For a lot of people, Pickathon
is more than a music festival; it's practically a spirit quest. For three sweaty, dirty, stinking days, urbanites are afforded the opportunity to pretend that this hay-stacked oasis of Pendarvis Farm is actually somewhere off the grid.
The great part about it is that it kind of is.
Nowhere else can you see headlining performers shuffling into dark, hot barns to play for 100 people. And nowhere else can you see that same headlining performer standing in line for tempeh tacos while eyeing the Starlight Stage at night.
Pickathon is a kind of magic, and this year's festivities were every bit as ambitious (the new Tree Line Stage and the perimeter DJ area around the Galaxy Barn were both welcome additions), and every bit as laidback all at once as in year's past. I took a lot of photos that didn't turn out, thanks to copious head-bobbing and reluctance to learn how to use the camera properly (sorry, the Men), and generally reveled in a non-rigid show-watching schedule (somehow I missed Mac DeMarco completely). What follows is a recap of some of my highlights.
• • •Hiss Golden Messenger
: Mike Taylor performed an eerily quiet, stripped-down set of funeral folk and lightly dappled soul on the Fir Meadows Stage Friday morning, eschewing the accompaniment of bandmate Scott Hirsch. Taylor's mellow finger-picking and solemn voice ran the gamut of Hiss' catalog, and leveled a still-wobbly crowd even without the stoic grandiosity of the group's spooky gospel leaning on record.
• • •Mikal Cronin
: I couldn't have anticipated my first time watching Mikal Cronin live that it'd be at Pickathon. Somehow over the past few years, though, the frontrunners of the San Francisco and Los Angeles garage pop set have made Pendarvis Farm their second summer home (as was evidenced by Ty Segall and King Tuff wandering around, despite neither of them being on the bill). Cronin's honest mastery of fuzzy pop melodies and gritty punk make him an engaging performer.
• • •Those Darlins
: The newly assembled Tree Line Stage may not have been the greatest for grabbing some shade, but you likely would have melted anyway when Those Darlins ambled on stage for a mid-afternoon set. Jessi Darlin and Nikki Darlin are about as shredding a guitar duo you're going to see, and with songs ranging from Big Star riffathons to Ramones-esque pop-punk, the foursome slowly but surely implored the seated crowd (on hay bales, of course) to migrate to the front lip of the stage to dance with the band. The subdued aura of the Tree Line Stage died then and there. It was now an outdoor Galaxy Barn.
• • •Diarrhea Planet
: It just took me about 12 times to correctly spell “diarrhea,” which is likely relevant to about 500 people or more who surrounded the Woods Stage like an invading army during Diarrhea Planet's rowdy set, and took to Twitter and Instagram with captions like “Diahhrea Plenut fuken REWLS!” or “Holy SHET 4 guitarz! Daria Planet is amaz-ballz!11”. But the thing is, they did. Holy shit, I haven't seen a crowd go as nuts over a band in a very long time. The band—indeed four guitarists deep, and strangling the confined space of the Woods Stage—rallied the forest with big lead licks, a seemingly endless supply of energy and the satisfaction of making it okay for everyone to keep saying the word “diarrhea” all weekend long. Thanks, guys!
• • •Courtney Barnett
: Playing for the first time in the Portland area, Melbourne's Courtney Barnett turned the Fir Meadows Stage into a kind of dusk punk venue, maneuvering through her typically witty lyrical repartee on songs like “Avant Gardener,” while wearing a T-shirt of Kurt Cobain and refusing to hang her guitar strap over her shoulder. There was an easy, lovable grace about Barnett's innocence as contrast to her slowly building guitar dissonance and obvious talent for taking listeners along for a rambling storyline. She was enchanting, and if you haven't seen her yet, plan to.
• • •Jonathan Richman
: By far the greatest delight at this year's Pickathon, though, was Jonathan Richman during both his Saturday set at the Mountain View Stage, and his late-night Sunday engagement at the Starlight Stage. His storytelling is as entertaining and funny as ever, his flamenco style of guitar playing, hand percussion, improvisational dancing, sad-puppy-dog-eye-flashing and cowbell accenting is just magnetic. Countering Richman's jester-like moves, multilingual lyricism and overall panache, drummer Tommy Larkins appears as if he's from some other planet. Definitely not a Diarrhea Planet, but somewhere else nonetheless.