The early onset nostalgia is in full effect following the completion of another Pickathon out in Happy Valley, Ore., on the picturesque Pendarvis Farm. The gods of weather and peace thought it best to shield the throngs from hellish sunrays for most of the weekend, as a temperate climate only added to the profundity of the experience for all involved. This, after all, was the first Pickathon with a metal band (Vhol!), one where living songwriting legend Jeff Tweedy would yell at a robotic camera like a drunken park ranger, and where artists of every ilk would descend to ply their sonic wares unto an open-minded (though likely filthy with dust) crowd.
Oldies and goodies of Pickathon’s now 18-year existence collided with brand new fest additions in high decibels, high spirits and with one common goal in mind: to bring people together for a weekend of putting all the horrible shit happening in the world on a temporary shelf. That written, here were some of the highlights.
The James Hunter Six
James Hunter poured heart, soul and sweat into two rocksteady sets this year, both in the disparate settings of the sweltering Galaxy Barn as well as the tranquil Woods Stage. The Englishman and his brilliantly versatile band incorporated soul, dub, ska and more, like some sort of newfangled Elvis Costello (to wit, Hunter is chums with Van Morrison and the two have traded appearances on each other’s records). In fact, though his sonic allegiances probably lie more in the soul world, with his latest record Hold On! being released on Daptone this year, Hunter’s chameleonic talents were most awe-inspiring when he allowed his voice to soar into ear-piercing screeches during dalliances into feel-good rhythm and blues. His was a very welcome surprise, and someone for whom your wildest loyalties ought to be directed sooner than later.
Sir Richard Bishop
New Portland resident and renowned six-string wizard Sir Richard Bishop hypnotized a Woods Stage audience still wiping sleep from the corners of their eyes early Friday. Bishop’s mastery of dissonant segues, and an agile ping-ponging of guitar styles (as heard in his work with seminal punk rock experimentalists Sun City Girls) within the scope of one uninhibited piece transfixed the crowd. Performing entirely instrumental compositions, Bishop stayed minimalist for the most part, parlaying three pedals while a semi-hollow body guitar squeezed entrancing guitar meditations in odd time signatures that touched on Eastern and Western modes, ever floating somewhere in between. For proof, check out Bishop’s 2015 collection Tangier Sessions, released on the venerable Drag City label.
Yet another Portland artist dazzled the Pickathon faithful. Blossom’s severely chilled-out R&B vibes permeated the afternoon air on the Mt. Hood Stage on Friday, providing a fertile soundscape for the day’s blooming. Accompanied by two backup singers and producer Neill Von Tally, Blossom exuded an effortless cool, swaying to the groove of her own songs before she brought out another Portland performer (and her EYRST labelmate), Myke Bogan. With Bogan’s Thursday night set on the Starlight Stage still fresh in the crowd’s mind, his undeniable flow added rather than distracted from the heavy-lidded energy of Blossom’s performance.
It’s no secret that Pickathon has evolved from its original stylistic constraints to include almost all genres of music. And while the inclusion in year’s past of impactful sets from the likes of Future Islands and Thee Oh Sees (who also returned this year) was amazing, it’s safe to say that nothing was as jaw-dropping as the inclusion of thrash-metal foursome Vhol as part of this year’s lineup. Performing on the beautifully constructed Treeline Stage, mere dozens of feet from some campers, Mike Scheidt’s sonorous wail oozed with the grime of heavy metal gods of yesteryear, splicing the ardent energy of hardcore punk (as evidenced most by amazing drummer Aesop Dekker) and classic metal in an unruly and vibrant mist of ferocity. The scattered farm hay turned suddenly to a dust cloud near the front of the stage as adolescents started up pits, Wolf Parade’s Dan Boeckner watched on in awe and wonder, and suddenly a new cosmic possibility had been sprung at Pickathon. Vhol’s sets were easily the most refreshingly different and energizing during the entire weekend, and the next day’s bangover was completely worth it.
Ezra Furman & The Boy-Friends
Emerging in pearls and a dress, gender-fluid pop/doo-wop/punk wunderkind Ezra Furman took the Mt. Hood Stage on Sunday afternoon to a packed crowd, wielding an unhinged, narcotic persona. Furman’s hook-heavy pop, as strange as it reads, traversed the spectacles of artists like Meatloaf and Bruce Springsteen being covered by Green Day. Furman’s powerful lyrics, slightly psychotic disposition and utterly engaging charm held the audience in worship-like reverence, while his band of Boy-Friends put sax, keys, bass and drums together in inventive new ways. Furman’s latest record Perpetual Motion People is a bizarre and addictive explosion of rock and roll tropes, street-wise sermonizing, sexuality-positive skronk-y punk and more, and every corner of sonic real estate those genres could possibly ever cover was exhumed and marionetted by Furman during a powerful, powerful set that was one of the best I’ve ever witnessed in eight years of attending Pickathon.