Willie Nelson Replaced by Steven Tyler As Headliner at Tennessee Music Festival


UPDATE (8-21): Willie Nelson’s publicist is now telling The Nashville Scene that Willie now will perform Pilgrimage Fest’s closing set.

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The inaugural Pilgrimage Music and Cultural Festival set to transpire in Franklin, Tennessee, just outside of Nashville on September 26th and 27th, just made a rookie move by replacing headliner Willie Nelson with country music interloper/carpetbagger Steven Tyler—a.k.a. the frontman for the legendary rock band Aerosmith.

First announced in April, the Pilgrimage Festival boasted a diverse lineup which included Willie Nelson, Sheryl Crown, and Weezer as headliners, along with other bands such as Wilco, The Decemberists, Neko Case, Band of Horses, and Iron & Wine. Pilgrimage Fest is the brain child of Better Than Ezra singer Kevin Griffin who lives in the Franklin, TN area, and was inspired to start the fest after jogging through a former 200-acre horse farm.

In a press release dispatched on Wednesday (8-19), Steven Tyler was announced as a last-minute addition to the fest, and that Willie Nelson would be playing before Tyler, who had hopscotched the country legend for the headliner spot as the final act of the final day of the fest. Previous indications were that Willie would be the one to fulfill that headlining role.

“Nashville is a musical mecca and there is no way I would’ve missed performing at the Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival,” said Steven Tyler in the press release.

It was revealed in March that Steven Tyler had signed to Big Machine Records, and was working with songwriters in Nashville to release a country album. Tyler released his first single “Love Is Your Name” in May which found some moderate success, peaking at #19 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart. Apparently that’s enough cred to hopscotch Willie and others for Pilgrimage Fest’s top performance spot.

Pilgrimage Fest’s Kevin Griffin knows a little something about being a former rocker trying to hack it in the country world. He is 1/3’rd of the recently-launched pseudo “gone country” rock supergroup Uncle Ezra Ray with Uncle Cracker and Sugar Ray, who released an unfortunate single called “B.Y.H.B. (Bring Your Hot Body)” earlier this summer. Kevin Griffin has also been working as a songwriter in Nashville recently.

The Pilgrimage Festival says it will be a different kind of festival, with many of the acts performing acoustically, and wood clad stages to give the site a rustic and organic feel. There will also be a craft bazaar on site.

Organizers are hoping for attendance numbers near 15,000 a day, but may want to revise those figures after numerous failed festivals this year, including the Ink & Iron Fest, which saw paltry attendance and had their legendary country music headliner Merle Haggard walk off the site without playing his set due to a contract dispute. It’s all part of the ever-increasing concern over a country music festival bubble that appears to be bursting.

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