During the final day of Pickathon, a grinning Zale Schoenborn, founder of the three day forest-centered music fest, quietly and succinctly summed up his philosophy in three words: “Good music wins.” By all accounts, the festival this past weekend did just that.
Every year, Pendarvis Farm (located in Happy Valley, Oregon) is transformed into an alternate plane of existence. Over the course of three days, the festival curates a schedule of some of the most innovative sounds which this year spanned acts from the veteran hip-hop group People Under The Stairs to the gritty four-guitar psychedelic ensemble Diarrhea Planet. All converging in a temporary installation of collaboration and celebration of art, for art. With a full schedule of so many incredible bands literally embedded in the woods, you’re only left with the task of walking on any given trail toward the sound that draws you toward it. Here are the paths I went down.
Jonathan Richman took the opening slot Saturday on the Mountain View stage. His minimal set up of acoustic guitar, accompanied solely by a drummer behind a small kit, still enraptured the audience. The show shifted from one random story to the next (sometimes told in complete passages of French), and was encapsulated in one chaotic narrative of awkward chaos. Along with those quintessentially earnest folk-ballads, he threw in a whole three minutes of wild, abanonded dancing, which charmed the pants off everyone.
On the flip side, Foxygen’s evening set in the packed and hot Galaxy Barn (a stone’s throw away) presented a different kind of chaos. Ringing with feedback at every given moment, the young 20-somethings took the stage and the wall of noise began. In blasts of vintage, psychedelic pop, the room was filled with blown-out, distorted beauty. Singer Sam France evoked the presence of Mick Jagger in his dance moves and even in his poor, (fake) British accent, and larger-than-life rockstar persona. After the set, people piled out and spent time with the horses milling about next door.
Performances from Gregory Alan Isakov showcased how each set was not simply consumed, but rather, a fully engaging experience. Even amidst technical difficulties, Isakov ditched the monitors and huddled with his banjo and fiddle player around two microphones and broke everyone’s heart with his beautiful chamber-folk.
Keeping along the folk path, Mike Taylor (aka Hiss Golden Messenger) gave a stunning and intimate performance in the Workshop Barn. His confessional laments of his home in Durham, North Carolina struck a chord with everyone present and cast him in a vulnerable, inviting light.
Straying late into the night, Steve Gunn took the stage Saturday at 1 a.m. in the morning with the half moon behind him. Swaying in the simmering heat still hanging from the day, his ‘70s era folk-rock was the perfect soundtrack to the early hours.
One of the beautiful things about Pickathon is that every band plays at least twice on a different stage, honing in on the stress-free nature of the entire experience. Nickel Creek was a perfect example of this. Fans chose to catch the bluegrass country group either nestled on the Woods Stage in an small acoustic environment, or later at night on the main stage with huge speakers and sound. Both provided different and unique listening experiences.
Amidst a sea of huge festivals with corporate-named stages and sponsors, Pickathon remains direct and simple. Keeping it at a max capacity of 7,000 people, everything feels more at ease and you can always find a great spot to see the show. From a hip-hop show in a setting that feels like Ferngully, to a hell-raising psych-rock set in a barn from Courtney Barnett, there is no ego or frills in any aspect of this festival. After such a surreal experience, dirt-covered and smiling, I’m left muttering the mantra “good music wins,” too.