Pickathon 2016

Pickathon 2016

photo credit: Pickathon 2016 | Mt. Hood Stage from above l by Liz Devine

It's almost astounding that the sylvan paradise of Pendarvis Farm, located in rural Happy Valley, OR., is less than 15 minutes from Downtown Portland. It's like it has a cloak of invisibility around it, protecting it from the outside world. It's this circle of protection that has allowed Pickathon to flourish into its 18th incarnation, the largest yet, with musicians from all over the world and thousands of music fans from all walks of life.

This year, Pickathon had the most eclectic lineup than ever before, flourishing far from the festival's traditional music roots. There was hardly a fiddle or banjo in sight. Instead it favored an impressive array of guitar-centric indie rock, some experimental electronica, several African musicians, and a surprising amount of punk, metal and progressive. Over 60 bands played over the span of three days at Pickathon 2016 from August 5 - 7.

Despite the eclectic lineup, the traditional Americana of Dublin's I Draw Slow coasted over the forest canopy as I set up camp off of the Fern Trail. Once my camp was set and my body nourished, I set out to explore the evening in earnest.

First up was the weird, bendy plastic pop of Mac DeMarco with a unique blend of surreal humor, a killer style, a kind of artful pop music. Seeing him live, DeMarco's 2014 breakout opus Salad Days made a lot more sense. This is real music, grown from a real scene, with real interactions among real people.

Wolf Parade closed out the Mountain Stage on Friday with their quirky-but-heavy blend of garage and indie. Singer Spencer Krug of the Indie folk underground sensation Frog Eyes, regaled the audience with his acerbic witticisms and reedy vocals. It was a welcome return from Wolf Parade, who've been on indefinite hiatus since 2011.

Yo La Tengo practically created indie rock, as the linchpins of Indie Major Matador Records over the span of 30 years. They are a complicated band, capable of contradictions, straddling a similar range from whisper quiet sad romantic balladeering to skull splitting atonal noise. Yo La Tengo, like most bands at Pickathon, played twice over the weekend, including a hushed, gentle acoustic set at the Woods Stage, to close out Friday night.  

At this time, everyone in the crowd looked their absolute loveliest, in the turquoise light bathing the emerald forest. Everybody was in love for a moment, with the music, the moment, with each other. It was one of those moments you can't find anywhere else, and a solid reminder why you must never pass on Pickathon if you're anywhere in the vicinity.

I was pretty worn out by this point, but wandered over to the beer garden outside of the above-capacity Galaxy Barn, to listen to Ty Segall And The Muggers tear through a set of sweat-soaked punk and metal. Ty played a set of originals, along with some classic rock covers revved up and amplified to 11. You've never heard "L. A. Woman" by The Doors sound so apocalyptic, or "House Of The Rising Sun" sound so sinful.  

A stripped-down acoustic set from Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, wound down the Mountain Stage on Saturday Night, was a highlight of the weekend. Tweedy explored not only his Wilco back catalog, but also Uncle Tupelo, and even his psychedelic outfit, Loose Fur. It was a rare treat to hear him with only an acoustic guitar, filling the space between songs with witty banter and personal stories.

Hurray For The Riff Raff at the Woods Stage was another great example of what's great, but also confusing, about modern folk. They started out as a New Orleans Street Orchestra, comprised of a bunch of itinerant street punks and modern day gypsies. Lead woman Alynda Lee Seggara has since incorporated a wide slew of traditional American musics, from honky tonk to country, all delivered with a punk intensity and a queer sensitivity. Nowhere could this be better heard than on "The Body Electric", a hair raising epic about the perils of being a woman of color in the Deep South.

It might seem like hyperbole to suggest that a small, sustainable music festival could make a lasting cultural impact, but it can, and it does. Pickathon is pretty much sustainable at this point. With an innovative dish return system there was an absence of disposable cups of any kind. The solar powered infrastructure fueled the beautiful fairy lights that dot the maze like trails through the night. That, in conjunction with inclusive, wide-ranging curation and scheduling, gives voice to a wide array of the formerly disenfranchised.

It is a testament that I didn't witness one jerk in the entire four days. I never saw a woman (or man, for that matter) get treated inappropriately or made to feel unsafe. I didn't see any pretension or musical judgement. It's an environment that's safe for children, as evidenced by the scores of families staking out temporary homes at Pendarvis Farm. There truly is something for everybody at Pickathon.

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