Walking on the way from the parking lot to the entrance of Pickathon music festival, license plates reflect the pilgrimage-effect of the annual event held in the rural land of Happy Valley, Oregon. I only had to drive twenty miles from Portland, but some of the attendees have navigated their way from Connecticut, Oklahoma, and Alberta, Canada. For many, planning out the trip to this part of the continent is like kids looking forward to Christmas. And no wonder, Pickathon is like a utopia!
With ticket sales capped at 3,500, quality over quantity rings true here. While you still won’t be able to catch every act on the program, most artists play twice. Unlike corporate-sponsored big festivals, Pickathon is all locally-endorsed and selective about their vendors; this means you can score some of the best Portland eats at about same price as crappy burgers and fries you’d pay at Sasquatch. And no Budweiser, Heineken, or even Pabst Blue Ribbons are served here. But the best part is the reusable dishes and cups. Oh how happy not to see a pile of plastic wares by night’s end! It’s also where kids and adults come together for fun. Children can enjoy circus, pet horses, or play some music or draw to earn their grub.
Happening over three days on the first weekend of August, the green festival has expanded both in number of stages (seven this year) and in genres of music over their 16-year history. Headliners Nickel Creek kept Pickathon’s folk roots alive, while Dan Boeckner returned with his latest project, the synth-based Operators. Diarrhea Planet brought good old rock-n-roll to the woods, Those Darlins steamed up the barn, The Barr Brothers tugged at hearts in the sun, and War On Drugs played his dreamy songs under the moonlit-forest. And if you weren’t just content watching the performers, you could square dance with the live music of Old Buck.
If you’re looking for drama, it’s hard to find at Pickathon. Guess having kids everywhere helps the adults to behave a little better, but everyone is polite and smiley. And no, it’s not because they’re all on drugs. Even Foxygen, who suffered technical setbacks during both of their sets, shrugged it off light-heartedly. When Jonathan Rado’s rig went offline, he humored the audience with requests for movie character impersonations. Singer Sam France ran off the stage but came back beaming with positive energy, giving his trademark manic performance that had me wishing the whole festival was a series of Foxygen sets.
You know how security guards at big festivals look rather scary and mean? Here at the farm, they’re like your good neighbor looking out for you. Heck, a woman was napping in the photo pit area, but no one seemed to care. And the performers roam among the festival-goers without the fear of getting trapped by mobs of fans or groupies. But it was obvious Mac DeMarco was gazed with adoring eyes. And of course, audience engagement is an integral part of the Canadian’s show. Whether putting on a blue bonnet or passing out slices of pizza, DeMarco and his band made being goofy fashionable. Maybe one day he’ll be a legend like his precursor, Jonathan Richman. At 63, the founder of The Modern Lovers, still has the playfulness and energy of a child. The Bay Stater best encapsulated what Pickathon is with no-frills setup and whimsical storytelling, along with the statement about how he liked the reusable wares and didn’t get a preferential treatment.
So maybe next year, I may not spot a license plate from the UK, but perhaps I’ll see you flashing that burgundy passport in line for some delicious Pacific Northwest brew.
HISS Gold Messenger
The Barr Brothers
War On Drugs