Festivals still exist in 2016 where you can simply show up, set up shop, and watch great shows consistently over an entire weekend! Enter Pickathon, hidden among the winding, back-country roads of Happy Valley, and just about half an hour from downtown Portland, Oregon. Pickathon held its 18th annual event for a crowd of pseudo-hippies in search of a low-key alternative to the commercialized chaos that is “festival season”. Whether your fancy is for indie music, folk, country, hip-hop, metal, and everything in between.
Pickathon has so much to offer in terms of a balanced musical diet.
Not only that, but the eco-friendly practices of bike-friendly shuttles and parking, along with distribution and service of food and beverage make for a much better standard of weekend living. Campers are treated to tent-pitching quarters up in the hills, ice cream carts are a necessity and not some “oasis in the desert” type commodity (as it should be), and families and friend groups alike are welcomed to Pendarvis Farm’s annual event of camaraderie and musical discovery. So sit back, slap on your best kilt, and enjoy B.G.M.’s recap of a wonderful weekend out among the Northwest folk young and old.
Myke Bogan – Starlight Stage
Upon first exploring the Mt. Hood stage premises, a beer in hand and an excited heart was all it took to get me dancing to Portland emcee, Myke Bogan. This set at the small, yet intimate Starlight Stage was the first and only performance I saw late Thursday evening with partner in crime Blossom and friends. She and the girls started out watching just like everyone else, but eventually performed along with Bogan. They even played two sets of their own later in the week, so it made for a nice preface to what was a great weekend.
King Sunny Ade – Mountain Stage
Overlooking scenic Mt. Hood (appropriately named), King Sunny Ade and his crew of Nigerian comrades made a joyful noise, performing a rich ensemble of African music, that was sure to get anyone to dance. Being a pioneer in the realm of World music, it was only fitting that the band’s booming presence and breakneck drumming set off the main stage right in the heat of the day.
Moon Duo – Galaxy Barn
My first exposure to the blazing (figurative and literal) Galaxy Barn on the Pickathon campus’ South side was to see Moon Duo, who coincidentally had more than two people on stage as the name may suggest. The set itself was amazing and full of energy, and adding to the mix of the barn setting, walls were laden with country memorabilia and atmosphere. Better yet, this was mine and other backstage boys and girls’ opportunities to charge phones, grab a beer, or just chat with groups and artists behind the stage in between and after performances. This was a perfect atmosphere to not only shoot the breeze with great artistic minds, but also gain insight into the creative process, and check in with their overall experience at Pickathon!
Mac Demarco – Mountain Stage
Lovable and charming as always, Mac presented the Mountain Stage crowd with a dinner time set of classic songs spanning his career. I had already seen Mac and the band at the Crystal Ballroom in Portland a year or so ago, and although his bassist was a different person, the chemistry between the band was still apparent. Combine that with Mac Demarco’s quick wit and goofy stage banter with his lead guitarist, and throw in a 10 minute rendition of Steely Dan’s “Reelin’ In The Years” just for kicks. There you’ll find a good (borderline overkill on the dueling guitar solos) time relaxing and winding down the day.
Alvvays – Galaxy Barn
I kept alternating back and forth between the Galaxy Barn and Mountain Stage on Friday. It’s almost as if there was free booze at each respective location for those with proper wristband colors! Nah, even so, Alvvays played a righteous set, with songs old and new. Their debut record from 2014 isn’t that long, so the new tracks were not only much needed, but still as summery and light as ever! Lead singer Molly Rankin proclaimed it the hottest set of the weekend, and the steam and humidity in the room proved it true! Sending the crowd off with fan-favorite “Archie, Marry Me” capped off a wonderful, sweaty set in the barn.
Open Mike Eagle – Galaxy Barn
I stayed put following Alvvays’ set to take in a little more of the area surrounding The Galaxy and Lucky Barns. Outside there were more beer stations, a few flat screens showcasing the performances happening around the festival grounds, and a cozy fire pit for any gathering of music lovers there for a break. It was also a glimpse at a mastermind at work; the 40 minute break in between sets left for a personal look into Open Mike Eagle setting up his equipment combo of drum machine and laptop. Once the set started, it was poetry in motion. Mike had the crowd at his fingertips, simultaneously creating beats, rapping, and cracking jokes all at a moment’s notice. He even dedicated one song to him self-admittedly checking his phone too much and being anti-social. This was a funny foreshadowing of sorts, as his self-loathing qualms actually came true. Anytime my crew and I saw him walking around the Pickathon grounds during the week, he was in fact “glued to his phone”. Damn Millennials!
