I haven't been to all the music festivals in the world, so I can't say for certain that Pickathon is the absolute very best one. But I am certain of this: It's up there.
In fact, I can't think of a single way the festival could be improved, from Pickathon's intimate size, to its lack of intrusive corporate sponsors, to its family-friendly activities, to the jaw-droppingly beautiful setting on a farm 12 miles outside of Portland. Pickathon's vaunted eco-friendliness, too, is nothing short of remarkable: They've figured out a way to get thousands of people to camp for three days and leave almost no wake in the form of garbage. It's in large part thanks to the reusable cups and dishes that Pickathon has instituted for festivalgoers, eliminating all single-use cups, bottles, and food containers. Water's completely free—something that's still unheard of at other music festivals, if you can believe it—and the food options this year come from some of Portland's very best places to eat, from Pine State Biscuits to Bollywood Theatre to Bunk Sandwiches to....
I'm getting ahead of myself. If you've been to Pickathon, you know why people get so breathlessly enthusiastic about it.
If you haven't, I suppose it can be summed up like this: For three days, the volunteer-run Pickathon crew hosts the best damn party in town. Throughout the year, a committee of unpaid consultants—friends, let's call 'em—have helped whittle a roster of phenomenal musical acts out of hundreds of possibilities. (Full disclosure: I've attended a couple of the listening parties at co-organizer Zale Schoenborn's house and offered my two cents.) And the rest of the Pickathon team—which includes Schoenborn's partner and Pickathon co-organizer Terry Groves—has every other element of the festival nailed down, from the stunning, immense fabric installations that are now part of Pickathon iconography to the continual improvement and expansion of the existing stages. It's a festival that boasts a truly enviable lineup, and one that honestly reflects the taste of its organizers. But what makes Pickathon so special is that they've built a village around it with equal love and care.
As far as what's new: The festival, now in its 16th year, is continuing its relatively recent romance with punk and garage rock, with plugged-in bands nestling comfortably next to virtuosic acoustic pluckers. (Check out some of our picks in the following pages.) The Workshop Barn has been renamed the Lucky Barn, and will be hosting conventional shows in addition to the more workshop-y events it's held in the past. The teeny Café Stage, which made its spontaneous debut last year, has been expanded into a bigger space called the Tree Line Stage. The blacktop beer garden adjacent to the Galaxy Barn will have DJs spinning throughout the night, like Vetiver's Andy Cabic, Fruit Bats/EDJ's Eric D. Johnson, KEXP's Greg Vandy, and Aquarium Drunkard's Justin Gage. And they've announced the acts of their undercover Thursday night shows (for early ticketholders only—it costs extra), a tradition that's been kept secret in previous years: They'll have Ural Thomas & the Pain, Houndstooth, the Donkeys, and Lonnie Holley, all of whom will be performing at other times during the weekend as well.
Pickathon's been recording and filming performances for a few years now, steadily accruing a vault's worth of exceptional footage. Indeed, this year, as in years past, you'll be able to live-stream the event from home with excellent-quality sound and visuals. But really, nothing compares to actually being there—whether it's seeing a mellow folk act in the early afternoon on the forested Woods Stage, or a full-blast rock 'n' roll show in the sweatbox of the Galaxy Barn at one in the morning. Like I said, it's the best party around. And it's this weekend.