Another year is in the books for Pickathon 2017, and Portland’s little festival that could soldiers on, its patrons dust-ridden, scorched, and overall satiated with the musical fervor that drives this great community. Last weekend marked the festival’s 19th year running, with this one as good as it has ever been!
Taking place just outside Portland city limits on Pendarvis Farm, Pickathon showcases a myriad of different artists, stretching from the realms of the bluegrass roots that solidified this weekend as one of the bests, to rising acts in hip-hop, indie rock, and country, creating a wonderful blend of art and culture that would fit any listener’s taste. After all, it does boast fans of all ages.
From the ravishing background landscapes of the Mt. Hood Stage (yep, Mt. Hood is right in plain sight), to the deep trails of forest that make up the Woods Stage, I saw and experienced many groups and artists perform. Hitting the hot weather head-on proved to be uncomfortable at times, but for this I thank the many staff and volunteers who stepped up their service another level.
Water stations were in abundance to keep everyone hydrated, as were local Portland food carts. Oh, and the beer was nice too! The weekend as a whole brought first-hand exposure to some of my favorite bands. Please enjoy for your reading pleasure my storied adventures of each one, day and place included.
Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires – Mt. Hood Stage
People love Charles Bradley, and there’s good reason to find a warmth in your heart when you see his beaming personality shine in person. The man has seen great loss in the past, is pretty fresh off of a stomach cancer diagnosis himself, yet still graces the stage with sass, swagger, and gratefulness. The man received not one, but two introductions from his own band members before coming on stage. It’s just one way to pay their respects.
Not only that, he changed outfits, belted out his newest calling card in Black Sabbath’s classic, “Changes”, only to conclude a powerfully emotional set by handing out roses to audience members and personally thanking them for showing up. No Charles, thank you!
Robyn Hitchcock – Mt. Hood Stage
If the Friday morning wake up call in a tent wasn’t sitting well with people just realizing that this ain’t their normal bed, Robyn Hitchcock was a welcome surprise of cheeriness and wit. This comes as no surprise to longtime fans of the former Soft Boys legend.
Even before the set, Hitchcock was not shy about his cheeky sense of humor, his affinity for the city of Nashville, or his natural talent for people watching and observational humor. Package that all with complementing songs off of his new self-titled solo album (“I Want To Tell You About What I Want”, “I Pray When I’m Drunk”), and here lied a bright start to the first full day on my listening adventure.
Susto – Galaxy Barn
It’s worth mentioning for any reference of the fabled Galaxy Barn below that though it was bordering on 100 degrees outside all weekend, this Pickathon venue took heat and sweating up to eleven. Anytime I attended a show here, the person(s) on stage performing would without fail mention what a sauna the place was. That didn’t stop Susto from bringing down the house with their melodic renditions of country music with an alternative twist.
Each Justin Osborne entry into his relationship with life and religion (or lack thereof) in South Carolina made for deeply personal lyricism, but also great songs. Pair that with a lesson in “shagging”, and we learned a lot of new things from Mr. Osborne. In his own words, “Shagging in Myrtle Beach refers to a brand of dance, not pauses you know…”
Lucy Dacus – Woods Stage
Lucy Dacus has some great things going for her, especially at such an early age. She has her own band, is an indie darling, an up and comer, and is signed to Matador Records. Meanwhile on the Woods Stage, she treated an audience attentively seated in their hay bales to a combination of solo songs, as well as a full band getup of catchy numbers.
Big Thief – Mt. Hood Stage
In the spirit of Pitchfork buzz, I legitimately was excited for Big Thief to play at Mt. Hood stage at Pickathon, and they delivered. Adrianne Lenker has one of the best voices in indie music, and with the band’s knack for bedroom-style pop songs, a set full of soothing songs and buzzing guitars helped rejuvenate me for the evening ahead.
Courtney Marie Andrews – Lucky Barn / Interview from Greg Vandy of KEXP
Lucky Barn shows boast a few things that would be inaccessible anywhere else on the Pickthon festival grounds, namely air conditioning. No, but if you arrive early enough, the small venue’s capacity fills up rather quickly, so getting in is half the battle.
