MAVIS STAPLES Ms. Pickathon 2011.

FOR ALL THE GRIPING about Portland weather during the spotty weeks of July, those in the know quietly recognize that summer doesn't fully bloom until the first weekend in August. That is when the idyllic fields and forests of Pendarvis Farm turn into the stages and campsites of Pickathon, the roots-based music festival that's seen not only its esteem, but also the variety of its acts, swell with each successive year. By festival standards, it's tiny—Pickathon's crowds are less than a 10th of most of the bigger national festivals you'd care to name—but with immaculate booking and expert coordination (in large part due to organizers Terry Groves and Zale Schoenborn), the cozy farm just minutes outside the city feels like another world entirely. Every band is hand-picked, as are vendors and food carts, and objectives like sustainability and family-friendly fare are given highest consideration. The overall pace of the weekend is as good as it gets. Whether it's seeing an artist the caliber of Smog's Bill Callahan on an intimate stage in the middle of the woods, or catching heavy-duty rockers Black Mountain blow the doors off a barn in the middle of the night, this year's Pickathon has countless unforgettable memories in the making. NL

FRUIT BATS
Eric D. Johnson's genre-defying, shape-shifting pop project keeps getting Portlandier: Johnson has recruited prolific Stumptown musicians Nathan Junior (M. Ward, Duover) and Dave Depper (Loch Lomond, Monarques, too many other bands to list) to play alongside him in the Bats' current incarnation. The result could well be the shredding-est band on the West Coast, although Johnson's tunesmithery veers more toward the gently simmering folk-psych of "Tony the Tripper" or the laidback Bee Gees strut of "You're Too Weird"—both highlights off Fruit Bats' stunningly great brand-new album Tripper. Last summer saw the Bats in road-warrior Deadhead folk-jam mode; this year they're going to create something further out, something more glittery—something where back-porch folk, candy-coated disco swank, and numb-nosed yacht rock all come together. NL

BILL CALLAHAN
If you have not yet, take some time to consider Bill Callahan's Apocalypse before heading out to Pendarvis Farm. Yes, I know that humanity's fiery demise is often the furthest thing from one's mind at Pickathon, awash in the strange glow that can only be attained by late nights in the Galaxy Barn. While Callahan's plaintive voice can easily evoke a nondescript foreboding, and songs like "Drover" (Apocalypse's opening track) have darker corners in which to lurk, there is much more verdant peace to be observed in the album's 40-minute foray. Imagine hearing the dulcet waltz of "Riding for the Feeling" or the blitheness of "Free's" just as you are let off the path to the Woods Stage, in a forest so dense you can barely tell that the sun is beginning to set. These are the kind of sublime moments that will litter the weekend, though Callahan's score is likely to come out on top. RN

RAY WYLIE HUBBARD
This is the fellow who wrote "Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother." This is also the fellow whose long career virtually defined the parameters of what people call Americana. With his gruff, grizzled take on country and folk, Hubbard is the true outlaw that hat-doffing twerps wish they were. His songs are littered with whiskey growls, chuffing harmonicas, and lightly sizzling guitars—listeners who are drawn to Lucero or Hayes Carll owe it to themselves to lend their ears to Hubbard. The clever, caustic title of his most recent record says it all: A. Enlightenment B. Endarkenment (Hint: There Is No C). NL

L.C. ULMER
The first hollered, pained lines on Mississippi bluesman L.C. Ulmer's latest recording, Blues Come Yonder, are "Early this mornin'/My baby left me." If that doesn't sound like the blues to you, nothing will, and Ulmer—who was born in 1928 and has lived a lengthy life that's seen him work cotton fields, drive railroad spikes, and haul rigs all over the country—imbues every note with feeling, the way only a true bluesman can. Eschewing the slick developments that have brought blues kicking and screaming into the 21st century, L.C. Ulmer's country blues are pulverizingly authentic and astonishingly affecting. Don't miss someone who makes the term "living legend" seem inadequate. NL

GRUPO FANTASMA
Citizens, call your chiropractors, 'cause it's highly recommended you get all of those little vertebrae aligned in time for Grupo Fantasma's sets (like most the other acts, they'll be performing more than once over the course of the weekend). The Austin ensemble will be making the short trip back across the pond from Germany to Happy Valley to light a fire beneath our feet (not literally, people—no need to extinguish a blaze with the contents of your BPA-free canteen, especially if it's, ahem, flammable). Their exhilarating confluence of funk, jazz, cumbia, merengue, and a laundry list of other traditional Latin genres has garnered Grupo a hefty underground following. However, they officially emerged from the mire to the mainstream after 10 years of hard work, winning a Grammy for 2010's self-produced (and near-flawless) El Existential. Which reminds me; your excuses for missing this band do not exist. RN

FUTURE ISLANDS
For all the wild cards at this year's Pickathon, Future Islands might be the wildest: They're a synth-oriented Baltimore trio whose frames of reference are more Teutonic new wave and pre-mad Manchester than Bill Monroe. While that may send pluck-loving folkheads running and screaming back to their tents, they'll be missing out. As evidenced by 2010's engagingly deep full-length In Evening Air, Future Islands make dramatic vaults into the unknown, finding melody tucked in uncommon places. And since they're really only a left turn or so away from fellow billmates Califone or Wye Oak, there is plenty here for the dyed-in-the-wool Pickathoner to love. NL

MAVIS STAPLES
There isn't a whole lot to say about Mavis Staples that hasn't already been said. She is the voice of "I'll Take You There," the voice that is perhaps the greatest embodiment of American gospel than anyone else on the planet. The fact that Mavis Staples is headlining the main stage at Pickathon is reason enough to get excited. The fact that she's also hosting a daytime workshop (held in the same intimate barn where the Decemberists recorded their last record) is reason to immediately commence drooling. NL

BLACK MOUNTAIN/LIGHTNING DUST
A couple short weeks ago, Stephen McBean came through Portland with Pink Mountaintops, but he's already returning with his other mountainous band, the firebrand stoner psych of Black Mountain. At its heaviest, Black Mountain is more than capable of making the gentle slopes of Pendarvis Farm quake, but there's more to Black Mountain than monolithic slabs. Their 2010 album, Wilderness Heart (whose title could double as an unofficial motto of Pickathon), was subtler and mellower than riffs past; this is, after all, the band that once opened for Coldplay. On Sunday night, splinter side group Lightning Dust—featuring the invitingly chilly warble of Black Mountain co-vocalist Amber Webber—will play an after-hours set on the teeny Starlight Stage, offering hymns to the night sky that'll be perfect for winding down the weekend. NL