"I always like to mix it up," says Pickathon director and local bluegrass mandolin player Zale Schoenborn. "When I listen to music, I like a lot of different styles, and I've always wanted to have a get-together where you really aren't focused on one style of music—like it just has to be a blues festival, or bluegrass, or singer/songwriter, or just indie rock. Three days of the same thing? I'm sorry, but it can burn you out real quick."
Now in its 10th year, the Pickathon roots music festival has seen some changes. Originally a fundraiser started by community radio station KBOO, Pickathon is now its own corporate entity (KBOO is still on board as a sponsor, but they're no longer the organizers or the beneficiaries of the proceeds), and it's a much bigger event than ever before, drawing crowds of 2,500 to Pendarvis Farm in Happy Valley.
While it's true that much of the music at Pickathon could fall into the category of roots music, the sheer stylistic ground covered by this year's acts is impressive. You've got the jazzy swing of Jolie Holland alongside the punk bluegrass of Austin's reunited Bad Livers; there's the mysterious indie rock of the Cave Singers next to the soul loverman Langhorne Slim. And there's a ton of Portland acts on the bill as well, including the gentle reassuring lilt of local favorite Laura Gibson and the graceful chamber-folk of Loch Lomond.
In other words, it's more than a hippie festival.
"The built-in crowds that go to these kind of factional festivals—jam band or whatever it is—they don't want to go to your festival if it isn't that," says Schoenborn. "For years, it's like, 'Ahh! It's not bluegrass! Ahh! It ain't blues! That ain't rock enough.' No matter what it was, we were destined to never hit the hardcore crowds that go to these festivals. We're way too eclectic; nobody jams out for 30 minutes on one song. So, that's pretty hard for the jam band scene. Some of the bands may go off in that style and kind of cross over to those scenes, and we have a couple of bands that I think the jam band scene would get excited about, but there are just too many other things going on, which is totally fine for us. I think most people really listen to music [from a variety of different genres], so why not throw a festival like that?"
Pickathon has definitely outgrown its origins, and while the leftist kelp-eaters at KBOO are becoming less involved, there are some exciting new developments, including one of the five stages being entirely powered by solar power, and a biodiesel shuttle bus running from the Gateway MAX station to Pendarvis Farm. It's a family-friendly event, but the most exciting music happens late at night, after hours in the Galaxy Barn. While alcohol will not be allowed in the 300-person capacity barn this year, there will be an adjacent beer garden and an all-hours café.
And the setting—only 12 miles from Portland—can't be beat. "It's kinda why we love this place," says Schoenborn. "You could just drive there and then go home. But it's also the most beautiful 80 acres. There are a couple miles of trails, camping's right there. You got views of Mount Hood from everywhere, mostly wooded with huge Doug firs, and we light all the trails with LED lights off a solar-powered generator."
None of this would matter if not for the solid lineup of music all three days. Slim and Holland will be the big draws, but be sure to check out the hilariously deadpan country-pone of Eugene's deep-voiced Tom Heinl, the lush balladry of the Everybodyfields, and the unconventional, upbeat indie rock of Bombadil. There are also workshops hosted by the likes of Melissa Ferrick and Kelly Joe Phelps, and plenty of events for kids. One of the good things about the Pickathon lineup is that many of the bands play multiple sets over the course of the weekend, so you never feel like you're missing anything.
When asked for words of wisdom for keeping one's stamina all three days, Schoenborn says, "See what you can see. Eat some wholesome food. Take a cold shower when you are at the low point. Get some rest. Don't freakin' try to stay up for three days! There's gonna be music anytime you're awake. Everything is spread out and you can take some hikes. That's another good piece of advice: Chill out in the peace and quiet of the woods."