Returning after a two-year pandemic hiatus, Pickathon 2022 felt even more like a labor of love than it had in recent years. The fest confirmed that volunteer numbers were low, and Friday saw a short-lived parking crisis, which was eventually solved thanks to a neighbor's additional lot.
Though many things about the farmbound fest stayed true to our idyllic memories, there were also changes and adaptions. Here are some of the festival's most charming or defining aspects, as noted by the Mercury's Pickathon-scoping team.
Sons of Kemet with Esperanza Spalding
Over the years, I have adopted a somewhat unconventional Pickathon tradition. Other than leaning in a little bit to write some previews, my preferred way to take in the fest is slightly inebriated and literally stumbling upon new-to-me acts—later becoming obsessed with them. In 2019, that's what happened with psychedelic instrumental trio Khruangbin, and this year it's British jazz group Sons of Kemet. The band—which includes Shabaka Hutchings on saxophone and clarinet, drummers Tom Skinner and Eddie Hick, and Theon Cross on tuba—merges jazz with Afro beat and world music, culminating in an epic soundtrack for pretty much any kind of movement. Cross’ booming, playful, and giggle-inducing tuba solos are invigorating live, and it was difficult for anyone to stand (or sit) still while Sons of Kemet were playing. But the best part was when Grammy-award winning jazz bassist/singer Esperanza Spalding joined them onstage. Saying she left her bass at home, Spalding offered stunning, soaring vocalizations, which sounded amazingly reminiscent of '90s Mariah Carey. JENNI MOORE
The Paddock Stage
Pickathon's grand Mt. Hood Stage did not return this year—some will remember that the takedown of its soaring sunshades was a factor in the deaths of two contractors after the festival in 2019—so the new neighborhood design seemed interwoven with solving the problem of daytime performance, without sun shades, in an increasingly hot world. We were impressed by Pickathon's solution of strategically pacing out sets so that midday shows all happened under forest or indoors. At dusk, the Paddock stage roused and welcomed audiences to starlit scapes. Ironically, the Mt. Hood Stage had always blocked its namesake, but from the Paddock we were finally able to take in the mountain view. SUZETTE SMITH
GZA with the Phunky Nomads
GZA is a shining testament of a true MC, not only still holding his own but thriving 30 years on in his career, after initially being discovered by the masses via Wu-Tang Clan. To see him perform with a live band in the middle of the woods was indeed a bucket list moment I didn’t know I needed. GZA performed Wu-Tang songs from his classic album Liquid Swords, and even did a rendition of “Shimmy Shimmy Ya,” originally performed by his cousin, the late great ODB. At one point, he gave a shoutout to a young blonde kid—who didn't look a day over twelve—who had been rapping along for the whole show. Watching GZA rock out amongst a sea of faces you wouldn’t typically see at a rap show, underneath huge trees, a sunset sky, and Mt. Hood, was truly something special (and rare). BRYSON FISHER
Omar El Akkad
This year was the first time literature joined the festival's line-up, thanks to a Literary Arts-sponsored series of live readings. As it began at 10 am on Sunday morning, author and journalist Omar El Akkad received scattered cheers from a clearly groggy audience. “This is the energy I want,” he said, before asking why Literary Arts would bring a strife-and-conflict journalist known for his coverage of Guantanamo Bay and the War in Afghanistan to entertain a music festival. "If you want to have your day ruined, just come talk to me."
Moving against his self-professed dourness, El Akkad read a sampling of satirical bidet commercials he'd recently ad-libbed at a reading in New York. Delivered in a cloying, early pandemic lockdown tone, the listed tragedies included one about hybrid donkey-murder hornets. “There’s only one stinging ass you should have to worry about,” El Akkad reassured his listeners. ANDREW JANKOWSKI
No longer content to be hidden away on forested trails, Pickathon’s sculptural art works acted almost like landmarks this year, orienting attendees with their alluring electric lights. Luvcapacitor by Ezra Cimino resembled a six-foot Furby, complete with purple fur trim, radiant core, and sing-song language. Covered in iridescent disco scales, the Luvcapacitor lit up as audiences touched its platform, and its responses varied enough that each interaction almost felt mood-ring unique. After the past few chaotic, socially distant years, Luvcapacitor felt like a kind of exposure therapy where reaching out and touching something brought only joy. AJ
Taking a baby to a music festival is no small feat, but fawning over babies wearing headphones all weekend is a treat. For those who brought small children and babies to the festival, hearing protective devices—à la sound reduction earmuffs—were not only insanely cute, but necessary. On Friday, I brought my two-month old, making it her first-ever concert and music festival experience. After we got to the festival, we discovered that the noise was more pervasive than I foresaw, so I was glad her dad and I also had the sense to bring a pair of green Alpine MUFFYbaby earmuffs. Although they come in a slew of colors, green was what we chose. The muffs worked great and her resemblance to Baby Yoda (but cuter) was an additional perk. JM
Oregon ranked number six in the US this year for Unidentified Flying Object (UFO) sightings, with 79 sightings per 100,000 residents. If you’ve never seen what you thought may have been a UFO or something that appears to surpass society's current level of technology or understanding—it’s completely reasonable to be fully skeptical. Luckily for Pickathon attendees, no such skepticism was needed; there were beautifully lit UFO installations on display for all to see. One served as a DJ booth where a modest crowd of (very) uniquely dressed individuals danced to funky house music all night. Even if you don’t believe any other sentient life resides outside of planet Earth, this galaxy or beyond that, you’ll probably agree that acknowledging the possibility (and probability) of it would make one more empathic of the other life forms (bugs, plants, land forms, etc.), and that alone might make the world a better place. BF
Sampa the Great
On Sunday night—at the "I took Monday off" hour of 11 pm—Zambian singer / rapper Sampa the Great closed out Pickathon with one of the most freeing, self-loving dance parties of the entire fest. Soaring between genres, Sampa and her band touched on lounge jazz, disco, and even a touch of headbanger metal. Wrapped in the brilliance of the Woods Stage natural amphitheater, her robust, raspy voice boomed through the swaying / dancing crowd. Between songs, Sampa expressed gratitude for the chance to play live music again, and reminded the audience that her group was the first Zambian band to ever play Coachella, Glastonbury, and now Pickathon. “We are the first Zambian band to play Pickathon, but we won’t be the last,” Sampa said to thunderous applause. AJ