Pickathon 2016 Recap

Pickathon, Portland’s own homegrown festival which celebrated its 18th year out on Pendarvis Farm August 5th-7th, is something of an anomaly in the festival world of today....
Pickathon 2016 Recap

Pickathon 2016 Recap

Pickathon – A Shift in US Music Festival Paradigms


Pickathon, Portland’s own homegrown festival which celebrated its 18th year out on Pendarvis Farm August 5th-7th, is something of an anomaly in the festival world of today.

Happy Valley

In the midst of all of the Coachella’s and Lollapalooza’s (QRO recap), heavily corporatized events that cram hundreds of thousands of people together for a weekend of mass-consumption of the biggest names in the industry, Pickathon continues to reveal year after year that less is, more often than not, so much more.


local ice cream

Located just 15 miles from downtown Portland in Happy Valley, Oregon, Pickathon makes a strong push for a communal, progressive culture. Eschewing big corporate branding for local business representation, one would be hard pressed to find a shitty Bud Light sold for $10 in a Solo cup so common in most big-name festivals. They’ve practically done away with large waste all together. Since 2010, Pickathon has eliminated all corporate vinyl banners and plastic containers; instead selling useful metal souvenir cups for $5, Pickathon plates and wooden sporks to be used all weekend to purchase local food, craft beers, ciders, and cocktails for very reasonable prices. Plus, free, chilled, filtered, cold water is readily available with multiple water stations throughout the grounds.

resuable cup

With the Pacific Northwest foodie culture being another huge part of Pickathon, local, healthy sustainable food is available everywhere and sold only on reusable plates. Also, as artists play two sets and many camp on the grounds, it’s not an uncommon sight to see one of over 60 artists flitting about the 80 acres of festival grounds enjoying their experience (or their ice-cream) just as much as the next person.

Ty Segall hanging around

Capped at around 3,500 total tickets, Pickathon feels a bit like a summer camp where faces seen on Friday (or Thursday, if you so happened to get an early-entry pass) become familiar and friendly by Sunday. It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly it is that makes for such a warm and welcoming crowd, but the heavy presence of children certainly seems to help in curtailing the cynicism and aloofness that is increasingly endemic to the adult condition, reminding people to smile, loosen up, dance, and play. Over the course of the festival, one will encounter scores of kids staking out some trailside real estate between stages to melt hearts with music of their own or to sling various homemade wares.


The festival grounds further lend themselves to the magic of the place and the respect it asks. Whether one is walking mystical forest trails lit by colored LED lights back to camp, or staking out one of the six unique, hand-crafted stages, it’s not hard to appreciate and honor the space provided by the stewards of the Pendarvis Farm. Adding to the allure, both aesthetically and practically, is the so-called “Architecture of the Air”, a massive installation comprised of over 250,000 square feet of fabric (kites) tied up with over 10 miles of line produced and designed by the Portland-based company, GuildWorks. Serving as shade during the day under the Mountain stage, the majesty of the work truly reveals itself late at night when everything is all lit up.

Architecture of the Air

Of course, the sum of these parts would be nil if the music wasn’t there. Thankfully, Pickathon brings a consistently solid collection of eclectic artists across many different genres to elevate souls, tickle ear-holes, and move bodies. While the bigger names on the bill tend to get slotted later in the evening across one of the six stages, the curious ear will discover plenty of gems, many unheard before, by wandering around during the hotter parts of the day.




Promised Land Sound

And so it was this year. Immediately upon walking in, one was greeted by the swirling psychedelic folk of Nashville based band, Promised Land Sound, drawing crowds into the rustic confines of the Galaxy Barn. While future barn sets would play the clown-car game of trying to fit more sweaty bodies than physically possible between its walls, afternoon sets like this maintained a comfortable fullness that (sometimes) allowed one to (kinda) move.

King Sunny Adé

Emerging once again into the high-noon sun with squinting eyes and making a short pilgrimage to the Mountain Stage found King Sunny Adé and his band of Nigerian cohorts beating out ecstatic polyrhythms on talking drums, the occasional guitar lick punctuating the groove. Perhaps it was the heat or possibly the lack of booze not-quite-yet lubricating people’s limbs and self-consciousness, but besides a few pockets of people moving, the crowd seemed relatively sedentary (and glaringly white) in comparison to the jubilating dance of King Sunny and his band. The King apparently took note of this and made a show of gathering some invisible juju with his hands, passing it off to his band-mates who would then throw it out into the crowds. Quite frankly, it seemed to work.


Adia Victoria

The first major highlight of the weekend came back at the Galaxy Barn, where the ghostly blues of Nashville based Adia Victoria sent shivers through many a spine. Dressed in all-white, Victoria and her band alternated between up-tempo rock ‘n’ rollers and restrained slow-burners, every song maintaining a certain confrontational intensity locked in by Victoria’s unwavering gaze, pained cries, and sultry sneers. On the penultimate piece, Victoria even went so far as to call from the crossroads the tortured spirit of the legendary Robert Johnson with a cover of “Me and the Devil Blues”.

Dan Deacon’s atypical set in the Lucky Barn provided an appreciated dose of lightness after such an emotionally stirring experience. Standing with rows of synthesizers, gadgets, and MacBook atop an opened grand piano, the electronic musician/composer/all-around weirdo performed in the middle of the room, chairs and bodies encircling him. Somehow, Deacon rigged the piano to be triggered by whatever MIDI witchcraft, effectively making it into a massive player piano. In between songs, as is the custom of Lucky Barn sets, an MC made idle conversation with Deacon, once again affirming Pickathon as a place where performers are revealed to be (gasp!) people too. For the second half of the set, the resident weirdo asked the three audience members sitting in front of the piano for their assistance in physically dampening the strings of the piano, effectively making a people-prepared player-piano. He then unleashed an improvised piece, not unlike the avant-garde compositions of John Cage, piano keys dancing under unseen fingers.

