PAC NW Does Pickathon, 2016
On the morning of Friday, August 5th, myself and Artistic Coordinator Eric Luck headed out and away from the beautiful Seattle summer day for a journey southward. Our destination: Happy Valley, Oregon for the 18th Annual Pickathon Music Festival at Pendarvis Farm. Being that neither of us had ever attended Pickathon before, we were both excited and unsure what to expect, but we did know this would be unlike any other festival.
Given a solid history of excellent lineups, Pickathon had been on my radar for years now, but I had never quite been able to make going work out. Eric, receiving his first impression of the fest a while back through photos and video that painted a fantastical image of music and art in the forest, had been insistent earlier in the year that if he covered nothing else this summer, he had to be at Pickathon. And so, here we were, making it happen.
When we finally arrived in the hazy heat of that afternoon, we followed an anxious crowd up a dirt and hay path flanked by barns and forest, my mind still struggling to imagine how a large festival fit back behind this unassuming space. Turning the corner, reaching a slight plateau that was the main concourse, the pure magnificence that is Pickathon splayed out before us, and with it, a weekend ripe with possibility.
The first act we caught that day was King Sunny Ade on the Mt. Hood Stage. His large band of Nigerian natives took the stage one by one, adding their efforts to the driving drum beats that finally culminated in the King himself, smiling and dancing, taking position front and center. As I later learned, King Sunny Ade is actual Nigerian royalty, and though he disappointed his family by pursuing his musical passions, he certainly did not disappoint the concert-goers. With vibrant, upbeat rhythms that had the audience dancing from start to finish, this performance was unlike anything you would expect from an indie festival on a farm in Oregon, but a perfect introduction to Pickathon itself.
The next group to take the Mt. Hood Stage was Joseph, a Portland folk/country trio comprised of three young sisters. As was made apparent by the cheering and singing along of the crowd, I was late to the party with this group. These girls can sing. Stirring, earnest harmonies backed by nothing more than a stomp box and acoustic guitar make for pointedly unpretentious but memorable music. Definitely a gem for me on Day One.
As was to be expected, the man himself, Mac DeMarco, was certainly a festival favorite. He packed out the grassy lawn in front of the stage and heralded in the sunset with his unique brand of lethargic fuzz pop.
And then, the moment I had been waiting for. Sub Pop pillars and comeback kids, Wolf Parade. These guys. They had left my life all too soon after the 2010 release of the sonic revelation that is Expo 86. I had spent a lot of time deeply regretting that I never caught them live before they announced an indefinite hiatus in 2011. So now, five years later, I was elated at the opportunity. Damn, they did not disappoint. Wolf Parade hit the stage under the stars in a burst of energy that did not let up. Playing a choice mix of their discography to date, their set was electric in a way that proclaimed “It’s good to be back”. Each tune rang with the distinctive, frantic vocalizations of both Boekner and Krug, spiraling riffs and driving backbeats, as the band performed every song like it was their last of the night. When I saw them yet again the next night, it was all that same energy behind a new set-list. Though probably not surprisingly, Wolf Parade was a verified standout of the weekend.
Just as the day before was and the day after would be, Saturday’s lineup was stacked with noteworthy acts. Among them, Mount Moriah of North Carolina. Weaving robust country vocals between psychedelic riffs, lead-singer and guitarist Heather McEntire simply emanates hardly-constrained rock’n’roll.
The Florida-London collaboration The Golden Rules proved another fun act of Day Two. Though they took the stage to a lazy afternoon audience, it was only 30 seconds into their set that most were on their feet dancing. The poppy, hip-hop tunes were intermingled with something close to a stand-up act by vocalist Eric Biddines, where he touched on shopping at Target and all the nice feet he had seen at Pickathon thus far. The music and performance made for an excellent afternoon show. Of particular note, as mentioned by Biddines between songs, is that the transatlantic duo completed their debut album, “Golden Ticket” over the internet before ever meeting in person.
And then, a dramatic change of pace. Eric and I headed towards the woods to witness the first ever metal band on the Treeline Stage, Vhol. An explosion of sound, Vhol emanates pure, sloshing grime, and I mean that in the best way possible. Quickly, a pit formed, inciting girls and guys, ages 15-50 into a circle of thrash, and it was awesome.
As the evening wore on, I again became filled with an anticipation similar to what I had experienced the prior night, before Wolf Parade. I was gearing up to see another iconic group, Yo La Tengo, also for my first time. I cannot precisely say where I heard otherwise, but I know I heard it more than once, and now I would like to formally dispel any rumors to the contrary; Yo La Tengo fucking rocks live. From the jazzy classic ‘Autumn Sweater’ to a mesmerizing rendition of ‘Nowhere Near’, Yo La Tengo created and carried a vibe. Did I mention guitarist Ira Kaplan diverged on a welcome, solo shred-fest amidst almost every song? Well he did, and it was magic. All told, the experience was damn near religious for me.
Final mention goes to Thee Oh Sees, who absolutely killed that night on the Woods Stage. Something about the warm evening air, the luminous stage tucked deep among the trees, and the hyper, heavy fuzz of Thee Oh Sees, set the night ablaze. The raw vibrancy of the group inspired the crowd to a new pinnacle of energy and engagement, as fans took to stage diving and jamming along to the double-drum supported beat. Backstage, I even spotted the punk-jam-king-supreme, Ty Segall, as well as Dan Boekner heavily digging the vibes. Truly a sight to be seen and heard.
Looking back, Pickathon weekend was packed from start to finish with too many worthwhile acts to mention, including Seattle alum La Luz, the highly danceable Boulevards, legend Jeff Tweedy, and so many more. For me personally, Pickathon was a highlight reel of established favorites and new, noteworthy acts, spanning a variety of genres. However, between amazing art installations, the incredible built sets, activities for all ages, and genuine sustainability and low impact efforts (including the practice of capping attendance below capacity), Pickathon is one of very few festivals worth attending for its own merits and overall experience, even independent of the lineup. Expertly curated, aesthetically engaging, personal and experience-oriented, Pickathon truly is a festival unique and still somehow sincere. Thank you Pendarvis Farm, thank you performers and the people I shared the weekend with. Definitely one for the books.
Words by Lacey Henderson
Photos by Eric Luck