Hurray For The Riff Raff – Woods Stage
I began Saturday by finally gracing the audience at Woods Stage with my presence! This area was keen for some of the biggest names of the week performing, and it was also the closest to everyone’s camping grounds, allowing anyone within earshot to hear whoever was performing, whether nursing a hangover in their tent, or sitting on the hay bales provided to watch the concerts. Hurray For The Riff Raff’s Alynda Lee Segarra commanded the stage, dabbling in the swamp rock tendencies of the New Orleans’ based group. She tied in themes of her Bronx roots, sorrowful lyrics, human rights, and folk Anthems all in one complete package. All in a days work for capturing the hearts of us Northwest faithful, and a great way to kick off Saturday!
Ultimate Painting – Mountain Stage
Even though I just happened to be eating my tuna quesadilla lunch in the Mountain Stage square, Ultimate Painting was nonetheless a serene soundtrack to the meal. They played a full set of chilled down indie-pop numbers, not before I snagged a few pictures of the band on stage. It was a beautiful reminder that although schedules packed up for who to see throughout the day, even in moments of nothingness, my next favorite band could be conveniently playing when I least expect it.
Vhol – Treeline Stage
My introduction to the Treeline Stage was also many a person’s wake up call to who lied in store for the beautifully crafted area. If one didn’t notice the plethora of black-clad men and women sitting in anticipation, the band’s piercing groove of heavy guitars and drumming were icing on the cake for anyone unaware of the metal onslaught in store. Vhol were the first and last metal show of the entire weekend, ergo, the first mosh pit that I stewed in the front rows. Mike Scheidt is well-known for his work with YOB as a diverse vocalist, but interestingly enough, he is also an Oregon native. As such, it just seemed right that he and the band had a chance to showcase the true diversity in Pickathon’s lineup that has been nurtured and grown over the course of the festival’s history.
Tennyson – Galaxy Barn
I was gearing up for a surprise set, not aware who I was actually tuning in for. I thought the group performing was going to be the jazz-pop Canadians of BADBADNOTGOOD (as my schedule stated). Heck, the promoter even announced the band as such. “These guys are from Canada and have collaborated with Tyler, the Creator”, he spoke with a confident enthusiasm, hoping to pump up the crowd. However, hearing a few confused boos was enough to embarrass the promoter. Once corrected, jazz-pop Canadians Tennyson (see a theme here?) popped up on stage instead, and proceeded to blow the roof off of the Galaxy Barn. The brother and sister duo rocked it with infectious energy, Luke on production and samples, and Tess on drums. They’re young, but the charm is matched and then some by their extreme talents.
Yo La Tengo – Mountain Stage
Yo La Tengo showed up with a nice mix of old and new, fair enough considering their long history as a band and extensive catalogue. Even so, their last record was all covers, and these seemed to dominate most of the set versus any other album. With an hour to work with, the Matador veterans treated audiences to songs by The Cure, Darlene McCrea, and The Special Pillow among others. We also had a great spot for the next act at the Mountain Stage…
Jeff Tweedy – Mountain Stage
It’s not Wilco, just Jeff Tweedy and his guitar perusing through a pleasant mix of old and new songs, spanning between Wilco hits and solo outings. A true performance for the traditional Pickathon “purists”, Tweedy also provided a healthy dose of humor throughout his set, even stopping a song midway at one point, confused at the camera on a pulley zipline breezing by the stage parallel to his “zone”. Continuing on, he also made subtle jabs at Donald Drumpf, never mentioning him by name. Instead, he playfully gloated with a straight face that “I have the best songs. I play the best chords, it’s true!” All in a days work as the Mountain Stage headliner, and good practice for his second set that would be played at Woods Stage the following evening. It goes to show just how much material he has to choose from. I didn’t attend the second show, but his setlist was completely different from this one, good for me since I caught the Yankee Hotel Foxtrot staples!
