There were plenty of similarities between the first and second day of the 2017 Pilgrimage Festival in Franklin, Tennessee.
For starters, it was another oppressively hot day under the unforgiving southern sun. And, much like Saturday’s lineup, there was an impressive range of acts, this time from the aggressively fun Fitz & the Tantrums to soulful Amanda Shires.
But there’s one thing that Sunday’s event had that gave Saturday a run for its money: Eddie Vedder.
Granted, there were some other Sunday highlights on the sprawling Tennessee farm. There was Ryan Adams’ hilarious improvised ditty about a crane in the distance, titled, aptly, “Baby Blue Crane.”
There was Americana sister duo Larkin Poe turning in a star-making performance in the early hours of the day. There was Mavis Staples sharing with a rapt audience that she marched alongside Martin Luther King Jr.
But at the end of the day, both literally and figuratively, it was all about Eddie.
Bookended by new (“Share the Light”) and old (“Hard Sun”), the set list satiated the needs of diehard Pearl Jam (including a duet with drummer Matt Cameron for “Just Breathe”) and newbies (yeah, they’re out there) alike, with sing-a-long favorites like “Better Man.”
Musically, it was an unforgettable show: between a had-to-be-seen-to-be-believed ukulele-strumming cover of The Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go” and Vedder name-dropping fellow headliner Justin Timberlake into “Wishlist.”
And no one, especially not a pre-teen named Jack West, is going to forget anytime soon how the singer pulled up a kid he thought had a cool shirt and a cool voice to join him on stage in front of 25,000 people. (Vedder told the story of meeting West on the street earlier in the day and being impressed by the youngster.)
Vedder and West performed a duet of stunning duet of “Society” in which one plucky, truly lucky kid won over the entire crowd and now has a story to dine out on for the rest of his natural life.
But whether you were singing along with Vedder on stage or from the crowd, it was his unsung and, in one case, unspoken words that carried the most weight.
Before going into the second song of the evening, “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town,” Vedder took a stand by taking a knee, in solidarity with the NFL in protest of Trump’s latest tirade. Vedder’s gesture caused the crowd to erupt in cheers.
It was hardly the only time Vedder let his feelings on Trump be known to the Pilgrimage crowd. Early into the set Vedder repeated, with increasing sorrow, the words “Thirty minutes.” He went on to explain that it would take a North Korean missile just a half hour to reach his home city of Seattle, and pondered what he would do in those final, desperate minutes with his wife and children.
“What would you do?” he asked, adding, “You’d scream at the sky and go, ‘What the f—? How could this f—ing happen? But at that point, that’s not gonna do any good whatsoever.”
Vedder had no easy answers, but he didn’t stop from asking in regards to Trump and the ongoing American nightmare, “What the f—? Are you kidding us? Can you please stop? Just stop.”
If the crowd went wild when Vedder took a knee, they went absolutely berserk for that all-too-relatable sentiment.
Still, as frustrated as Vedder was with the state of affairs, he expressed his hope that, while the nation is divided, those who stand — and kneel — for equality will only continue multiply.
After you experience a show filled with such heart and guts like the very one Eddie performed at Pilgrimage, there’s something cathartic about screaming at the top of your lungs to the sky and trying, with all your might, to carry those feelings of goodness well beyond when the house lights come back on.