As the hottest part of the day hit Franklin’s Park at Harlinsdale Farm on Saturday, Celisse and her crew of two cranked up the heat. Kicking off their set on the Midnight Sun stage with an original bluesy rock tune called “Get There,” they absolutely melted the crowd on the first day of Pilgrimage for 2022. A couple songs in, as amps emblazoned with “Celisse Loves You” roared behind her, the singer-songwriter-guitarist scanned the crowd for children, asking if this was the kind of festival where you could cuss. After some encouragement from the crowd, she said: “This song is about being with somebody who is bullshit.” As the power trio laid into “Mistreated Me,” it was hard not to feel like you loved Celisse, too.


Butch Walker

Up next, Pilgrimage semiregulars Dawes brought seemingly every wide-brimmed hat on the grounds to one spot for an hour of jammy love tunes and talk of chasing tequila with champagne. Over on the Gold Record Road stage during the same time slot, Better Than Ezra — the New Orleans-bred rock band whose singer Kevin Griffin co-founded the festival — pulled off a fun mix of old favorites like “Misunderstood” and “Good.” They also included a little medley in tribute to Rush, one new song, and most importantly, a crowd sing-along of Oasis’ “Wonderwall.” Right around the same time, producer, songwriter and rocker Butch Walker drew a huge crowd to the small Americana Music Triangle tent, with the overflow making it look like a packed-out revival. 

As the sun set over the walking-horse-farm-turned-public-park, folks got settled in at Midnight Sun for headliner Brandi Carlile, who just played a phenomenal two-night run at Ascend Amphitheater in July. Similar to those shows, this one led off with a short, rollicking guitar medley from Carlile’s longtime co-conspirators, twin brothers Phil and Tim Hanseroth. Thus introduced, Carlile took the stage in a bright-yellow suit — just a little bit David Byrne and a lot Marlene Dietrich — and dove into “Broken Horses,” the perfect song for the venue.


Brandi Carlile

After ripping through four of her more rocking tunes, Carlile asked if it might be OK if she did a little something that wasn’t popular back home in Seattle, but that we see a lot of in Nashville: a three-part harmony. We do see a lot of those around here, but we’d argue that “The Eye” isn’t just any three-part harmony tune. It kicked off what we’d like to refer to as the “I’M NOT CRYING YOU’RE CRYING” portion of the show, which ended with two songs about parenting that are enough to make anyone tear up: “The Mother” and “Mama Werewolf.” 

Carlile recalled playing “The Mother” for the late John Prine. She said she’d felt emboldened to play it for him when they were both performing on a cruise ship. Right before she headed down for the gig, her baby rolled off the bed and busted her lip. Carlile spilled to Prine about feeling guilty; she told the audience that he looked right at her and deadpanned: “It won’t be the last time.”


It was the perfect bit of levity for what felt like a crowd with lots of parents, some of whom had tots in tow — and some who did not, and may have been feeling a little guilty for being out. Near the end of Carlile’s set, her face brightened and the crowd emanated a collective “aww” as her kids came onstage to sing “Hold Out Your Hand” with her backup singers. Then, Carlile let the band take a rest and tucked the crowd in for the night by saying that in a hard world, she had a wish for them. She sang “Stay Gentle,” segueing neatly into “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” 


Brittney Spencer

The heat was back on Sunday afternoon, when country phenom Brittney Spencer dazzled at Gold Record Road with her breakout single “Sober & Skinny” and a heartfelt rendition of The Chicks' ’90s classic “Cowboy Take Me Away.” Spencer’s command of her voice and her versatility stayed at center stage to the end of her set, which wrapped with a blazing take on Nancy Sinatra's “These Boots Were Made for Walkin’.” 


Yasmin Williams

A little later, guitar virtuoso Yasmin Williams gave a captivating performance at the festival’s Shady Grove. The D.C.-raised solo guitar wizard drew in passersby with her experimental blend of finger-tapping, slide work and kalimba riffs. Even as the sound from the fest's two more prominent stages threatened to drown out her intimate performance at times, Williams took it all in stride, chatting directly with the crowd and thanking them for being a part of her pleasant afternoon hang.


Rosie Flores

Across the grounds, influential guitarist, singer-songwriter and storyteller Rosie Flores brought her trademark Tex-Mex sound to the packed pews inside the Americana Music Triangle tent — her second set of the day. The supremely charismatic self-described “Rockabilly Filly” brought a collection of stories and songs deeply rooted in the soil of her home state of Texas and cultivated during her time in Los Angeles.

Back at Midnight Sun, Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives donned their finest rhinestoned Western suits and rocked and rolled their way through some of the country stalwart’s trademark hits and deep cuts. During the hour-long performance, the Country Music Hall of Famer reflected on his career and the changes he's witnessed — both in the genre and across Nashville itself — while serving up gems like “Tempted” and a cover of Marty Robbins’ “El Paso.”


Trampled by Turtles

Meanwhile, a sea of jam-mericana fans descended on Gold Record Road for indie-folk outfit Trampled by Turtles. They offered up a fierce preview of their forthcoming 10th LP, the Jeff Tweedy-produced Alpenglow. New tunes like “Burlesque Desert Window” nicely complemented old faves like “The Middle” and allowed plenty of moments for the Minnesota group to stretch out into jam territory.

Five years from their last appearance at Pilgrimage, The Avett Brothers brought joyful, boundless energy that permeated their entire set. At the top of the set was 2009 fan favorite “Laundry Room,” followed by “Ain't No Man,” “Live and Die” and the steamy “I Wish I Was." Among other highlights was a cover of “The Race Is On,” a George Jones classic that the Avetts were first introduced to via the Grateful Dead.


Chris Stapleton

Several years of hard work led to what felt like near-overnight stardom for Chris Stapleton about seven years ago. He’s no longer a rising star, though he is still working with folks who are: See “Sweet Symphony,” his new collaboration with Joy Oladokun released Friday. Using that copious experience, he closed out the weekend with a nearly two-hour-long performance, which served as a master class on how to headline a music festival. 

Fresh off a Saturday appearance at Farm Aid and joined by his band, wife Morgane Stapleton and frequent special guest harmonica player Mickey Raphael, Stapleton leaned into his 2015 breakthrough Traveller for a substantial chunk of the set. After kicking off the show with “Nobody to Blame” and “Parachute,” the country giant made sure to voice his appreciation to the massive crowd of fans in front of him. Along with popular singles like “Joy of My Life” — plus a medley of the Skynyrd classic “Free Bird” and his own “Devil Named Music” — Stapleton revisited his first radio flop, the impeccably written “What Are You Listening To?” 

Despite ups and downs, including getting rained out in 2018, Pilgrimage has become a staple of the festival season in Middle Tennessee. While it’s not an event where you’re likely to see the absolute cutting edge of innovation, Pilgrimage’s programmers are consistent in bringing a rainbow array of superb performances to a beautiful park — and you can still get to bed in time to be at work on Monday.