THIS PAST WEEKEND thousands of music fans flocked to Happy Valley for Pickathon, which I can now attest really is Oregon's best music festival. It's even more gorgeous than I'd imagined—Pendarvis Farm sits on rolling hills that back up to acres of densely wooded forest. It looks like it's straight out of a fairytale, except with a lot of dudes wearing Utilikilts. Here are some of the BEST and WEIRDEST things we saw at Pickathon 2016.
BEST: The view of Mt. Hood from the Mountain Stage was pretty fantastic, as were the fried chicken steamed buns I devoured multiple times throughout the weekend. But my best Pickathon moment happened Friday night, when I was backstage at the Galaxy Barn. I was in the middle of talking to someone and leaning against a table that had a strange metallic garment sitting atop it. Ty Segall came up and asked if he could grab said garment, then hurried away. Less than an hour later I was in the front row at his set in the barn, drowning in the pit and accruing a bodily tableau of bruises. Segall asked for a volunteer, and a young woman jumped onstage. He instructed her to put on the mysterious garment, which turned out to be a one-piece spacesuit. He performed with his newest band, Ty Segall & the Muggers, and they mostly played songs off their 2016 debut, Emotional Mugger. I also loved seeing Adia Victoria, Lindi Ortega, the freshly reunited Wolf Parade, and Thee Oh Sees.
WEIRDEST: Pickathon strives to be a no-waste festival, so attendees must purchase a cup and plate if they forget their own and wish to eat/drink. But there are boundaries to where you can take alcoholic beverages, so when entering/exiting a stage area the gatekeepers require attendees to flip cups upside down, demonstrating that they are empty. During one such late-night interaction, I witnessed an attendee forget to flip their cup, but a gatekeeper promptly assured them, "Don't worry, you look empty," before realizing, "Oh, that was poorly phrased." I also saw King Tuff throw a Hacky Sack at Kevin Morby during Morby's set, which was definitely pretty weird. CIARA DOLAN
BEST: I left my eardrums in the Galaxy Barn. But Alvvays’ Friday set totally made my earsplosion worthwhile. Those Canadian “hicks” are delightful incarnate. Pickathoners crammed themselves into the sweatbox to listen to the tuneful quintet, while photogs swarmed the youthful band. (One dude thought he was a paparazzo.) Frontwoman Molly Rankin, dressed in a barn-appropriate western shirt, said she got “psychotic” when the heat was this crazy, but her psychosis sounded great. Alvvays played a handful of new songs from the upcoming follow-up to their self-titled debut, alongside all the goodies from that 26-minute gem. It was wonderful, and SO SO LOUD. I was wearing earplugs and headphones by the time they got to their closing standout song “Archie, Marry Me.” Between Alvvays and Protomartyr’s Woods Stage set, my earholes were smiling… and probably bleeding.
WEIRDEST: I was tallying up all the weird shit I saw at the Pendarvis Farm, and the strangest might’ve been the number of jumpsuits and rompers I saw all the ladies wearing. Seriously, who wants to take off your entire outfit every time you use the portable toilet? It’s bad enough exposing the nethers, let alone the whole bizness. Guh-ross. But on further reflection, I think the most peculiar item of note at Pickathon was the amount of dust that went up my nose. My boogers were black as tar by Sunday. COURTNEY FERGUSON
More Pickathon memories and photos after the jump!
BEST: Jeff Tweedy’s Saturday night set at the main Mt. Hood stage is among my favorite musical performances I’ve seen live. Tweedy and a rotating cast of acoustic guitars nailed some of my favorite old Wilco songs (“Misunderstood," “A Shot in the Arm") that I hadn’t heard in person before. He was also great at interacting between songs, mocking Donald Trump’s boastfulness and stupid cadence (“I have the best songs. Everybody says I have the best songs”), while riffing on missing his wedding anniversary to perform that night and how his wife probably had better things to do than watch the livestream of his performance (we found out at his Sunday night performance that she had, in fact, watched). Every minute was flat-out great.