For Courtney Marie Andrews, her performance with the band meant charging through a few knee-stomping folk tunes before she was interviewed about her tour life, aspirations, and musical goals for the coming years. The interview offered a deeper look into her origin story being from the Southwest, but also offered a glimpse of her personality and interpretation of the lyrics in her songs. Did I mention the air conditioning?
Wolf People – Treeline Stage
Among being the most aesthetically pleasing stage at Pickathon, Treeline also boasted a headbanger’s dream with Wolf People playing a rocking set just before midnight. The UK quartet unloaded a fury of distortion into the night skies, showcasing both a flurry of technical musicianship and also ripping guitar solos. I was front and center for the whole thing, and was equally entranced the entire set.
Priests – Galaxy Barn
I have more on Priests in Saturday’s synopsis since I saw them twice, but this was what I was looking forward to most on Friday night. Fittingly, their 1:00AM set was one of the last ones running that evening. Beyond their stage presence and costumes was a flurry of punk rock energy only matched by a band called Priests, who I saw the next day. Wait a minute…
Jay Som – Galaxy Barn
It was only noon at the start of Jay Som’s set, but it was already burning in there. Even so, Melina Duterte brought the fire figuratively, her and her band. Launching into stormy guitars followed by waves of soft melodies made a great set of lows and highs. To add icing on the cake, they even got in fan favorite, “The Bus Song”. Not bad for the recent “best new music” recipients.
Priests – Mt. Hood Stage
I just had to see this band twice. They kick too much ass, and certainly woke the crowd up, especially the older folks. This is basically what Sleater-Kinney and Bikini Kill would have made if they took more a liking to Joy Division, and it’s awesome! G.L. Jaguar was probably the most riveting spectacle on guitar all weekend.
Tim Darcy – Treeline Stage
Some of my favorite music this decade has come courtesy of Tim Darcy in his other band, Ought. With that, I was also pumped to see Darcy perform some of his new solo work, fresh off of releasing his debut Saturday Night. Besides normally invoking the spirit of David Byrne in his songs and voice, it was also apparent that he likes to dress like he’s straight out of an eighties art rock band too. More power to him for that, but it was also amazing to see “Tall Glass of Water” live in the end.
Aldous Harding – Lucky Barn / Interview from Kurt B. Reighley
New Zealand’s Aldous Harding was an enthralling presence, every bit mysterious as she was enshrined in a perpetual cloud of nervous angst. Nonetheless, aspirations were high being a new signee to 4AD. Top that off with ethereal landscapes, and Harding made for a different kind of set, both in attitude and in sound.
Deer Tick – Woods Stage
Deer Tick had a bit of hype going leading up to their Woods Stage set, as if the growing crowd size wasn’t a dead giveaway. They had performed on Friday on the Mt. Hood Stage, but this rendition for the matinee was billed as an acoustic set. And an acoustic set it was, at least until frontman John J. McCauley got tired and decided to “cheat” a bit.
Not that anyone cared, nor was it truly an acoustic sense in the purest form of the word, but Deer Tick was a wonderful performance. They threw in many tracks from their upcoming records Deer Tick Vol. 1 and Deer Tick Vol. 2. Top that off with an acoustic rendition of “Pale Blue Eyes” (Hello, Michael Stipe), and you had a pretty nice set altogether.
Pinegrove – Woods Stage
As if the world needed more proof that these kids are about to blow up come their next record, Pinegrove absolutely ignited the Woods Stage at Pickathon with life. 2016’s Cardinal was a huge breakthrough for the band, and getting a front row glimpse of Evan Stephens Hall, Nandi Rose Plunkett (a.k.a. Half Waif), and the rest of the gang was nothing short of breathtaking.
