What more can be said about Pickathon that has not already been hashed out and homogenized, plagiarized and embellished, bandied about and ballyhooed? As it turns out year in and year out, the answer is defiantly: quite a lot. You'd be hard-pressed to find as revered a summer weekend festival as Pickathon not just in Oregon, but in the entire country.
A quick deluge of noteworthy factoids:
▶ Pickathon is one of the leaders in sustainability amongst music and art festivals, having done away with single-use dishes, bottles, plates, utensils and cups in favor of a dishwashing/share program;
▶ Water is totally free;
▶ The capacity tops out at 5,000 attendees every year. No more, no less, and that means limited lines for food and drink, restrooms, and—maybe most importantly—a less-packed concert-going experience for everyone involved.
Performers and attendees alike routinely note Pickathon as being the best festival they have ever been to, and that—yes—it is something one needs to experience before one passes uneducated judgments.
Living in Portland, artist pilgrimages to Pendarvis Farm are all but requisite for a well-rounded understanding of the larger cultural landscape of the city's artistic community. And while performing inside a barn, or on a stage shaded by weaving branches in the woods might not seem to run in perfect tandem with Portland's richly diverse cross-section of musicians, the hard work behind it, and likewise the energy of those involved to make it happen for artists of all stripes is decidedly very local.
Besides, Portland will be well-represented at this year's festival. Portland-based musical artists this year include punkers The Woolen Men, R&B supastars Chanti Darling, psych-freaks Moon Duo, soul-folksters Joseph, rising diva Blossom and her EYRST labelmate rapper Myke Bogan.
Representing Portland's burgeoning hip-hop scene, Bogan has never attended Pickathon before. Like a lot of local artists, he's heard only good things about the festival and tells Vortex that he can't wait for his performances this year.
“I look forward to be representing Portland hip-hop,” Bogan says. “I feel Portland flies under the radar and doesn’t get the recognition it deserves, so I want to go harder than I ever have and really bring some energy to make a lasting impression.”
Moon Duo are also making their first appearance at Pickathon in 2016.
“There is definitely a stronger sense of connection because we live in Portland,” vocalist Sanae Yamada says. “It feels great to be part of such a beloved local tradition.”
For others, the festival is simply a great opportunity to play for a different audience than they might normally. The Woolen Men, for example, have been staunch opponents to the leveraging of Portland's cultural pulse against a new urban facelift, an epidemic of closed venues and an influx of transplants pushing condos all over Portland. This was evidenced most directly on their latest LP, Temporary Monument.
“I guess the idea of representing Portland never really crossed our minds,” explains multi-instrumentalist Raf Spielman. “Are we a representative Portland band? I'm not sure that we are, but a lot of the names on the lineup are new to me so I'm hoping for some surprises.”
Taking the stage at most festivals nowadays means that while you're performing for the folks standing right in front of you, there's likely a entire fleet of video cameras zooming in on your every move for live stream broadcasts, live radio broadcasts, etc. Pickathon is no different, and its staggering popularity has been given wings by people from all over the world wanting to be part of the thing, even if they're not at Pendarvis Farm.
“The live broadcast is a super cool feature,” Bogan says. “It’s something I’ve never had at a show so I think that it’s dope as hell that some 16-year-old kid could be in his basement watching me from Alaska or anywhere in the world. Every opportunity to touch more people with my music I take very seriously.”
Spielman concurs with the video element being a pretty important part of not just Pickathon, but every live performance.
“I spend a lot of time scouring YouTube for live footage of my favorite bands from the past,” Spielman says. “You get to see so many details in a video that don't get recorded by history otherwise, be it the way the audience reacts, to the equipment the band were using, to the kind of stage presence they have.”
“The internet has had a huge impact on the music world, for good and ill,” Yamada explains, “but I think the best part of that impact, for bands and listeners alike, is the kind of increased access to non-mainstream music that this type of offering provides. It helps people find each other.”
As a template for how other festivals ought to strive toward, Yamada praises the blueprint by which Pickathon has amassed its notoriety.
“We’ve been lucky enough to play a number of festivals over the years, and my best, most vivid memories are always of the ones that have a sense of purpose, a point of view, and a still-intimate size limit,” Yamada says. “That is what gives people the kind of experience that makes them feel part of something. I would so much rather be at a gathering than some giant, impersonal production.”
There are new additions outside of just musicians to Pickathon this year to highlight, too: The local angle is spotlighted each year by the fest, which aside from including some of the region's best food (Boke Bowl, Bunk Sandwiches, Al Forno pizza, Hoda's), beer (Gilgamesh, Base Camp, Fort George) and cider breweries (Cascadia, Anthem, Swift), Pickathon always includes kid favorites like Circus Cascadia. Under The Big Top, children can expect interactive family circus workshops, clowns and circus performances.
The all-ages factor is important because the newest stage conjured up for this year's Pickathon is the Wild Horse Stage, a setup for music and workshops hosted by Kids at Pickathon leaders Mr. Ben and Red Yarn. The stage will play host to performances by locals Sharp Marshmallows (featuring Matt Sheehy and Sarah Fennell of Lost Lander) and It's a Girl! (featuring the venerable Laura Gibson and Adam Shearer of Alialujah Choir).
Comedy performances will also make their Pickathon debut with a Saturday late-night set in the Lucky Barn by Portland standups like Amy Miller, Bri Pruett, Caitlin Weierhauser and many more.
The Spoken Live installment will showcase the work of Portland writers, performance artists and poets. Curated by Portland drummer/musician Neal Morgan, Spoken Live brings six artists on stage for six minutes, and will feature writer Shayla Lawson, poetry slam champ Anis Mojgani and poet John Niekrasz, among others.
And of course, it must be noted that Pickathon 2016 will also welcome the likes of Jeff Tweedy, Wolf Parade, Beach House, Mac Demarco, Yo La Tengo, Thee Oh Sees, Ty Segall, Black Mountain, Alvvays and many, many other outrageously talented artists from around the world. (Hint: If you don't make time to see CW Stoneking's sets, you will find your entire life slightly less great.) But the marrow of Pickathon is, and always has been, in its Portland roots.
Don't you forget it. See you on the farm!