By David T. Wingo

Pilgrimage Music and Cultural Festival has brought good vibes, world class music, and big crowds to Franklin’s Harlinsdale Park, since 2015. But of all the festival’s accolades and accomplishments, co-founder W. Brandt Wood is most proud of The Pilgrimage Foundation, Pilgrimage’s non-profit entity dedicated to supporting Franklin parks, education, and artists.

Since Pilgrimage’s inception, New Orleans Jazz Fest has been an inspiration for the festival. So Jazz Fest’s charitable foundation, Jazz and Heritage Foundation, was a natural influence for the Pilgrimage Foundation. Brandt said that “noticing the sort of year round influence that a non profit arm of a festival can have inspired us to create the foundation.” Wood described Jazz and Heritage Foundation as a “big, impactful organization in New Orleans for education, for artist support, for preservation. These goals drive the Pilgrimage Foundation as well, and allow the festival “a chance to deepen roots and spread influence in a positive way.”

In just a few short years, the Pilgrimage Foundation has spread that influence throughout Franklin, Williamson County, Tennessee, and the country. They work closely with Dark Horse Institute, an audio engineering and music business school located in The Factory, providing internship opportunities for Dark Horse students to gain real world experience at Pilgrimage Festival. Student interns work alongside Pilgrimage’s engineers during the two day event. Pilgrimage Foundation was also able to provide their first student, 24 year old Haylie Sampsel, with a $15,000 scholarship to Black Horse Studio in 2017.

Pilgrimage Foundation is an active supporter of MusiCares, the Grammys’ charity which “provides a safety net of critical assistance for music people in times of need.” In the last three years, they have given almost $23,000 to MusiCares. MusiCares has an activation backstage at Pilgrimage to provide support to artists with integrity and confidentiality. They also focus on hearing protection and provide ear plugs to artists backstage at Pilgrimage Festival.

During last year’s Pilgrimage Festival, Brandt took the stage on behalf of the Pilgrimage Foundation to ask for donations for Hurricane Harvey relief in the Houston area. As always, Tennesseans stepped up to the plate and made an impact on those lives affected by Harvey. This is just one example of the Pilgrimage Foundation’s regional and national efforts.

As the Foundation expands its reach, the Foundation remains focused on improving the quality of life in Williamson County. A portion of each ticket has gone to Friends of Franklin Parks, since day one of the event. Friends of Franklin Parks is the lead preservation group at Harlinsdale and “exists to cultivate stewardship within our community to preserve our cultural and natural resources, enhance the park experience and expand its legacy for future generations.” They led the project to built the multipurpose arena at Harlinsdale and continue to improve infrastructure with support and input from the Pilgrimage Foundation.

Among other projects, Pilgrimage Foundation is working with the City of Franklin and Friends of Franklin Parks to plan sidewalks along Franklin Pike and a bridge over the Harpeth River. According to Wood, “we are eager to be more than observers in these processes. To donate resources and time, and to testify about these things to aid in the normal flow of business and life in Franklin during the festival.” These improvements will of course benefit all those who live, work, and play in Franklin throughout the year. Pilgrimage wants “to achieve the highest level of balance integration” in order to not impede on the lives of those not attending the festival.

For those of us who are interested attending, Pilgrimage Music and Cultural Festival will take place from 10AM to 8:30PM on September 22 & 23, 2018. Comstock Michigan’s Bell’s Brewery will once again be the official beer partner of Pilgrimage Festival. Many of Bell’s offerings will be available on draft and in package throughout the festival grounds. The Bell’s Beer Hall returns in 2018 with over 30 taps, a full bar, and wine by the glass. In the beer hall area, drafts from breweries such as Jackalope, Good People, and Wiseacre will be available alongside a plethora of Bell’s drafts.

With headliners Jack White, Chris Stapleton, and Lionel Richie, there is something for everyone at Pilgrimage Festival this year. Brandt Wood is particularly excited about some of the young artists who will be moving up to bigger stages after being introduced on the ASCAP stage in the past. Those include: Jillian Jacqueline, Devon Gilfillian, Bishop Gunn, and Aaron Lee Tasjan. Wood said these artists “personify the effort of our band development and cultivation. We want to do our part in helping young artists’ careers.” These are just a few of the exciting acts that fill out the bill with heavy hitters like Hozier, Keb Mo, Dawes, Amos Lee, and Dave Matthews. 2018’s line up promises to deliver one of the best Pilgrimage Festivals to date. Will you make the pilgrimage?