"Picka-What?!": Our Top Picks of Pickathon 2018
Growing up in the suburbs of the Portland-Metro area, Pickathon has always been an urban legend to me. I had heard mumblings about the festival for as long as I can remember on the local indie-rock radio station and at concerts around town, but I never really knew much about it other than that it was kind of the only “real” festival Portland had. After becoming more involved in Portland’s music community I’d come to learn about what I thought Pickathon was: a weekend-long festival in the woods that features camping, an eclectic-but-mostly-folk lineup, and a lot of hippies - making it, all around, not my scene. It wasn’t until I finally attended Pickathon this year, that I understood how wrong I was.
Well, I was right about a few things. Festival go-ers do have the option to camp for the weekend in the forests of the Pendarvis Farm in Happy Valley, Oregon (about 30 minutes southeast of Portland) among stages, art installations, and all the action. That being said, the festival emphasizes leaving nature as it was found, and has commit to some really awesome and impressive sustainability initiatives. It may seem obvious, but recycling and composting are a big part of lessening the festival’s ecological impact, in addition to providing free drinking water for all. You won’t be able to find a single-use cup at Pickathon, as they have been banned and replaced with a reusable stainless steel cup for every attendee. Additionally, solar panels on the Galaxy Barn stage create enough renewable energy to power both the stage and all food and craft vendors, and solar generators around the grounds are used to light up walkways and charge electronics.
One of the most notable features of the festival though, are their innovative and engaging stages, which truly make seeing live music an experience rather than just a pastime. Their famous main stage, the Mt. Hood stage, includes a giant suspension of shades that provide cooling relief during the day and come to life with color after dark; while the Woods Stage creates a nest among the twigs for performers to nestle into while immersing the audience in a fully-forested performance. The most striking stage for the past 5 years though, has been the Treeline Stage- designed and built by Portland State architecture students. While the stage is a grand, visually captivating spectacle; it serves a greater purpose: it’s materials will be reused in Portland to build structures in houseless villages after the festival.
Pickathon’s lineup is in fact distinctly folk-heavy, but has also grown to be one of the most multifaceted and unique lineups in the festival circuit. In 2016 and 2017 alone, their lineups included artists like Dinosaur Jr, Yo La Tengo, Big Thief, Andy Shauf, Palehound, BadBadNotGood, Alvvays, Beach House, La Luz, Ty Segall, Thee Oh Sees, Lucy Dacus, Meatbodies, and more. This year’s lineup surely followed precedent; below are some highlights, and an accompanying playlist!
Built to Spill: I won’t lie, this was the festival’s selling point for me. As a self-proclaimed indie-emo fiend, Built to Spill is like my bread and butter. This is the band that countless current-day bands I listen to are compared to, and that I’ve been waiting to see since first hearing them during my 90s phase in late high school. Despite the passing of time, the band’s musicianship hasn’t aged a day. Playing a good mix of songs across their entire discography, their set offered satisfaction for everyone expect those wished only to hear the notorious “Carry the Zero”.
Haley Heynderickx: After releasing her debut full length album I Need to Start a Garden earlier this year and extensively touring nationally and internationally for the past 5 months, Heynderickx and her band returned home to Oregon for yet another phenomenal performance. The singer-songwriter is known for her enchanting voice and often minimalistic recordings, but the full power of her work is best felt live. When full-band and fleshed out, tender moments of intimacy become grandiose and poignant beyond what mere words could convey.
Haram: The word, means “forbidden by Islamic Law”. The band, kicks ass. This New York, Arab-American hardcore band was just the shot of adrenaline Pickathon needed. Loud, abrasive, and just plain punk - I’m positive this band caught at least a few festival patrons off-guard. If you’re not too transfixed on their thrashing, acerbic sounds, you’ll notice that some lyrics are sung in Arabic too. A true testament to resistance, the band in unapologetic in every sense of the word.
Sheer Mag: Forming only in 2014, Sheer Mag’s rise to notoriety was relatively quick, and understandably so. Their catchy, 70s inspired, classic rock sound with modern twist is the optimal setting for vocalist Tina Halladay’s distinct and breathtaking vocals. Such music requires nothing short of a lively and impassioned performance, which is exactly what the band delivered.
Wand: As this year’s definitive “buzz band”, Wand brought the much needed youthful edge. Rising from a quintessential humble-art-school-conception, the LA-based band has accomplished five full length albums and countless festival appearances since forming only 5 years ago in 2013. Their psychedelic sound is rooted in garage rock, making for a diverse fan-base. This sound had previously caught the attention of Ty Segall, (resulting the band signing to his label: Drag City), and certainly caught the attention of myself and many other Pickathon attendees.
Valley Queen: While wandering around the festival grounds, trying to kill time, I was stopped dead in my tracks by this band. Valley Queen puts a raw, rock & roll edge on soulful, folky pop. Natalie Carol sits at the center of it all with her commanding voice and vulnerable yet clever songwriting. Each song felt more palatial than the last, leaving the audience with a deep feeling of good 'ol rockabilly satisfaction.
Jamila Woods: Knowing how extensive and impressive the production was on her debut album HEAVN, I was curious to see how powerhouse Jamila Woods would execute her live performance. I was, of course, in awe during her entire performance. To my delight, a backing band of incredibly talented funk musicians breathed life into the elaborate, lavish songs. Accompanied of course by Woods’ unbelievably captivating voice. Her unique rendition of Rage Against the Machine’s “Killing in the Name Of” bled seamlessly into another cover of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” before sealing the set’s fate as fan-favorite.
Shakey Graves: Much like Pickathon as a whole, Shakey Graves’ set took me by surprise and subvert all of my preconceived notions. Departing slightly from his previous americana and folk aesthetic; 2018 finds Alejandro Rose-Garcia in his most indie-pop-rock form yet. Remnants of twangy influence can be felt though in his latest, pivotal album Can’t Wake Up. This made for a cohesive set as while his works past and present sat back to back. Despite the significant sonic changes, Rose-Garcia’s fanbase seemed more than happy to follow him into indie-pop territory