Bands And Fans Win at Pickathon 2016 (FESTIVAL REVIEW/PHOTOS)

There’s something to be said for a festival that can last for nearly two decades and still manage hold onto the magic that made it so special in the first place. In its 18th year, Pickathon did exactly that. Even as the festival has grown – although the size is still intimate compared to many festivals – the organizers have stuck to the model of sustainability and a thoughtfully curated lineup year after year. Once again people flocked to Pendarvis Farm in the apt setting of Happy Valley, Oregon just minutes from Portland. Here they found a bucolic wonderland blessed by gorgeous summer weather and a lineup of bands picked by people who actually care about the music they book as opposed to filling it with cash cows for the masses. Some bands even got up to three sets, making it nearly impossible to miss out on every band.

Friday boasted a lineup stacked with talent, and it also may have been the most diverse when it came to the genres being represented. Under a canopy of trees, The James Hunter Six graced the Woods Stage with a set of blue-eyed soul that veered gloriously into funky James Brown territory. Their performance whipped the afternoon revelers into a dance party that peaked with a powerful, spot-on cover of the The “5” Royales’ jump blues soul classic “Baby Don’t Do It”. Over on the main stage, King Sunny Ade had possibly the largest band at the festival, and with a cacophony of talking drums was able to rouse the audience with a percussive blast and feel good rhythms to compliment the sunshine. Kevin Morby reminded the crowd that guitar rock is alive and well, playing songs off his new album ­­­­­­Singing Saw and jamming out. Interestingly, guitar rock seemed to be a running theme at this year’s Pickathon. In the stifling heat of the Galaxy Barn, Moon Duo unleashed one of the heaviest sets of the weekend with their droning, psychedelic rock.

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King Sunny Ade

When the sun went down, Wolf Parade brought a welcomed dose of real rock and roll to the main stage as guitarist Dan Boeckner and keyboardist Spencer Krug traded vocals and belted out sharp, danceable tunes that sounded just as fresh now as they did when the new reunited band released their first album in 2005.

Yo La Tengo played the first of two mesmerizing appearances to an enraptured audience at the Woods Stage. For their first set, the trio of Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley, and James McNew stripped things down for a whispery acoustic set that included thoughtful, perfectly executed covers by the like of Dream Syndicate (“That’s What You Always Say”) and The Cure (“Friday I’m In Love”) alongside favorites like the poignant McNew-sang “Black Flowers” and “Nothing To Hide”. Once again, Yo La Tengo proved how it’s possible to do quiet so well even for a late night festival crowd.

Saturday was all about the ladies at Pickathon. Hurray For The Riff Raff played to a packed crowd at the Woods Stage with a set of New Orleans-tinged Americana. Frontwoman Alynda Segarra kept the audience in the palm of her hand with a charming tribute to Woody Guthrie with the poignant folk of “Blue Ridge Mountain” and a slowburning New Orleans soul tune “St. Roch Blues”.

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Mount Mariah seemed to gain new fans with their North Carolina alt-country, while over at the Treeline Stage Adia Victoria delivered a set of sultry, haunting blues that teetered between sexy, bluesy numbers and harder rocking anthems that felt like they could’ve been the soundtrack for a badass action flick.

Margo Price and her band made it worth sweating it out in the Galaxy Barn with a set of cranked up outlaw country, jumping between songs off her recently released album Midwestern Farmer’s Daughter and covers of classic country tunes. Even when Price broke a string on her guitar she happily grabbed the mike and started crooning away with the rowdy country power of Loretta Lynn while her monstrously talented Nashville band kept the twang going strong.

Later in the day, Yo La Tengo would return for an electric (and electrifying!) set, this time on the main stage. The band would deliver a scorching, career-spanning performance of fan favorites like “Ohm”, “Autumn Sweater”, and “Nowhere Near”. Looking back on it now, it’s clear Yo La Tengo were the MVPs of Pickathon with two totally different sets that each wowed their audience for different reasons.

In what may have been the only questionable scheduling decision of the weekend, Jeff Tweedy was given the Saturday night headlining slot on the main stage. Playing solo acoustic, Tweedy played a set of Wilco favorites like “Misunderstood”, “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart”, “Ashes of American Flags”, and “Jesus Etc.”. He even dipped into his work with Uncle Tupelo (“New Madrid”), Golden Smog (“Lost Love”), and Loose Fur (“The Ruling Class”). Tweedy was his usual humorous self with jokes referencing Donald Trump (“my songs are the best, nobody does songs better than me!”) and his set did not disappoint. Yet many in the audience seemed to share the feeling that perhaps a more energetic act should have been given the final Saturday main stage slot. But anybody who was feeling a little festy fatigue after Tweedy only had to walk to the Woods Stage where Thee Oh Sees were unleashing a torrent of psychedelic madness on a raucous crowd. With the attack of two drummers giving the music an intense backbone, the audience could not contain themselves as they pounded fists and banged heads as one throng of chaos practically on top of the band.

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Sunday was yet another day filled with festivities, and those lucky enough not to have to return to work bright and early on Monday were treated to late night sets from Beach House, Thao & the Get Down Stay Down, Thee Oh Sees and Mac DeMarco. Luckily, with the exception of Beach House, all of the acts already played at least twice, so one didn’t need to feel too bad about missing them. Earlier in the day Cory Henry took the audience to church with his massively talented Hammond B-3 organ skills. Accompanied only by his drummer, Henry played the perfect set for a Sunday morning comedown, letting the crowd dance their hangovers away with a medley of Stevie Wonder tunes and laid back funky grooves.

With a capacity that couldn’t have been more than 5,000 (including bands and crew), Pickathon proved for the 18th time that music festivals can still be pure and, believe it or not, all about the music. When all of the massive corporate festivals lose their sponsors and their appeal, it’s the Pickathons of the world that will still be going strong with eclectic lineups and vibrant, friendly communities.

Photos by Brandon Simnacher

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