Everything you’ve ever heard about Pickathon is true.
From your chance encounter and the opportunity to chat with an artist who is freely walking the grounds, to providing and washing your own mealtime dishware, Pickathon offers a truly magical, communal experience to everyone who attends. Located on the far side of Mt. Scott in Happy Valley, Ore., the proximity of this festival to Portland doesn’t really hit you until you realize you were only in your car for a mere 20 minutes, and your wait was because you were in line behind a slew of bicycles. Neighborhoods of houses dot the landscape surrounding Pendarvis Farm giving it a vibe that is more like a well-organized neighborhood association Fourth of July get-together than the three-day, family-friendly musical blowout that it has become.
In its 16th year, Pickathon continued its tradition of providing quality entertainment that focuses on community, sustainability and great music—traits that more and more festivals seem to be shying away from these days. Festival founder and director Zale Schoenborn, the Pendarvis family, and hundreds of volunteers put their hearts (and time) into making Pickathon a unique experience for families and individuals wanting to enjoy more than just a few concerts in the woods and a weekend away from home.
As always, sustainability is the theme surrounding the aura that is Pickathon. Hundreds of bikes overflowed the racks located at the entrance to the grounds. Collective bike groups were organized for mass ride outs throughout the weekend while the festival provided a shuttle to carry your load of gear out to the grounds for you. Attendees looking to drive were encouraged to rideshare as the number of weekend parking passes were limited and sold out rather quickly. To help unload your overflowing car, a few volunteers even had pedal-powered carts to take your load up to the campgrounds.
Trash cans were few and far between as the festival is one of the only to try to do away with waste and single-use items. For the modest price of $6, you could purchase a reusable aluminum cup for all of your beverages for the weekend. As for dishware, you could either bring your own or purchase a $10 token that was traded for a plate or bowl at vendors, then traded back in for the token upon returning your wares to the cleaning station. At the end of the weekend, you could keep your plate or bowl, or simply donate it back to the farm for next year. It was quite inspiring to see everyone scraping their plates into compost bins and then handwashing their own dishes at the many provided wash stations.
Camping is primarily located in the hilly forest on the north edge of the property. Pendarvis Farm has worked hard to make sure that this special plot of land gets the care and restoration it deserves to retain its natural environment while still allowing for thousands of music-loving wanderers to setup shop and congregate with friends for a long weekend. Camping is first come, first served and pretty much “camp where you can,” which can get a little hectic due to the slanted and uneven terrain—but at the same time, it offered an interesting glimpse into the creativity of the zany group wanting the full festival experience. Dozens of volunteers draped hammocks from the trees for adults and children to lounge in at their leisure (although by 9am most of them had been overtaken by large groups of children). At night, the forest came alive with colorful lights and large, glowing orbs illuminating pathways, showcasing camps and adding a festive decor to an already enchanting backdrop.
With five different stages, there was never a moment of silence or dullness. This year, Schoenborn curated an incredible lineup of well-known acts including a recently reunited Nickel Creek, new breakout stars Warpaint and Mac DeMarco, the chart topping War on Drugs, local favorites Unknown Mortal Orchestra, and numerous other rising bluegrass, indie rock and folk bands. Considering how incredible this festival is and how stacked the lineup was, it's hard to capture the ambiance of it all, but please enjoy what we consider some of the highlights of the weekend.
As the first of three sweltering days of heat began to set in, it became apparent early on that energy was going to need to be wisely conserved to make it through the whole weekend. Fortunately for both the bands and crowds, Pickathon offered a side-by-side double main stage setup allowing bands to alternate time slots with minimal delay in between sets and minimal nomading from the audience. Both were shaded by staggered tension-fabric sails, which were over-joyously welcomed by anyone enjoying the music, waiting in line for beer, or tasting the many delectable food vendors. The well-known (and breathtaking) Woods stage, located in the surrounding forested campground, also offered a wonderful reprieve from the heat of the sun as well as an alluring, picturesque setup. Without these beautiful and quite functional pieces of equipment, it could have been a potentially uncomfortable weekend.
As previously mentioned, Pickathon is a family-friendly music festival and caters to the needs and wants of both adults and their children. The kids tent offered plenty of activities to keep youngsters entertained including talent shows, open mics, clown performances, hula hoop lessons and more. Numerous parents and random concertgoers pitched in to create an environment that didn’t feel like an unsupervised Chuck E. Cheese’s. There was never any overcrowding (except maybe at the Galaxy Barn) or disrespectful vibes. Individual space was respected but closeness was encouraged. Everyone pitching in to wash dishes, pick up trash, join in jamborees, and mingle about was quite a welcome sight to the average festival-goer's eyes. It really made for a joyous atmosphere.
