have the Black Opry, which has just been this incredible force and organization for black artists in the American and country space,” he says. “And then on Sunday we have a Southern gospel service just to kick off the day. It is a non-denominational celebration of gospel music.

And so I think this year already, I’m just excited about it. I know I will look back in awe for making the cultural part of the festival this deep dive into music, culture and history. To be able to bring that to people and then see what’s in their own backyard and be proud of it? And passing it on to a new generation is really, really cool. I dig that part, and I can’t take responsibility for it — one of my partners, Brant Wood, is leading the cultural part. And that’s really cool.

“We had no qualms about tipping our hats to New Orleans Jazz Fest,” concludes Griffin. “They do it so well – the cultural part, that the DNA is about their festival. And, and we brought that to central Tennessee in our own unique way.

Click here for more information on the Pilgrimage Music and Cultural Festival.

Darcy J. Skinner