In all my preppin’ for Pickathon, I still had no idea what to actually expect until I arrived at the lush, scenic Pendarvis Farm at which this festival is held. About thirty minutes from downtown Portland, I found myself in Happy Valley, a “suburb” of southeastern Portland, but instead of ‘burb, think rolling farm lands with thickly forested hills. As one enters the main area, under the gorgeous kite-like expanses of canopies that somehow manage to keep the burning sun off your skin, yet still lets you gaze up at the blue sky through them, you land in a hippie-nouveau utopia of barns with horses, barns with stages, a gorgeous open expanse leading down to two different stages, plenty of seating and mouth-watering smells from the many awesome food carts. And people; lots and lots of people, acting friendlier towards one another than you can remember people ever being in ‘real life.’ And that tone is set starting with the volunteer staff, every single one of which is smiling, super helpful and chill. Not to mention as you pass other Pickathon goers in tight, humid quarters, aka the Galaxy and Workshop Barns, you’ll hear more than one “excuse me, brother” as sweaty limbs collide in passing. It’s another world out there at Pickathon. A kinder, gentler world.
Then there’s the music. I kicked off my day with the stoner troubadour Todd Snider in The Workshop Barn. The barn stages at Pickathon only hold about 75 people at most, meanwhile about 150 cram in to see their favorite performers. Yet on a hot weekend like this one, there really is no air flow in the barns, as they keep the doors shut to maintain a One Entry, One Exit door policy. Therefore creating a peyote sweat lodge environ of epic proportions. We crammed in by the exit door (meanwhile some lady was holding five seats for friends, who, I might add, never showed up, prompting mi viejo to claim “holding seats is bullshit” and I for one, concur) and Todd Snider came in looking somehow cool as a cucumber (perhaps it was his adorable bare feet) and immediately launched into one gorgeous number after another. Playing songs off both of his recent albums Agnostic Hymns and Stoner Fables and ‘Time As We Know It’ The Songs of Jerry Jeff Walker (a tribute album to his musical hero) Snider, with his warm, scraggly preacher presence has you immediately forgetting you’ve turned into a human faucet of pouring sweat and are receiving only the tiniest gasps of fresh oxygen. He then asked the crowd if they had any songs they wanted to hear and he obliged each and every one as the crowd sang along. It was somewhere after four or five requests that I began seeing stars and knew it was time to leave. Snider was playing again outdoors a few hours later and I thought it best to catch him then, versus ending up spending my day with the vapors in the First Aid tent. Upon exiting the barn, what previously felt like a hot sunny day, now felt like a fresh blast of air conditioning.
Todd Snider \”Too Soon To Tell\” video
We then sampled a few of the excellent food carts while camped out in front the two main stages, chilling out to the ‘Texas Country Blues Preacher’ Reverend KM Williams, followed by hometown girl Laura Gibson. We found being under the canopies and near the beer garden to be the truly prime real estate of the fest. The Grove served us up the best salad and burrito we’ve had in a long time; certainly not your average festival grub with its fresh greens, veg, and toasted pepitas, while The Widmer Brother’s Drop Top Amber Ale and Citrus Blonde kept us nicely hydrated. At the Kure Juice Bar we each got The Lady of The Day mango smoothies for dessert, leading me to ponder why it is that I ate healthier at Pickathon than I do in daily life? I guess because it’s just all right there. Dishwashing stations around the food area, as well as the giant fresh drinking water truck are all within a hundred feet and it’s nice to see the No Single-Use policy of the fest working as smoothly as it should. I’m thinking after seeing a festival with no garbage cans or recycling bins overflowing with refuse, I may not be able to stomach a festival in the future that does. It’s just too easy to be eco-friendly and sustainable these days if people put in the tiniest bit of effort. And it works. Pickathon, if anything, is a shining example of that forward thinking and I can only hope organizers of festivals in the future, of any kind, take note.