For those that earned early entrance the festival grounds on Thursday due to volunteering or purchasing a pass, they were treated to a few extras shows. Ural Thomas & The Pain, one of Portland’s current breakout bands, seemed to be the highlight of the night. Upon entering the grounds Friday, murmurs of how much fun their show was and how excited everyone was for his evening performance spread throughout the campground. As the sun began to hide behind the tree line, the masses came out ready to dance. Backed by two gorgeous singers and an array of brass instruments, the soulful Thomas crooned through his soul- and R&B-laden sound with poise and grace. He lived up to the hype and prepped the crowd for an evening that would make quite a favorable impression on everyone. Rocking his song “Pain Is the Name of Your Game,” he had the crowd mimicking his every word while a funky rendition of “Can You Dig It” had people adding a layer of sweat to an already grimy coating of perspiration and dust. Ural Thomas and his band did a great job of commandeering hearts and it’s easy to see why he is blowing up around Portland.
Gregory Alan Isakov
While the Woods stage seemed to be a bit overcrowded for a Friday afternoon show due to the excessive heat, Gregory Alan Isakov showed that he warranted the attention by bringing his stomping folk to life on the small yet intimately decorated platform. His stand-up bass echoed deep into the woods while his soft back country voice rang true up the hillside and into the campgrounds. His songs told the stories of travel, love and searching for life’s little pleasures, and it couldn’t have been more fitting for the setting he was in. The Woods stage brought out the best in his sound and he brought out the natural vibe of the small amphitheater.
With catchy tunes, smooth rhythms and animated movements, the SoCal rockers tore into multiple danceable tunes off their third album, Born With Stripes, and a few from their recently released album, Ride the Black Wave. Walkways and dirt paths immediately filled with flailing arms, stomping feet and shouts of “Who are these guys?” With shows on both Thursday and Friday, it was an excellent opportunity for an unassuming crowd to become acquainted with new music and for the musicians to haul in a few new supporters.
Unarguably, the most anticipated and most jaw-dropping performance belonged to Philadelphia rockers The War on Drugs. After releasing an absolutely astounding album, Lost in the Dream, earlier this year, Adam Granduciel and his band have been mercilessly touring and captivating audiences from every corner of the world with his guitar-driven rock. As darkness fell upon the Woods stage on Friday night and shadows danced on the trees, the anticipation mounted with each pluck of his guitar as he soundchecked. The once pleasant flow of air that made its way through the gaps of bodies became choked off and, for a moment, everyone felt like canned sardines. Granduciel’s jovial banter with the crowd eased any tension that may have been mounting from the lack of space. Once the show began, the audience was hit with a sonic kaleidoscope of sound ushering wave after wave of suffocating distortion and guitar bliss that pulsed through each and every mind, body and soul within those woods. Tearing through mostly new songs such as “An Ocean in Between the Waves” and “Lost in the Dream,” it became difficult to sort reality from the dreamlike world the branch-laden domed structure presented. As the baritone sax dug deep into your psyche, layer upon layer of sound was applied with a steady hand from these extremely talented artists. Radio hit “Red Eyes” commenced and sent the crowd into a frenzy of head whipping and fist pumping, but the true standout of the night was the eerily composed and daunting version of “Under Pressure.” The piano-driven ballad took on new spacial dimensions when the band went on an extended jam of ambiance. It became a full-blown musical experience and really defined and captivated what is truly magical about a late-night set on the dreamlike Woods stage.
On Saturday, Granduciel and co. tore through a similar set list while absolutely packing the insanely hot Galaxy Barn. With a line extending far past the entry, it became difficult at times to breathe—not from these talented musicians but from actual lack of oxygen. Everyone had heard about Friday's incredible show and needed to hear for themselves. The only letdown came when you realized you couldn’t bear to be in the blistering thick of it all and had to settle for the Hard Rock Cafe-like setup at the outside bar. Even with dozens of monitors relaying a live feed and speakers offering sound, it was a far cry from the fiery beauty that was burning down the inside of the barn.
The Galaxy Barn may have offered a roof over your head from the scorching sun, but the nearly unbearable heat on the inside made for the most oven-like experience you could think of. It didn’t stop the masses from cramming themselves deep into the chaotic pit that was Diarrhea Planet on Friday night. The band boasts a powerhouse of four guitarists that shred with more fervor than a volcanic eruption. For about an hour, the barn may have actually registered on the Richter scale. While punk rock may not truly define Pickathon’s folky attitude, it was a most welcome ending to shake out an incredible first day of music, sweat, grime and alcohol. The raucousness became the talk of Saturday as everyone wanted to know if you've had the chance to see the craziness that ensued and if you would see what they would do for their afternoon set on the Woods stage.
And on Saturday, Diarrhea Planet did not disappoint. The band must have heard the murmurs because all hell broke loose about 30 minutes into their second set as mosh pits kicked up dust and sent bodies tripping over the hay bales used as seats. Many of them just completely disintegrated into shards of straw that were promptly thrown into the air. One of the guitarists climbed onto the the front speaker and began jamming so hard he nearly toppled the whole thing over. Another began crowd surfing on his back while still shredding his guitar. As the crowd ate up every note and tossed the rocker around, the first guitarist joined the crowd-surfing and was carried by a multitude of hands and arms over to the middle of the audience where the two punk rockers were sent twisting and turning above the over-joyous audience. It definitely wasn’t what the designers of the Woods stage had in mind, but it was definitely what the crowd wanted and deserved.
