Brandt Wood tells students about the different stages on the grounds of Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival on Friday. (Photo: Kerri Bartlett)

Brandt Wood, co-founder of Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival, greeted the “creative types,” or students in music and the arts from area Franklin high schools, with childlike enthusiasm on Friday at the festival’s first Community Day.

Students received an exclusive behind-the-scenes festival tour as crew hurried to finish the final touches for performances, by almost 50 bands a day, when the gates open for the music festival Saturday and Sunday to almost 10,000 patrons each day. 

The idea for Pilgrimage’s first Community Day was birthed from Wood’s memories going on a music field trip as a child in New Orleans.

‘Just like you’

“I was just like you,” Wood said to the students in tow. “I remember getting on a bus in high school and going on a field trip to the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. I was your age, and it inspired me. I was knocked out by it.”

Wood said he sees himself in the students and wants to support them.

“This is a way to allow students to get to know Pilgrimage, how it was created and to own it themselves.

“These are drama, music and arts students, creative types, and we wanted them to see a creative endeavor like this and to put a face on it.” 

Libby McConnell, Olivia Bevins, and Drew Lamb tour the grounds of Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival on Friday as part of Community Day. (Photo: Kerri Bartlett)

Approximately 125 students from Battle Ground Academy and Franklin High School closely followed behind Wood across the pastoral, expansive fields at The Park at Harlinsdale Farm Friday, as he showed them ropes of building a musical festival – one that has received national acclaim, from such outlets like Rolling Stone Magazine.

Most of all, Wood was honest, explaining that it takes a lot of work, dedication and follow-through to build a music festival like Pilgrimage.

“But the sweat is all worth it,” he said.   

Libby McConnell,10th grade art student at BGA, said she was impressed with the great care put into each decision of Pilgrimage, including the aesthetics such as using reclaimed wood for tent concessions area and creating a relaxing shaded area, “ASCAP Shady Grove” among a grove of trees with bright streamers gently dangling in the wind.

“It’s interesting to see how everything was set up to be aesthetically pleasing and to retain the integrity of the festival being held on a historic farm,” McConnell said. 

A BGA student in recording technology, Drew Lamb said the tour made an impression.

“This is what we want to do one day – perform on stage, and today we get to see how it works,” Lamb said. 

Co-founders of Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Arts Festival encourage student artists at Community Day on Friday. (Photo: Kerri Bartlett)

Griffin, Wood encourage students to reach for their dreams

The highlights of Community Day were performances by the BGA Contemporary Music Ensemble and the FHS Octobooth band on the Americana Music Triangle stage, where Better Than Ezra frontman Kevin Griffin joined the student group for a quick chat.

It was an especially exciting day for sophomore Chloe Drugeot, singer in the BGA Contemporary Music Ensemble, who made her stage debut on the Americana Music Triangle stage Friday.

“I have never performed on stage before,” she said. “I am a little nervous, but it is exciting. We started preparing a few weeks ago when our music teacher Mr. Altman just came into the classroom and said, ‘You are going to be performing at Pilgrimage.” 

Singers Chloe Drugeot, Olivia Bevins and Kendall Grimes perform as part of the Battle Ground Academy Contemporary Music Ensemble during Pilgrimage Community Day. (Photo: Kerri Bartlett)

Before the key performances by the school music groups, students heard from community leaders including Leiper’s Fork preservationist Aubrey Preston, who led the group in a rendition of “You are my Sunshine,” while strumming his guitar and Ellie Chin, executive director of the Williamson County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, who emphasized the economic impact of Pilgrimage fest on Franklin. 

Griffin told the students to follow their inspiration, just like he and Wood did to bring the festival to fruition.

“I was on a run at Harlinsdale Farm catching my breath and the clouds parted, the sun shined through, and I thought this would be the best backdrop for a music festival that anyone has ever seen,” Griffin said. 

Franklin High School Octobooth jams during Pilgrimage Community Day on the Americana Music Triangle stage. (Photo: Kerri Bartlett)

Wood said that through an inspirational idea, making goals, making a plan and executing that plan, dreams are made, and for Griffin and him, that dream was Pilgrimage. 

Griffin encouraged students to keep going, even in a “world of no’s.”

“I was once sitting right where you are,” Griffin said. “I was just a kid who wanted to perform music. I was active in drama and writing songs when I was 14 years old. And when you are young and just starting out you are like ‘how to I make my dreams reality?’

“You are so lucky to be living in Music City, where if you have the talent and you have the drive, and you have the perseverance, and you don’t quit, you’ll get your chance to have success over and over again.”

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