I first met Charles Bradley in 2015. 

He wore an off-white suit with a black deep v-neck silk shirt exposing his chest and stomach. He was adorned with lots of silver jewelry and made a lasting impression on me I won't forget. 

In fact, I'm sure that's how most people felt after they met Bradley or heard him perform.

Charles Bradley and his Extraordinaires performed at the 2015 Pilgrimage Music and Cultural Festival and in my opinion was one of the unsuspecting top performers of the festival that year. Bradley was a soul musician who earlier in his career performed as a James Brown impersonator. He was the real deal. His soul, gospel, jazz and blues rock performances were high-energy and high-voltage. At the 2015 Pilgrimage there were hundreds of people dancing in the fields to his music and performance. He motivated the crowd like no other that year.

I was sorry to learn that Charles passed away the other day from a brief battle with stomach cancer. He was performing up to about a month ago. He was an inspiration to many and wasn't even discovered or promoted for his own musical work professionally until he was 62 years old. 

His dark eyes, deep stare and bright, wide smile could penetrate the atmosphere of any room and made people take note.

He was one of the performers who made the inaugural Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival in Franklin, TN, a big success.

I had the pleasure of attending the festival again this past weekend for the third year. This festival has grown tremendously.

The festival offers some incredible music by top-name performers and musicians and is set in historic Franklin at The Park at Harlinsdale Farm, the 200-acre former Tennessee Walking Horse farm.

This year Justin Timberlake, who joined as a festival producer last year, was Saturday night's headliner. Timberlake performed to a sold-out crowd of more than 25,000 people.

The grounds are a beautiful setting for the festival. The sound systems on each of the stages are high quality. This year, two large video displays were installed at the main stage for Timberlake and Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam fame on Sunday night. Both performances were incredible and heart felt.

The festival was promoted as a smaller, family-friendly version of Bonnaroo. The mood each year has been tranquil for the most part, with the exception of some of the high-energy music performances that inspire screams and cheers from the crowd. 

Timberlake said it was great to be back at home in Tennessee and said he was nervous about playing back at home.

"Half of you I might be related to," he joked.

In a Pilgrim-mashup, Timberlake had surprise guests Chris Stapleton and his wife, Morgaine, come on stage and they performed three songs together — "Tennessee Whiskey," a country song made famous by George Jones and Stapleton as well as, "Fire Away" and "Sometimes I Cry," both from Stapleton's record "Traveller."

Stapleton also performed at the 2015 Pilgrimage Festival.

Timberlake, who played several songs from his catalogue of music, closed Saturday night's performance with hit songs including, "Can't Stop the Feeling," ''Rock Your Body" and "SexyBack." 

Other high notes from the festival that I enjoyed were performances by the Jerry Douglas Band, The Avett Brothers, Ryan Adams, Mavis Staples, Gary Clark Jr. The Revivalists, Trombone Shorty, Big Sam's Funky Nation, Better Than Ezra, Kingfish, Ruby Amanfu + Steelism, and The Shadowboxers.

Honestly, all of the performances were first class.

The Jerry Douglas Band was particularly impressive. Douglas, known for his incredible Dobro and slide guitar playing for Alison Krauss, has amassed 14 Grammy awards. He's a Dobro legend.

I got to meet and speak with Douglas and his bass player Daniel Kimbro, before the band's performance. The group played several songs from their new album "What if," which was released in August of this year.

The group performed "Hey Joe," a song made famous by Jimi Hendrix in the '60s. The song appears on the "What If" album, with a new, faster arrangement including many fast Dobro licks and bass runs. The entire album is pleasing to hear and fuses bluegrass, jazz, blues and rock styles of music.

Douglas said the band has inspired him immensely.

Douglas is a kind person who is both willing to talk and listen to a good story. The band's musical talent is immeasurable.

The Avett Brothers also put on incredible high-energy show. During the group's second song the cello player Joe Kwon's glasses flew off and were inadvertently kicked off the stage and landed in front of me in the photographer's pit. As several photographers danced around the glasses taking pictures and nearly stepping on them multiple times, I grabbed the spectacles and set them at the edge of the stage in the center. At the end of the song Joe ran up, looking for his glasses. I pointed to them, and he grabbed them and gave me a thumbs up sign.

I also had the pleasure of meeting the Avett Brothers and the band earlier in the day. They were kind and said hello to all of their fans in Crossville. 

As far as music festivals go, the Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival is a top-notch event.

The festival offers great food, beverages, activities for kids and a host of wares and products to purchase.

There are people of all ages at this festival and there was a large crowd; however, it was not a wild crowd.

Festival promoters Kevin Griffin, Michael Whelan and Brandt Wood have continued to raise the bar each year.

As my mother told me, though, with all good there comes some bad. The traffic on Saturday night was difficult to manage and many people found themselves stuck for hours. The heat was rough on Saturday and many had to wait a long time for water filling stations. However, on Sunday many additional water stations were added, shaded areas were added and traffic was controlled with additional staff and directors. Weather is hard to plan, especially when it's 90 degrees at the end of September. The promoters dealt with the problems quickly and solved them with rapid logic. Cellphone service was also a challenge in the area and hopefully will be improved before next year's festival.

Over the years I've been to many music festivals and concerts and I have to admit The Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival is among the top. I'm already looking forward to next year.

Be sure to check out the Crossville Chronicle website at crossville-chronicle.com for some music artist performance photos at the event.

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Gary Nelson is a Crossville Chronicle staffwriter. His column is published each Friday. He may be reached at gnelson@crossville-chronicle.com.

Gary Nelson may be reached at gnelson@crossville-chronicle.com

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