The Pilgrim is the 11th studio album of country music artist Marty Stuart. It is a concept album, telling the story of a man (The Pilgrim) from Marty Stuart's hometown of Philadelphia, Mississippi. Marty plays the role of the Pilgrim, as well as other roles. It was a significant move in Stuart's career, as before The Pilgrim he had been focusing more on trying to get a hit song instead of making the music that really mattered to him. With this album he demonstrates his songwriting skills (every track was written by Stuart) and his diverse instrumental skills. The album has many legendary country/bluegrass legends as guest stars, such as Emmylou Harris, Pam Tillis, George Jones, Ralph Stanley, Earl Scruggs and Marty's old boss, Johnny Cash.
The Pilgrim is based on a true story of a man from Stuart's hometown, named Norman. Everyone was surprised when Norman (described as "cross-eyed Norman" in the album's liner notes) married Rita, the town's beauty queen. As time went by Norman grew more and more possessive and jealous. Rita took comfort in the charms of a man she worked with at the hospital. That man was The Pilgrim, who came from a town 40 miles away, and did not know that Rita was married. She never responded to his affections, despite the fact that he begged her to marry him. She never told him she was married. Norman began to feel the distance between him and Rita at home, and knew she was on the verge of leaving him. One evening, Norman came home, and Rita wasn't there. He wrote her a letter, put it in his coat pocket, got his gun and went in search of his wife. He found her at the hospital - holding hands with The Pilgrim. He began making threats, and The Pilgrim, not knowing who Norman was, jumped up to defend Rita. She had to finally admit that she was married. Norman then regained control, and shook The Pilgrim's hand, saying "I just wanted to meet the man that tore up my home and let him see what it's done". The Pilgrim tried reasoning with Norman, claiming that he did not know Rita was married, but his words fell on deaf ears. Norman kissed Rita, told her that he loved her more than life, handed her the letter, and shot himself in the head. After Norman's funeral, Rita left town to escape the scandal, and The Pilgrim was in despair. He truly loved Rita. The only thing he was guilty of was falling in love with a woman that he didn't know was married. He left town, and began hitchhiking and hoboing all across America. He developed a drinking problem, and rode the rails until he reached the Pacific. It was at the Pacific where he decided that the love he had known had to be put back together. He tracked Rita down, and today the couple are happily married and raising a family.
Marty Stuart (alongside his Fabulous Superlatives) often performs tracks from this album on The Marty Stuart Show on RFD-TV. They have performed tracks such as 'Reasons', 'Red, Red Wine, And Cheatin' Songs', 'Hobo's Prayer', 'The Greatest Love Of All Time', 'The Pilgrim (Act III)' and with special guest Earl Scruggs, 'Mr John Henry, Steel Driving Man'.