WEIRDEST: Dan Deacon’s Saturday afternoon set at the Woods Stage was an awesomely weird time. The dude knows how to work a crowd. It was an odd sight seeing a couple hundred amped-up hippies dance like crazy to electronic music, surrounded by trees in the middle of the woods, handing out more high fives than an average frat house during Deacon's “wall of life” portion. DOUG BROWN
BEST: King Sunny Adé was marvelous, ecstatic joy gone exponential. He and his 13 band members—bass, keys, two guitars, four talking drums, trap kit, another drum, congas—stretched the foundation of the small Woods stage. Ade led the boisterous crew with precision and aplomb, as if his every dancing movement were a signal to stop, start, change tempos, get quiet, and swell. In the thralls of Adé's beaming charisma, and the swirl of searing polyrhythms, both band and audience grinned, hollered, and danced along. Like a ray of glorious light he flashed then disappeared, all too soon. (Good thing he's got a headlining Portland date this week.)
WEIRDEST: Little is weird about the well-oiled Pickathon—except maybe the Utilikilts. I suppose it was a bit odd that festival organizers were able to erase the security barrier at main stage and no one did anything
stupid. It did strike me that so few performers used their time to blast anything but easy kumbaya vibes—this is an election year, after all, and a particularly vehement one at that. So when folks like Cass McCombs played "Don't Vote," and North Carolina's Mount Moriah spoke about their state's "bullshit" bathroom bill, my ears and interest perked up. Indeed, I want the full spectrum reflected—anxiety, distrust, venom and all. For that, Protomartyr were essential. While the bucolic nature of Pickathon is well necessary, so too is a little edge. ANDREW R TONRY
BEST: I’m just going to go ahead and say it, hour-long sets are almost always too long. Personally I don’t care to watch someone jam on one of their song's bridges for five extra minutes, even if it’s “ironic” (looking at you, Mac Demarco). There is something to be said for a band that picks seven to ten of their best songs and delivers them with energy, so for a power-pop act like Boston’s Palehound, who have just a 30-minute LP (Dry Food), a 15-minute EP (Bent Nail), and a two-song 7-inch (Kitchen) under their belts, you could feel the nervous energy from songwriter Ellen Kempner trying to piece together a set to fill their allotted time. Yet their noontime performance in the Galaxy Barn was nothing short of breathtaking. Palehound played infectious, danceable lo-fi pop songs like “Pet Carrot” and “Cinnamon.” While Kempner tenderly sung “You made beauty a monster to me/So I’m kissing all the ugly things I see” on their contemplative folk song “Dry Food,” she had me in a stupor unsure if I was weeping or just face-sweating. Palehound finished with Kempner dismissing her bandmates so she could play two new songs solo. I don’t know if anybody has ever captured the fraught emotionality of a solitary and defeated walk through a grocery store, feeling all the fruit’s bruises, as perfectly as Kempner did.
WEIRDEST: Once most of the Mountain Stage attendees had filed out after Jeff Tweedy’s quiet bedtime coos, Ezra Furman came on the smaller Starlight Stage. Furman announced that they’d be playing a set of angry minor chord songs for the night before promptly plunging into a set that sounded like an antagonistic Adam Ant fronting Belle & Sebastian. After playing Day of the Dog track “Bottom of the Ocean,” Furman told the primarily hippy crowd that in high school they'd thought it was fun to say strange things to get hippies riled up. One audience member shouted “Who hurt you?” to which Furman laughed and told the crowd it was the best heckle they’d ever gotten. I sat near a hippie laying on his back in the grass watching the stars spin. After hearing Furman and the crowd’s back and forth the hippie let out his last slurred declaration of “You’re a dick…” before passing out. CAMERON CROWELL
BEST: It was anyone’s guess the reaction the first metal performance at Pickathon would elicit. I was just as excited to see the reaction as I was to see VHÖL. The band’s afternoon performance at the Treeline Stage brought out a handful of black-shirted heshers, but there were also straight-laced families—some of whom looked like they were there only for the shady comfort—and most whom I assume had no idea what was coming. I figured half the crowd would clear out by song two. Nope. Instead everyone moved closer, and the audience grew in size. VHÖL frontman Mike Scheidt responded, thrusting his fists in the air as a group of lanky teens moshed up front, nothing but smiles on their faces. It made me think about what it must have been like for unsuspecting crowds who saw Metallica in 1983. One thing I’m fairly certain of, as evidenced by the same group of kids who came back for a second helping of VHÖL the next day: There are probably a dozen new metal bands forming this week.
