The dust has settled, the camping trails have been reclaimed by Pendarvis Farms' abundant biodiversity, and Pickathon 2023 is in the rearview mirror. Sure, you may still be reeling emotionally, creaking physically, or attempting to shake the visions of the forest's lingering magic from your eyeballs, but if you've been to Pickathon before, the reacclimatization back to normal life is always in slow-mo.
The reimagining of the festival's grounds and the general flow of immersive neighborhood stages truly came into its stride for the 2023 edition, with perfect weather, a dizzying array of music and a sense that – though rumors of this potentially being the final hoedown at Pendarvis Farm in Happy Valley hung around with the morning cloud coverage – there is nowhere on Earth you would rather have been. Be it through hardcore (Gel), Zam-rock (the triumphant return of W.I.T.C.H.), discodelic (Say She She) or revival soul (The Sinseers), Pickathon's playlist-come-to-life was only one contingent of its annual appeal.
Pickathon co-founder Zale Schoenborn agrees.
"That was the best Pickathon ever!" said Schoenborn. "Our reimagining of Pickathon fully came together and Pendarvis Farm became a total immersive experience that was much bigger than the sum of its parts. Festivals like Pickathon are rare in the world and to see so many people joined together in harmony – dancing, singing, wandering, rebuilding, exploring was truly a marvelous thing.”
Curating a list of the best performances at such a wonderful place can be anxiety-inducing, but what follows are some highlights from Pickathon 2023:
Say She She
The self-described "discodelic" seven-piece from Brooklyn stormed their sets at this year's festival. Lead by vocalists Piya Malik, Sabrina Mileo Cunningham and Nya Gazelle Brown, the group blurred the lines between soul, R&B and yes, disco, with instantly commanding presences in frilly, semi-matching outfits. The band was white-hot and in the pocket, employing a throwback to '70s Motown with ample smidges of half-lidded chill and synchronized dance steps that perfectly harmonized the symbiosis of genre and setting. The band looked angelic amidst the confines of the lurching fir trees beyond the crowd on both the Paddock stage and the Cherry Hill stage.
An early favorite from the curated Spotify playlist of Pickathon 2023 artists for their tune "Bomba Atomica," Bogota's Meridian Brothers emerged as a bonafide tour de force from the outset of their time on stage at Pendarvis. Roiling in cumbia-inflected rhythms, a multi-instrumental onslaught and an infectious salsa-rock renaissance, Meridian Brothers were a readymade dance party. With socially conscious subject matter and more than their fair share of trippy accoutrement, Meridian Brothers are a band everyone should see at least once.
Portland krautrock loyalists Møtrik donned matching white coveralls during their performances over the weekend. That aesthetic uniformity played a complementary role to the intensity of their guitar/pulsating beat/synth jams, and the band's fog-machine haze literally summoned the smoke alarm to go off inside the Galaxy Barn Thursday night. I confirmed the following day from bassist/vocalist Erik Golts that this was not the first time that had happened. Steeped in the aural schematic of first-wave German avant garde crews like Neu!, Kraftwerk and Can, Møtrik dusts off the endurance of krautrock's repetition with what appears a sincere affinity for the spectacle and fun of the music they make. Their third album, MØØN: The Cosmic Electrics of Møtrik, is a stone-cold ripper of a record that you should buy immediately, along with a great pair of headphones.
There was little mistaking the punishment our ears were in for once Gel took the stage during their sets at the Galaxy Barn and the Grove stage. The New Jersey hardcore five-piece was nonstop energy from the moment the first slice of feedback ushered in a demolition ball of sound. Pickathon's heavy music quotient is still fledgling, but when they include exciting young bands like this, you're pretty much guaranteed to see someone crowdsurfing. Gel's explosive riffs and classic hardcore breakdowns punctuated the loudest, sweatiest shows of the fest this year.
Grammy-award winner Madison Cunningham parlayed dizzying menageries of sound during her sets at Pickathon this year. The singer-songwriter transcended the parameters through which that label might normally be attributed, deftly pushing jazz-esque progressions through indie-folk prisms, and electrifying the fest faithful.
The musical vehicle for songwriter Karly Hartzman, Wednesday were the moody rock salve for the shoegaze set. Combining elements of country and a heavy dose of '90s alt-rock, the Asheville, North Carolina crew were the perfect bridge for longtime festival attendees and the gothier realms of the youth rock movement.