Kevin Griffin at Pilgrimage 2016. Photo by Mary-Beth Blankenship.
It was only a few years ago that Better Than Ezra frontman and accomplished songwriter and producer Kevin Griffin was out for a jog near his home in Franklin (having recently relocated from Los Angeles, and, before that, his native New Orleans), when he gazed upon the picturesque and sprawling Park at Harlinsdale Farm, a green space anyone who’s ever frequented The Factory shopping center across the street has surely driven by countless times, but perhaps never given a second thought to. Having long dreamed of founding his own music festival, in the mold of the New Orleans Jazz Fest he’d attended and performed for many years back home, Griffin had an a-ha moment: this was the place.
Along with his co-founders and longtime friends Michael Whelan and Brandt Wood, Kevin set out to create what would become Franklin’s Pilgrimage Festival, launching in the summer of 2015 to positive reviews and immediate success, a boutique and community-rooted event with an emphasis on all ages fun, a rootsy and well-curated mix of local and national talent, and a particularly well thought out slate of non-music offerings and activities. Not competing- at least not yet- with mega events like Bonnaroo, Pilgrimage has, for three years, benefitted from feeling like the perfect size and scale for the Nashville (and particularly Franklin) area, managing to grow, evolve, and improve each season.
We first caught up with co-founder Kevin Griffin in the summer of 2015, for a lengthy chat ahead of the inaugural Pilgrimage, as part of our former podcast series (it’s still a fascinating listen if you’re curious what goes into creating a major music festival from scratch). At the time, he was humble yet optimistic, still learning along the way, but confident in the great team he’d assembled to help plan and execute an event of this scale. He told us about building meaningful and long-lasting relationships with the community, knowing when to check your ego and delegate work and responsibility, and never taking for granted a festival’s success or future, sharing that a mantra in the festival world is that “if you make it to year three, you’ve got something.”
It seems fitting, then, that after three successful years and as we head into a fourth, set to take place this weekend, Sept. 22 and 23, with performers like Jack White, Chris Stapleton, and Lionel Richie, we were able to check back in with Kevin Griffin for another chat, to discuss what he’s learned along the way, the challenges and surprises that come with managing an event of this scale, living up to expectations and learning to adapt, balancing his creative and work life, and what to expect for Pilgrimage this year and going forward. Look for our full lineup guides throughout this week, find out more about Pilgrimage on the event’s site, and read our full interview with Kevin Griffin below!