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Photo by Terry Wyatt, courtesy of Essential Broadcast Media

By ALEXANDER WILLIS

Just two years ago, Devon Gilfillian was working at the restaurant Fin & Pearl on 12th Avenue S. in Nashville, after having recently moved from Pennsylvania to pursue a career in music.

While many aspiring musicians often wait years, decades, or even a lifetime to break through their first glass ceiling and score record deals and sold-out shows, in just two short years Gilfillian has seen partnerships with the NFL and Disney, gotten glowing reviews from the likes of NPR and Rolling Stone, and on Sunday, performed in front of hundreds at the Pilgrimage Music Festival in Franklin.

Inspired by the sounds of gospel-blues and southern soul, the audience at Gilfillian’s Pilgrimage performance quickly settled into the slow rhythmic tunes, whistling and cheering periodically while swaying back and forth in line with the music.

“I was working at a restaurant two years ago, so it’s crazy that I can play music for a living now, and that’s it,” Gilfillian said. “I don’t have to sling risotto balls anymore.”

Inspired by a variety of artists ranging from the Meters to the Beatles, perhaps the biggest influence to Gilfillian is legendary rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix.

“He was my guitar hero, my first influence as far as music goes – he’s such a hodgepodge of R&B, of psychedelic rock, of funk… speaking of,” Gilfillian said, suddenly noticing a Hendrix song being played in the distance. “That’s what I love about it – gospel and R&B is the red line that kind of goes through everything I feel.”

Gilfillian got his professional career started when he released his self-titled debut EP in 2016, quickly following that up with his single “Get Out And Get It,” which is currently in the top 15 on Billboard’s Adult Alternative Songs chart. In 2018, Gilfillian was chosen to perform the National Anthem to kick off the NFL Draft, and was more recently tapped by Disney “to be the new face and music of the 90th anniversary of Mickey Mouse.”

The NFL Draft had also used Gilfillian’s single “Troublemaker” in its advertising, something Gilfillian said blew his mind upon first hearing the news.

“I think I was sitting in the living room in my underwear, and my manager, he’s like, ‘yo, you’re singing the National Anthem at the NFL Draft, and they’re going to use “Troublemaker” for a commercial,” Gilfillian said. “I almost crapped my pants to be honest. That was definitely the most stressful, insane, nerve-wracking experience for sure, but in a great way.”

When it came to his impressions on Pilgrimage, Gilfillian said he was surprised to see such a large turnout during his performance, as it began at 12:20 in the afternoon. As an official Nashvillian now, Gilfillian also said he felt at home at the venue, noting the friendliness of both staff and audience members alike.

“I feel so laid back and at home when I’m here at Pilgrimage,” Gilfillian said.”Partly because I live in Nashville, but as far as other festivals I’ve played, it feels like I’m going to see all my friends, people I know, and it feels like I’m just hanging out with all my homies.”

As far as future plans, Gilfillian launched his tour with St. Paul & the Broken Bones, Local Natives, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue and Michael Franti & Spearhead this month, and will continue to tour through November. 

Gilfillian also has plans to release a new album in January of next year, with a new single titled “Unchained” set to launch in November. Alongside a music video, “Unchained” will also feature, in his performance debut, Gilfillian’s father, Nelson Gilfillian – something Gilfillian was anxious to share with fans.

When asked what advice he would share with other aspiring artists – something the Nashville area is in no shortage of – Gilifillian said it was all about having the ability to not give up in the face of adversity.

“You got to hustle every single day,” Gilfillian said. “Once you’re being true and honest to yourself, that’s when you inspire other people. Inspire a band to play with you, inspire an agent to book you shows, inspire a manager that is going to believe in you. It takes an army to get your music off the ground, and that’s what I would say.”

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