It was then time for Todd Snider ‘part deux’ that day and I felt so fortunate to see this Smothers Brothers/Garrison Keillor/Jonathon Richmond/Bob Dylan hybrid of a musician twice in one day. Whereas inside the peyote sweat lodge … er,.. I mean the Workshop Barn…Snider kept it warm and intimate with his music selections; outside on the main stage, playing largely to the beer garden crowd, he fired it up ten-fold with his own rabble-rousing, humorous, political folk-rock that had the crowd on it’s knees. Its astonishing to me that such a loveable, talented, brilliant singer-songwriter musician the likes of him isn’t a household name. Todd Snider. Remember that. You’ll be glad you did.
It was shortly after Snider’s second set that I had a Rock n’ Roll Bucket List moment of my own. I found myself standing next to one of my musical heroes, Randy Broughton from The Gear Daddies. Whereas back in the day, in Minnesota, though I’d had a million opportunities to say hello, or profess my fan-girling to Broughton, at all the various venues I’d seen him play at from ages 15 to 30, my shyness and respect of his privacy had always kept me from doing so. But here at Pickathon, he somehow now seemed like an “old Minnesota pal of mine” so I got up the courage and blurted out “Hi Randy, I’m one of your biggest fans” and we got to talking about the Minnesota music scene from the 80’s and 90’s and what he was up to now. Turns out he’s playing his sweet pedal steel guitar and dobro for The Cactus Blossoms, who, by the way, were voted the Best Country Band of Minnesota 2012 by the City Pages. I’m not surprised. Any band worthy of Broughton’s talent ought to bring about such praise.
Southeast Engine we’re rockin’ it out as we left the main area and made the trek to The Woods. Having no idea what to expect, we soon found ourselves heading down a soft dusty path deep into the trees, surrounded by every sort of twinkly hippie encampment, flowing tapestries in the trees and colorful hammocks everywhere as the trail got darker and cooler, until all sunlight disappeared and you were led only by strings of lights and occasional over head balloon-like chandeliers. The Forest Moon of Endor indeed; or as mi viejo whispered in my ear, “ewoks” in a highly reverential tone. We finally made it to an opening deep inside the forest which surrounds the homespun, thatched-stick Woods stage. Bales of hay are lined up around it to park your booty on, meanwhile a tiny beer garden, a wood-fired pizza oven stand and an ice cream cart are standing nearby. It’s hard to not to be in complete awe of this hippie paradise. Well, almost a paradise. Did I mention the babies, the toddlers, the children? So. Many. Children. A real family-friendly fest, Pickathon is, with its weekend-long camping and children-friendly playgrounds throughout, its a wonderful music fest to bring the children. When you’re of the non-breeding variety however, it’s MUCH. And with The Woods being in the middle of the biggest camping zone, let’s just say you soon find yourself outnumbered at least 3 to 1 by the little people of Pickathon. So after an interminable hour-long soundcheck by the Bowerbirds, whilst a Lord Of The Flies situation amongst a wild group of seven year-olds playing on a rope swing behind us began brewing, we felt it was time to move back into the light. At which point Bowerbirds finally began their set, playing such ethereally beautiful music, so appropriate to the magical woodsy setting, it lifted the place into an almost spiritual level. We’re glad we stuck around.
Bowerbirds \”Overcome with Light\” & \”Brave World\” video
Then it was back out to the main stage, and to see the setting sun amongst the now colorfully-lit canopies was once again a dream-like setting of such surreal beauty, your mouth literally hangs open for a moment. Mine did anyway, that is until we settled into our camp-chairs and I plugged it with a Fifty Licks Stumptown Coffee ice cream cone (!!) while we watched Typhoon take the hometown crowd to task with their fever-pitch, Polyphonic Spree-sized, indie rock instrumentals. Immediately after, Heartless Bastards were ready to roll and brought the entire main stage area to its feet with their dark, sexy rock and Erika Wennerstrom’s soulful, spooky vocals.
All in all, a remarkably mind-blowing first day at Pickathon. I can’t wait to see what Saturday and Sunday have in store.
-Post by Miss Dolly Mod