One of the other most anticipated acts on this year's bill was the recently reunited, multiple award-winning and four-time Grammy-nominated bluegrass band Nickel Creek. After disbanding for about seven years, it was a welcome bit of news to hear that they would be reforming and going on a small tour across the US. What wasn’t expected was for a smaller festival such as Pickathon to land such a big name act. Providing the anxious crowds with both an intimate set on the Woods stage and a closing set on the Mountain View stage, Nickel Creek took listeners on numerous journeys telling tales of love, happiness, sorrow and more love with barely a need for vocals. Their instrumentation was pitch-perfect and left the crowd awestruck at times. When Sara Watkins' beautiful voice rang out you could see tears in some people’s eyes while others couldn’t control their jig-like movements to Chris Thile’s extraordinary mandolin playing. Their weaving of intricate melodies and bass-thumping goodness left a long-standing impression of what they are truly capable of and why we missed them so much.
Operators is the newly formed band comprised of Dan Boeckner, the former lead singer of Wolf Parade, Handsome Furs and Divine Fits, his friend and former previous bandmate Sam Brown and Devojka. An early Saturday evening time slot gave them an excellent opportunity to test out their new electro-synth jams on a crowd that was itching to dance. Beats pumped from analog synths, sampling pads and an array of drum triggers. The catchy hooks sent people into an uproar and had all ages dancing frantically. You could truly see the joy upon Boeckner’s face with each new song they performed, casting all doubts about a band that most had previously heard little about.
Arriving straight from a set at Chicago’s Lollapalooza, the dazzling ladies of Warpaint took to Saturday’s Mountain View stage on little to no sleep but with a determination to prove insomnia deserves a soundtrack. Drummer Stella Mozgawa pounded out rhythmic beats while bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg blanketed everyone with a velvet complexity of boomy notes. The vocals of Emily Kokal and Theresa Wayman drew fans in close and wrapped them in a dark yet delicate grip. It was quickly apparent how tight these ladies were when it came to performing live.
On Sunday, they were given the heavy task of closing out the Woods stage. With a full night's rest, an overflowing audience and an eerie lighting setup, Warpaint was fully prepared to tackle the artistic milieu of Pickathon’s forested-framed stage. Their mellowed-out, synchronized voices carried through the trees and warped listeners into a mystical land of Black Forest fairy tales. At times they seemed to know and feel each other so well it was difficult to tell if their act was rehearsed or impeccably improvised. The dark and twisted set sucked you into their black hole of murkiness leaving a solemn impression of a very warm weekend coming to a sweltery close.
From his gap-toothed smile to his antics on stage, everything about Mac DeMarco is charming. It seemed only fitting to bring that charisma to Pickathon’s most charming stage in the Woods. With handfuls of other artists watching from backstage, DeMarco lit up the forest with his goofy low-fi rock on Saturday evening. Launching song after song from his celebrated sophomore album, Salad Days, he dispelled any ties to his slacker look and played a tight set that even included a cover of Coldplay’s 2000 hit “Yellow.”
On Sunday, he treated the late-night crowd to a similar set list, but this time showed off his great personality by cracking jokes with various audience members and even buying pizza for them. His punchy lyrics, laid-back vibe and good-hearted nature make him a perfect contender for repeat performances at future Pickathons.
Hip-hop is not usually very prevalent at Pickathon, but it is always a welcome genre to mix up the day. As People Under The Stairs frontmen Christopher Portugal (Thes One) and Michael Turner (Double K) joked with the crowd, you could tell it wasn’t what they were used to either. At times they seemed a bit shy about having the crowd spout chants about beer and weed due to the numerous children that made their way to the front row, but like true performers, they overcame their uncomfortableness and threw down hard-core beats that sent dust upwards from the ground. The kids loved it as much as the adults making it a good chance you will start to see more hip-hop mixed into this festival's already diverse lineup.
The Brooklyn trio was granted only one time slot this year but they made the most of it by rocking the Woods stage to near destruction. Singer and guitarist Austin Brown howled out lyric after lyric on their opening song “Ducking and Dodging” while lead guitarist Andrew Savage tore into an all-out shred fest blending their sound between post-punk revival and garage rock. It took about three songs but when the mosh pit started, it didn’t stop. With three days-worth of built up dirt and grime covering the bodies of sweaty youngsters, the pit became a petri dish of frantic filth. With all the hype surrounding their performance, it was a wonder that there were any hay bales left after the show for people to sit on for following band, Blind Pilot. If there was one contender against Diarrhea Planet for most surly band with the craziest crowd, Parquet Courts was up for the challenge. One can only hope their mischievous behavior will be welcomed back for future gatherings.