By MEGHAN KEARNEY // In its 18th year, the Pickathon music festival is still as magical as a childhood dream
Pickathon, a music festival just a short drive outside of Portland, OR, is unquestionably one of the most magical places in the world. In the right spot, peering over the trees and various suspended tapestries lining the festival grounds, you can still catch a glimpse of the neighboring Happy Valley homes, and the peak of Mt. Hood. But it’s no struggle getting lost in the alternate universe snuggled within Pendarvis Farm.
The festival weekend started on Thursday for early entry pass holders, and the most dedicated of Pickathoners hauled gear into the woods, slowly decorating their camp sites with lanterns and artwork, marking down which woodsy road would lead them home to their tents after dark, or perhaps, the following morning. Trampling down Logging Road, the main thoroughfare, fest-goers of all ages emptied out of the woods to the center of Pickathon where dozens of local vendors and two stages were well underway with music, dancing, and the best of spirits.
Thursday’s stand-out set was Kevin Morby, with Dylan-esque vocals and a slight sadness easily translated to tranquility in the getaway of Picakthon’s first evening. In the Galaxy Barn late that night the strikingly entertaining entourage of Chanti Darling prepped the fest for the weekend with dance-pop beats and sassy dancers to accentuate Chanticleer Trü’s poignant charm.
By Friday, the festival grounds were full, children with instruments in hand were busking or selling camp-made crafts along the trails, highlighting the fests generational inclusion, more often a rarity in the festival circuit.
Back at the main, Mt. Hood stage, Wolf Parade, previously on long-time hiatus uninhibitedly tore through their set to an enthralled, packed crowd. “Thanks for being a band again!” a slightly intoxicated fan gleefully shouted during a moment of silence before the band closed out their explosive, nearly two-hour set.
The night was just getting started. Behind the main stage a tinier, Starlight Stage hosted Futurebirds, wearing matching white tie-dyed garb that was enough alone to pull in a crowd, with serene folk and hints of surf-rock to fully complete their draw.
Yo La Tengo played next at the Woods Stage where the softest of acoustic sets contrasted their full-electric set that took place the following night. This stage, a tiny platform packed deep within a forested bowl and intricately lined branches was more the setting of a fairy tale than a stage. The kind of fictitious tree-house world you could only imagine as a child, but where all your favorite bands were playing. Friends and couples and families snuggled up in blankets, quietly tucked onto endless rows of hay bales as the Jersey trio crooned through their campfire sing-a-long.
Friday night ended in a sweat and bruise fueled stupor orchestrated by none other than Ty Segall & the Muggers. A full Galaxy Barn was a wall-to-wall mosh pit, the air a sauna. Bodies flew up and over outstretched arms as Ty and the Muggers powered through a set, the hardest bangers of his discog, with Ty in every sense a part of the audience, physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Dan Deacon. Photo by DREW BANDY //
After a long full day and night of music, mosh-pits, and hikes home from the late night Pump House party, Saturday morning saw a quiet start in the woods. A special live on-air broadcast with KBOO radio opened the morning softly with a beautiful mini-set from Nashville duo 10 String Symphony. The much calmer Galaxy Barn offered dim, intimate space for dueling fiddles, banjo, and some of the most beautiful harmonies to ever wake to as crowds huddled, coffee and fresh-pressed juices in hand.
By the afternoon, a line was wrapped around the Lucky Barn for the wondrous Julia Holter. Inside, audiences lolled, seated throughout the cool barn for a set led by Holter’s stunning vocals, unclassifiably fixed between lounge and mysteriously atmospheric.
A perfect hat trick took place next back at the Woods Stage with consecutive sets from Alvvays, Thee Oh Sees, and Wolf Parade. An unparalleled and perfect three-combo woods set was a front running memory of the weekend. Canadian indie poppers Alvvays, led by the wistful vocals of lead Molly Rankin, kicked off a nighttime of jubilant madness, which was followed-by an Earth shattering blend of psych-punk from Thee Oh Sees, seeking to outdo Ty Segall’s performance from the night before. The rowdiest and raunchiest crowd of the weekend yet was as energetic and eccentric as John Dwyer who finds himself a Pickathon hero. Energy still radiating throughout the trees, Wolf Parade powered through their second and final set of the weekend, a set pair that was above and beyond enough to cover their six year absence.
As the sun went down and the late night party started, crowds filled the Galaxy barn to the brim for Dan Deacon. Outside the barn, beer gardens with multiple viewing screens saw equally-sized crowds. Festival founder, Zale Schoenborn was right there watching. An onlooker nearby shouted “ZALE!” and he gave a joyful wave, as if greeting an old friend. And as Dan Deacon began directing audiences to interpretive dances, each body in and out of the barn followed suit.
Crowd view at Pickathon. Photo by DREW BANDY //
The last day of Pickathon saw tired worn out bodies nonetheless enthused for a final day on the farm. The perfect late afternoon set from Blossom packed the Galaxy Barn as adoring fans unwound to her smooth R&B soul ballads. A break from the heat and Blossom’s magnetism was the perfect, calming intermission needed before the Dan Deacon set next at the Woods Stage.
The third chance to see the Baltimore electronic puppet master brought nearly all of Pickathon to the woods to lose their minds to more interpretive dancing. Deacon, directing the crowd to conga line through paths of hay bales, that weren’t quite paths at all, transformed this woodsy wonderland into an anarchist dance pit. In the crowd, four men dressed in penguin onesies were invited on stage to make the set just a little more eccentric. “I didn’t anticipate there being four penguins here,” Deacon joked before kicking off a dance battle to “Feel the Lighting.”
As the fest wound down, exhausted bodies laid blankets down at the main stages for the final sets of the weekend. Beach House, playing their only set of the weekend on this night beneath glowing tapestries with resonance enough to turn the farm into a celestial cuddle puddle of dream-pop tear jerking. After finishing their set with an explosive version of “Sparks” full of drums that nearly blew those hanging, glowing tapestries into oblivion, crowds scooted back to the Starlight Stage for sisters, and Portland’s own, Joseph. In between sarcastic banter from vocalist Natalie and stories of a particularly special man named Christopher, the three sisters harmonized with the kind perfection that could only be achieved by a lifetime under the same roof.
Photo by DREW BANDY //
While the 18th year of Pickathon has come and gone, an unyielding trace of Pendarvis Farm is still floating around Portland and most certainly in pockets around the country for those who made the journey. Better than a summer camp, encumbered with infinite youthful magic, the particularly exceptional Pickathon once again upheld its great name. We can’t wait to return for year nineteen.