Wolf Parade – Woods Stage
Although I wanted to see Fruit Bats at 1:00AM to cap off Saturday at Pickathon, my old man tendencies set me off to bed after a roaring set from the newly reunited Wolf Parade. These guys are legends as it is, but nobody was hitting the hay (literally) just yet, as the Canadian vets had a flurry of classics to roll though, as well as tracks from their 2016 output, EP 4, released earlier this year. Nice to know that Wolf Parade is one the comeback as a touring band, but they’re also still in the business of crafting killer tunes. This set was evidence to that; they still got it.
Yoga for Adults – Lucky Barn
I have to mention all of the Yoga classes available each morning at Pickathon, as they were such a relaxing way of calming my mind to start the day. The Lucky Barn’s atmosphere and small stage deserve a nod as well. We did try (and fail) to get in here Saturday for Julia Holter’s yoga set, but to no avail as capacity was very strict. Nonetheless, the place was open each morning in three different windows for yoga classes taught by actual instructors from the Portland area. I made the very last one, finally able to pick my ass out of bed on Sunday.
Julia Holter – Woods Stage
As it goes with most artists playing Pickathon, they have two sets, spanning either one day or two. Julia Holter played the Woods Stage for her second performance, and the place couldn’t have been a better match for her artful approach to pop music. Holter herself plays an electronic keyboard, as is heard on her records, but she is also joined by a band consisting of all of the classical instrumentation that made albums like Loud City Song and Have You In My Wilderness such unique pieces of music. The latter record dominated the set, but not before she closed with the powerful, hypnotic vocals of “Hello Stranger”, the cover track that appears on Loud City Song. This set was highly anticipated on my part, as I’ve missed her not just earlier at Pickathon, but also on her last few stops in town beyond the festival environment.
Daniel Norgren – Woods Stage
Sweden born and bred, Daniel Norgren and the band were as foreign as it got. Self admittedly, this was not only their very first performance in the United States, but also their first trip to the country entirely. Even so, you wouldn’t have guessed that to be true, as their accents seemed nothing out of the ordinary. Even better, the lush blend of folk guitars, pianos, soft drums, and even an accordion sighting left the Woods Stage crowd silent for the entire performance, except to clap in a standing ovation of course!
Protomartyr – Woods Stage
My first introduction to Protomartyr at Pickathon was spotting the lead guitarist at the Galaxy Barn on Saturday, being refused a beer by the backstage staff because his bracelet didn’t look legitimate. Comical as that was, gags were flawlessly worked into the band’s set as well. Given front man Joe Casey’s stern, nervous reputation, talk was scarce, but still quality. He and the boys demanded a full pitcher at the front of the stage, and bubbling cups of beer at all times, and while simple observations kept the audience in tact in between songs such as a slug Casey continued to point out perched right next to him, Protomartyr’s brooding post-punk tunes were equally enthralling.
Ty Segall & The Muggers – Mountain Stage
Never a stranger to causing a little mischief, Ty Segall and his conniving crew of “Muggers” left the Mountain Stage buzzing as they left the stage. In between, Segall’s garage-infused diet of buddies (including frequent collaborators Mikal Cronin and King Tuff also playing guitars), unleashed a wave of bare bones rock music. Not only that, but Segall’s antics also kept the crowd thoroughly entertained. He was they only person I saw all weekend who crowd surfed the lucky crew of front row dwellers, not before attempting to convince security with a money bribe to let a few of the concert-goers on stage.
Beach House – Mountain Stage
Capping off my Pickathon experience were Sub Pop staples, Beach House. Mysterious as ever, Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally also boasted an additional synth player and drummer to enhance their dreamy soundscapes. Opening with an oldie in “Saltwater”, the group transitioned into a careful balance of old and new tracks, only neglecting Devotion throughout the set. What wasn’t already apparent on record with beautiful melodies was boldly magnified with Legrand’s soaring crescendos taking each track to a new level of epic conclusion. This all unfolded in borderline darkness, as is Beach House tradition, but whether dark or light, the goosebumps were visible and present the entire time they were playing. It was a glorious conclusion to a glorious weekend!
Top 5 Sets:
5. Daniel Norgren
3. Beach House
2. Wolf Parade