Photos by Autumn Andel. See all her incredible Pickathon 2015 pics here.
After a decade of hearing about the greatness of Pickathon from friends, family, and strangers, I finally made my first trip to the farm this year. I live in Bend, so it’s a three-hour drive for me, and I got a later start than I’d planned, so once parked, I made a beeline for the Galaxy Barn to see LA psych-punk band Wand.
I had to see Wand at that moment, because if I didn’t, then I’d want to see them on Saturday when their set conflicted with William Tyler’s slot in the Lucky Barn, and I couldn’t miss Tyler on Saturday, because I had already missed his first set Friday afternoon on the Treeline Stage. Because I was driving!
I’m kind of an uptight fest-goer, I guess. I study the schedule and try to figure out the most efficient way to see what I want to see and I plan my routes in advance. (I do leave some space in there for wandering/eating/serendipitous discovery, too. Because you can’t beat carefully planned serendipity.)
I actually typed Pickathon’s 2015 slate into an Excel file, printed it out, and carried it with me to the farm. I saw a couple other folks who’d done the same and felt a kinship with them. I’m just not one of those “Oh, I’m going to stop and chit-chat and have a beer and not worry about what I’m missing” kind of people. It’s not my nature, but it’s also a function of living in Bend—when I’m at something like Pickathon, I need to take in as much great live music as I can.
I say all that to say this: At 10 pm on Friday night, my obsessive festival approach was defeated by hunger and exhaustion… on the first night of Pickathon, no less. The long drive. The heat. The walking. The heat. The lack of food since noon. The heat. The tent set-up. The heat. I wanted to see Meatbodies in the Galaxy Barn—seeing them Saturday would mean missing Joan Shelley or Billy Strings & Don Julin!—but I just couldn’t muster the energy. I was beginning to feel desperate. And that’s when a familiar sign—it said BUNK SANDWICHES—caught my eye. I bought a pork belly Cubano, filled my steel cup with lukewarm water, plugged my phone into a free outlet, and just sat and ate. And then I sat some more, ignoring my urge to soldier on to the barn, despite the pro-Meatbodies propaganda I was seeing on social media.
I took two lessons from that moment with me throughout the rest of the weekend: 1) Keep the water coming. Did I mention it was hot? And 2) Find some time to slow down. I did exactly that Saturday afternoon in the Lucky Barn, staying in one relatively cool spot for two consecutive sets by Sam Amidon and Tyler, even though I’d never heard a note of Amidon’s music before. And I did it again Sunday evening when I realized I’d reached my limit and headed home, leaving behind the opportunity to see Ernest Ranglin perform from a few feet away, and Tinariwen in the woods, and Diiv for a second time. If nothing else, Pickathon 2015 helped me tune in a little more to my sensible brain rather than letting my single-minded heart run the show.
But Pickathon is incredible all around. You don’t need me to tell you that. The venue is stunning. The food options are terrific. The crowds are mellow. The vibe is unlike any other festival I’ve ever attended. And above all, the music—at least this year—was absolutely top-notch. Here’s the best stuff I saw over the weekend:
• Wand, Friday in the Galaxy Barn. Watching these dudes, I couldn’t help but wonder how many times the West Coast is going to be able to use its old Ty Segall mold to turn out new psychedelic garage-rock bands. Wand’s singer, Cory Hanson, even looks like Segall. But Wand has the goods. The quartet drapes soaring Beatles-esque melodies across chest-caving crunch-riffs, and they make it look easy. Wand is kind of what I wish Tame Impala would be: poppy psych-rock, but with all its ragged, jagged edges on display.
• Ryley Walker, Friday at the Woods Stage. This year’s Pickathon lineup was loaded with modern practitioners of solo acoustic guitar music, all of them dazzling. But none chafe against the style as much as Walker, whose punk background shines through in everything he does. In the stunning setting of the Woods Stage, he led his band through a set of dizzying jazz-folk jams that seemed to climb up into the trees and curl around their branches like a scene out of a cartoonish dream. Walker spent as much time yelping and screaming and shaking his head wildly as he did singing the ‘70s-ish songs from his excellent album Primrose Green.
• Kamasi Washington, Friday in the Galaxy Barn. Washington—new cat on the jazz scene and Kendrick Lamar collaborator—played a much-buzzed-about set on Pickathon’s spacious main stage early Friday evening, and then capped off the night by squeezing all eight members of his band onto the Galaxy’s tiny stage. Once set, they delivered an hourlong set of heavy funk and space-jazz that was both imposing and inspiring. Washington was the zen master at the center of it all who seemed to truly delight in the talents of his impressive band, which included his own father on sax. It felt like they rearranged my DNA. It also felt like witnessing something special.
• Meatbodies, Saturday on the Mountain Stage. Say hello to the surprise of Pickathon 2015, as well as the loudest band I saw over the weekend. With space on the big stage to roam, this LA quartet brought out the sludgehammers, cramming Sabbath-heavy riffs into garage-pop songs, one after another after another. One guitarist wore a cape, the other looked like Angus Young after some time on a torture rack and the bassist padded around silently and all smiles like Pavement’s Mark Ibold. Together, they were a wild-eyed, lipsticked nuke job, all thunder and little melody, because the vocals were way too quiet (which was fine). They appeared to win a ton of people over, quickly and decisively. Including me.
• William Tyler, Saturday in the Lucky Barn. The format at the small, seats-only Lucky Barn included not only music, but also an interview with the artist conducted by a member of the media. Tyler, the wizardly instrumental guitarist from Nashville, graciously answered questions, but in between, he conjured gorgeous sounds from both an acoustic and electric guitar, showcasing his dusky aesthetic and horizon-wide melodies. The audience of 100 or so included a half-dozen other leaders within Tyler’s industry, proof that this was one of Pickathon’s can’t-miss sets.
• Diiv, Saturday at the Woods Stage. Pickathon’s most verdant venue was a perfect setting for the swirling psychedelia of this Brooklyn band, which caught a lot of buzz off its wonderful debut album “Oshin” a couple years ago but has been quiet recently. Frontman Zachary Cole Smith didn’t exactly ooze charisma, either, often hiding behind a long shock of bleach-blonde hair and occasionally mumbling between songs. But those songs sounded terrific, all krautrock pulse and ‘80s vibe and prickly, high-pitched guitars. If Pickathon is a dream, it needs a dreamy house band. DIIV fits the bill.
• Tinariwen, Saturday at the Starlight Stage. A big crowd stayed up late to watch this legendary band of Tuareg musicians from Mali weave their Saharan magic. Digging into subterranean drones and dusty desert blues, the group locked into a series of deeply psychedelic grooves that were ideal for swaying along under a full moon.
• Hiss Golden Messenger, Sunday at the Woods Stage. On Sunday, the skies turned overcast and temperatures were cooler, but the air was noticeably more humid, which turned out to be the perfect environment for Hiss Golden Messenger’s swampy, stirring early-afternoon set. Led by Southern culture godhead M.C. Taylor and supplemented with guest guitarist William Tyler, HGM leaned into a set of bluesy country-rock jams that were so sturdy, so substantive, so soulful, it felt like watching Pickathon’s very essence come to life.
See all of Autumn Andel's Pickathon photos here.
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• Pickathon Diaries: Top 10 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Going to Pickathon
• A (Rather Long) Pickathon Reading List
• Wolf People: A Series of Tests
• Kamasi Washington: Rebirth of the Cool
• Alice Gerrard: Homeward Bound