Black Mountain

Later in the evening at the Woods Stage, the Canadian psych rock band, Black Mountain, seemed to face a series of technical difficulties at their soundcheck. Most in the crowds didn’t seem to mind too much as it provided an excuse to lay back in the shade on one of the many hay-bales and hammocks arranged around the stage, intricately crafted from the past years fallen branches. Nearly an hour after they were supposed to start, the first staccato synth notes of “Mothers of the Sun” off their latest album IV rang out filling the eager ears of the awaiting crowds.

Wolf Parade

Abandoning the heavy Sabbath-sounds of Black Mountain to see the recently reunited Wolf Parade turned out to be a fine decision, as the band began banging out the cacophonous dirge of “You Are a Runner and I Am My Father’s Son” to an ecstatic crowd. Equal parts sweat and nostalgia charged the air as packs of 20- and 30- something year olds reveled in the dance-y debauchery provided by the four-piece band co-fronted by Spencer Krug on a stack of synths and Dan Boeckner on guitar.

Yo La Tengo

Back at the Woods Stage, one found reprieve in the soft sounds of an intimate acoustic Yo La Tengo set. Upon getting closer, conversations in the back dissipated to reveal an audience in a state of hushed reverie as the legendary indie icons quietly tread a set across their 30-year discography, mixing in a handful of covers such as The Cure’s “Friday I’m in Love” (from last year’s latest covers album, Stuff Like That ThereQRO review) and The Dream Syndicate’s “That’s What You Always Say”. Upon finishing their set, singer and guitarist Ira Kaplan wryly joked, “We’re gonna take a short 17 hour break.”

Ultimate Painting

For those who managed to get a little sleep (or who simply stayed up all night), Saturday began with a fantastic set in the Galaxy Barn by Palehound, a three-piece band led by 21-year-old guitarist Ellen Kempner. If the Stumptown Nitro brew hadn’t woken you up yet, Kempner and co made sure to do so, blazing through a set bursting with angular riffs reminiscent of Pavement and enough sardonic angst to match. Ultimate Painting’s afternoon set on the Mountain Stage was another early afternoon highlight, melodies and harmonies coiling around each other evoking the effortless noodlings of The Velvet Underground at their most laid back.


Seeking refuge from the sun at the Lucky Barn for a set by the lovely Julia Holter turned out to be much more than an excuse to avoid heatstroke. Bombastic yet subtle, transcendent but grounded, Holter and her band – Devin Hoff on upright bass, Corey Fogel on drums, and Deanna Maccabe providing violin and backing vocals – spun mercurial melodies that transfixed the lucky audience in attendance. After playing a cover of Barbara Lewis’ “Hello Stranger”, the resident MC opened the floor to the audience to ask whatever question they pleased. Asks the first person called: “Can you play the other cover you were just talking about?” Julia Holter replied with an emphatic yes in the form of Dionne Warwick’s “Don’t Make Me Over”.

Yo La Tengo

Returning to the Mountain Stage after their 17-hour hiatus, Yo La Tengo’s second set proved to be, as promised by Kaplan the night before, much heavier. Beginning with the psychedelic drone of “Ohm” off recent album Fade (QRO review) and closing with Painful’s “I Heard You Looking”, the band crashed and receded like roiling waves, Ira swept away in rapturous surrender to the God-Devil Abraxas within feedback ridden guitar.



Ty Segall

For those skilled in the art of festival pacing (or who are accustomed to burning the candle at both ends), Sunday night culminated in some of the weekend’s most memorable acts. In one last rallying cry, Ty Segall and his so-called [Emotional] Muggers took the stage for their second and final set. A Pickathon veteran over multiple consecutive years, Segall’s latest incarnation had him freed from his typical guitar-playing duties to exclusively play the role of frontman. Bringing out some of his most heavy-hitting songs and throwing in a few covers including The Doors’ “LA Women”, Segall rousted the crowd into a seething mass of pure, instinctual Id.

Moon Duo

Channeling a different sort of intensity at the Treeline Stage was the inappropriately named Moon Duo. Propelled by the driving krautrock rhythms of their trio-making drummer, guitarist Ripley Johnson and synthist Sanae Yamada layered heavy and blistering trance-inducing ecstasy across twilit faces. Moments later, Beach House’s set back at the Mountain Stage made for a different kind of trance. The beatific melancholy evoked by the swirling shoegaze of Alex Scully’s guitar and Victoria Legrand’s ethereal voice arousing a state of collective nostalgia for the fast-approaching end of what seemed to be a timeless weekend at Pendarvis farm.

Beach House


Mac DeMarco

Waking up Monday morning to a festival packing itself up and out, one would hear talk of the last epic sets from the likes of Mac DeMarco, Jeff Tweedy, Joseph, Thao & The Get Down Stay Down, Thee Oh Sees, and Yemen Blues. But in a weekend so engorged with amazing music and magical moments, the futility of talking about it all becomes readily apparent. So instead, we reluctantly gather our belongings and collected memories of the soaring kites of Pickathon dancing in the wind, another years souvenir cup placed on the shelf back home to remind us that next year will come soon enough.



words: Trent Hutchinson
photos: Veronica Rose



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