Renditions of crowd favorites “Old Friends” and “Cadmium” provided an extra kick not quite captured on record, but what did remain was Hall’s ratchety, powerful voice. Pinegrove is electrifying. Go see them for the punch in the gut that their take on indie/americana provides. Plus, you’ll get to hear “Aphasia” live, which cannot aptly be given justice with just words.
Dinosaur Jr. – Woods Stage
Dinosaur Jr. had the liberty of playing the Mt. Hood Stage to close out Pickathon’s main headliner, but Saturday night was the place to be for a real ear explosion. Woods Stage is naturally a more intimate setting, so when J Mascis and Lou Barlow are front and center shredding a new one on “Sludgefeast”, you sort of wish you brought earplugs, but you also think to yourself in a moment of clarity that you wouldn’t trade it for the world. This set undoubtedly could be heard anywhere within a one mile radius of the farm, but that’s to be expected, right?
McTuff feat. Sherik – Mt. Hood Stage
I was a stranger to McTuff before the set started, but by the end, it was apparent that he and the band are nothing to scoff at. Completing the band were Andy Coe and D’Vonne Lewis. With a full jazz ensemble, it only made sense given my limited knowledge of frequent collaboration in the genre that you assemble the best band you can in order to produce the best sound you can. I’m glad I started Sunday with these guys as I ate my lunch. Also, shout out to Portland jazz radio KMHD 89.1
Steve Gunn – Mt. Hood Stage
Being a big fan of Kurt Vile and The War on Drugs, it only made sense that I finally checked seeing Brooklyn’s Steven Gunn off of my list. In true Violator fashion, Gunn and the band churned through a few alternative-country numbers, some long, some very long.
The Last Artful, Dodgr – Galaxy Barn
Here in Portland, folks may be strangers to a strong, underground hip-hop scene, but as crazy as it sounds, The Last Artful Dodgr has connections to a more familiar medium of PDX entertainment. That particularly would be the label EYRST, which not only boasts a Pickathon veteran on its roster (Myke Bogan), but is also founded by former Portland Trail Blazer Martell Webster.
The Last Artful Dodgr brought immediate energy in my last visit to Galaxy barn, lighting incense before the show, and spotting a choreographed dance crew to let loose during each song. As if the temperature in the barn wasn’t overwhelming enough, they brought the added bonus on creating even more fire, figuratively of course.
J Mascis – Galaxy Barn
With Dinosaur Jr. out of my system, I really wanted to see J Mascis solo. His records by himself are very underrated in my humble opinion, so it was awesome to see him perform his own stuff, especially in a closed space. With just an acoustic guitar, he played songs off of his storied repertoire to a stuffed crowd of sweaty concert goers. Among other things, it was just surreal seeing him walking around the festival leading up to this moment in time. That’s the beauty of Pickathon. Meet all of your heroes!
Sunflower Bean – Woods Stage
This was just a shot in the dark filler at first glance, but Sunflower Bean struck a nerve in my New York rock resurgence nostalgia dream. It’s certainly easy at Pickathon to just pick a set and roll with it, no foreknowledge of the music required.
Their songs were catchy bursts of rock and roll, with that post-punk revival sound that took the music world by storm in the early 2000’s. Nick Kivlen and Julia Cumming traded vocal duties, often combining their voices to make for wonderful harmonies. They even threw in a T. Rex cover at the end of their set, which is always a welcome surprise.
People often praise the ability to step out from ordinary life and simply unwind.
Pickathon provides that experience in so many unique ways. Ticketed individuals can do whatever they want to stay occupied, whether that means eating at food carts conveniently placed in the main square, or joining a class full of possibly hungover yogis, to grabbing a beer with new friends that you just met.
The beauty of the festival is the simplistic nature. Generations see to it how they choose to listen to music, from sitting in lawn chairs chilling out at Hiss Golden Messenger, to wildly bobbing up and down with the fellow kids at Pinegrove. To each person their own schedule, and to each new year at Pickathon, a new adventure. Thank you to all who put this wonderful weekend together once again, and happy trails to Portland faithful and beyond until next Summer!