WEIRDEST: Even as prolific as Ty Segall has been over the past decade, he always seems to find himself in new creative situations, while always maintaining strict quality control. The latest iteration of Ty Segall and band is The Muggers (featuring some of the usual suspects Mikal Cronin and King Tuff). The songs are just as ripping and catchy, but live Segall has moved on to become something of a deranged version of preacher and carnival barker. Both performances at Pickathon were completely unhinged and fully enthralling. At one point Segall told a story about a spacesuit he’d found, and proceeded to tell someone in the audience to put said space suit on, and keep it on. When the young woman refused to remain suited, the proceedings turned into pell-mell in the greatest sense. Rock and roll needs this. MARK LORE
BEST: For me, this year’s Pickathon landed the nostalgia blast that so many big summer festivals aim to deliver, but always come up slightly short on. It helps that they landed a lineup that was right in my wheelhouse, but I can’t be the only one who was left floored by the headlining triple-threat of Wolf Parade, Yo La Tengo, and Jeff Tweedy. Wolf Parade’s “I’ll Believe in Anything” is every bit as catchy as you remember it being a decade ago, and Spencer Krug and Co. delivered it with every ounce of hard-hitting emotion it deserves. Seeing the band’s stage technician off in the wings of the Woods Stage pounding a Coors, pumping his fist, and singing right along with Krug with as much passion as the fans in the front row confirms my suspicions that the song will probably never get old. On the subject of aging gracefully, Yo La Tengo’s amped up Saturday night set at the main stage covered decades of material. I was a little caught off guard by just how ingrained in my head some of the songs off their 2013 album Fade have become, but that’s just the magic of the Hoboken trio at work. I’m not sure what can really be said about Jeff Tweedy’s two magical career-spanning sets, other than you probably want to grab tickets for Wilco’s upcoming September show at the Schnitzer while they are still available. Oh, it also was really cute when the two little kids in front of me who were sticking glow-sticks up their noses triggered the playful curmudgeon in Tweedy and prompted him to wander over and “shush” them as they hid from him at the base of the stage. It was just one on the many swoon-worthy moments delivered by the undeniable songwriter over the course of the weekend.
WEIRDEST: While there is never any shortage of music to take in while out at Pickathon, people watching down at the farm always tends to be just a mesmerizing as catching a good show. C.W. Stoneking’s Saturday afternoon performance at the Woods Stage packed the one-two punch of being a memorable set, while also providing some great action in the crowd. Stoneking’s unique mix of southern blues, country roots, and calypso blended seamlessly with the very talented hula hoopers off to the side of that stage, yet somehow it was the shirtless pop-and-locker draped in glow-sticks who found a way to steal the side show. Off to the other side of the stage, the leather-vested Crocodile Dundee-looking gentleman hanging in the tree with the “that's not a knife, THIS is a knife”-sheathed blade dangling from his leather belt strap had me questioning if he had made his way out to the farm from Stoneking’s home country of Australia, or if he was just another local Dundee doppelganger. CHIPP TERWILLIGER
BEST: My favorite artist this year was a total dark horse who I hadn’t heard of before the lineup was announced, Daniel Norgren. These were his very first sets ever in the United States and he traveled all the way from Sweeden to play Pickathon. I wasn’t sure what I was getting into when I went to his first show, but his guitar playing and voice were so beautiful and heart wrenching that I ended up seeing him three times, my favorite being as the sun was setting at the Treeline stage on Friday evening.
WEIRDEST: Dan Deacon on Sunday afternoon at the Woods Stage was INSANE. I’ve never seen a show that had so much organized crowd participation, including a one-on-one dance competition, a group interpretive dance, a high-five wall of death, a human tunnel, and dancing penguins. Mr. Deacon himself is a hysterical psychedelic preacher who looks like he could do your taxes. This show was so good it redeemed my faith in humanity. BRI BREY
SIR RICHARD BISHOP
KING SUNNY ADÉ
OPEN MIKE EAGLE
THEE OH SEES
TY SEGALL & THE MUGGERS
THE WOOLEN MEN