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Justin Timberlake performs at Franklin’s Pilgrimage Music and Cultural Festival on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017.
Emily West / The Tennessean

FRANKLIN, Tenn. — 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 at the Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival.

“But,” 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 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. 

MORE: Pilgrimage Festival 2017: The best performances from Saturday

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 onstage, 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…