Maybe it was the red on his sneakers, Justin Timberlake said, that made him feel like Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz” while he was onstage Saturday night in Franklin, Tenn.
“But, f___,” he exclaimed. “There’s no place like home!”
He’s already a Tennessee native, but the pop star truly was at home as he headlined the third annual Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival – an event he also co-produces. Two years ago, he purchased a country estate in Franklin’s neighboring town, Leiper’s Fork.
Donning a black Pilgrimage tee, Timberlake made sure this set – one of his only performances this year – was a special one, with dressed-down, homespun charm.
Justin Timberlake performs at Franklin’s Pilgrimage Music and Cultural Festival on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017.
Emily West / The Tennessean
That included bringing country star Chris Stapleton and his wife, Morgane, for three songs. It was the first time Timberlake and Stapleton had shared the stage since their show-stealing appearance at the 2015 CMA Awards. They played their celebrated CMA duet of “Tennessee Whiskey,” and sang together as Stapleton did his “Fire Away” and “Sometimes I Cry,” at Timberlake’s request.
“I think we should just make a deal,” Justin told between songs. “Every time either one of us plays Tennessee, the other one’s there.”
The crowd cheered. “OK,” Chris Stapleton said with a grin.
“That’s how you get ’em, y’all,” Timberlake said. “You put them on stage, and then you (ask).”
He heaped praise on the Stapletons, joking that their relationship started with him “stalking” the couple.
“I figured Peter and Mary needed a Paul,” he said.
Timberlake also opened the show with an unexpected, somber cover of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” – likely a warm-up for tomorrow’s benefit concert in Charlottesville, Virginia.
But even with those only-in-Tennessee moments, Saturday’s show was a meticulous, relentless barrage of Timberlake’s hits: “Suit and Tie,” (“This is a Franklin suit, right here,” he said of his casual getup) “My Love,” “Rock Your Body,” “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” and plenty more.
At one point, he called Franklin his “new hometown,” (ouch, Memphis.) From the stage to the jam-packed field on Harlinsdale Farm, it’s clear the hometown love was mutual.
He and the incredible “Tennessee Kids” (perhaps the most enthusiastic and endearing backing band a pop star could ask for) were easily coaxed out of the darkness for an inevitable encore. The show closed with the epic ballad “Mirror,” off Timberlake’s last album, “The 20/20 Experience.”
In the final moments, he raised his hands and bowed down to the crowd, before exclaiming “I love you, Franklin!”
This weekend, Franklin will steal Music City’s thunder for a couple of days, as the third annual Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival returns to The Park at Harlinsdale on Saturday and Sunday.
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