It’s easy to look at the lineups for festivals like Bonnaroo, Coachella and Austin City Limits and be disappointed by the sameness, not to mention the corporate presence. And while the cancellation of Sasquatch and other large-scale festivals may make it feel like we’ve hit peak festival, there are plenty of smaller independent runs still going strong. Turning 20 years old this year, Pickathon has long been considered the crème de la crème of indie music festivals. Between a deliberately eclectic lineup and an atmosphere that includes creative stage displays, delicious local food and drinks, and a true dedication to sustainability, Pickathon is perhaps the epitome of what a music festival should be. Musically, it’s a tastemaking event, and most attendees go with the knowledge that they will discover their new favorite band. It’s also worth noting one thing that makes the festival so unique is how every band plays at least two sets, meaning you can pretty much catch every act if you really want to. In the spirit of discovery, here are 10 acts you don’t want to miss on Pendarvis Farm just outside Portland, Oregon on August 3-5 Pickathon’s 20th birthday.
From the Saharan Desert to the woods of Oregon comes Tinariwen, one of the most unintentionally psychedelic bands to ever walk the earth. Indeed, the band’s skill at blending the tribal music indigineous to northern Mali with funk, blues and guitar-driven rock has made them favorites among indie and psych rock fans. Their 2017 album Elwan takes an even deeper exploration of that strange and beautiful territory between the American roots music and Western Africa. With multiple vocalists, plenty of guitar grooving, and colorful garb, Tinariwen are a live act not to be missed and their Friday and Saturday night slots will be ideally suited to bring the freaks out.
Thursday 8:50pm-9:50pm – Mt. Hood Stage/Friday 10pm-11:10pm – Treeline Stage
Those of us looking to have our ears pummeled while we pump our fists to glorious punk rock will be camped at the front of the stage on Saturday and Sunday for Philly band Sheer Mag. Frontwoman Tina Halladay is a force of nature, belting out lyrics with punchy punk ferocity while her band mates shred their asses off with Thin Lizzy swagger. While I certainly enjoy my fair share of Americana, folk and country music, Sheer Mag’s freewheeling and jubilant rock and roll cocktail is a welcome presence at Pickathon.
Saturday 7:40pm-8:40pm – Woods Stage/Sunday 11:40pm-12:40am – Galaxy Barn
Though he may not be a household name in the States, Hailu Mergia is absolutely a legend. As the leader of The Walias Band, Mergia achieved massive success in his home country as one of the most prominent figures in Ethiopian jazz. That band pioneered trippy sounds, but Mergia would get even more far out with his electronic keyboard on his solo outings. Recently, Mergia has been driving a cab in Washington D.C., where he has lived for many years. Earlier this year he released Lala Belu, his first new album in two decades, proving to the world that he still has a gift for making cosmic and funky jazz. He has long been a cult favorite among record collectors, but Mergia is sure to inspire many festival-goers to start digging up his music.
Friday 3:50pm-4:50pm – Mt. Hood Stage/Sunday 10:15pm-11:10pm – Starlight Stage
Country music is in a damn good place right now and if you want proof Joshua Hedley is your guy. He has spent years as a trusted sideman for Americana favorites like Justin Townes, Robert Ellis and Johnny Fritz among others, but this year Hedley stepped out on his own with Mr. Jukebox. The album’s title track is the kind of straight up honky tonk that would make Ray Price smile. Easily among the year’s best releases, Mr. Jukebox makes it clear that Hedley is honky tonk to the core. Let’s hope we wears his Nudie suit too!
Thursday 11:40pm-12:40am – Galaxy Barn/Friday 2:40pm-3:40pm – Lucky Barn
Low Cut Connie
In a landscape where good rock and roll is increasingly hard to find and genuine positivity is something of a rarity, South Philly favorites Low Cut Connie reign supreme. Eight years after forming, the piano-driven band finally seem to be getting their due from a growing group of fans who are all hip to the fiery good times the band whips up both onstage and in the studio. I can say with complete confidence that they are the best live act around right now, and though they have been road dogging for years, the Connie boys have been garnering some major attention as of late, opening for the likes of Social Distortion and playing major festivals like Bonnaroo and Newport Folk. Do not miss either of their sets at Pickathon.
Friday 8:20pm-9:20pm – Galaxy Barn/Saturday 12:30pm-1:30pm – Mt. Hood Stage
Lost Bayou Ramblers
Last year the Lost Bayou Ramblers were just about ready to hang up the accordion, much to the dismay of fans of their Cajun meets psychedelic punk sound and their raucous live performances. Then their album Kalenda won a Grammy Award and, lucky for us, they decided to keep the band going for a little while longer. That album found the Ramblers taking their Cajun roots music and warping it into something entirely different. It’s hard to say at this point if and when the Ramblers will actually call it quits, but keep that in mind and make sure to catch one of their sets.
Saturday 10am-11:30am – Curation/Saturday 3:10pm-4:10pm – Treeline Stage/Sunday 12:30pm-1:30pm – Mt. Hood Stage
I am still bummed that Megafaun broke up, but luckily co-founder Phil Cook has stayed busy since then. In fact, between his solo work and his collaborations with other acts – most notably as a member of Hiss Golden Messenger – Cook has been almost prolific in the amount of music he has created since the demise of Megafaun. His recent album People Are My Drug is definitely his most realized work to date. With a perpetual smile, Cook takes us on a musical journey brimming with gospel, laid back Southern rock, and the North Carolina soul he has helped refine with his pal MC Taylor.
Friday 7:40pm-8:40pm – Lucky Barn/Sunday 10pm-11pm – Galaxy Barn
Kevin Russell never slows down. Since calling it quits with his beloved band The Gourds in 2013, the Austin musician has been devoting nearly every waking hour to his band Shinyribs. Russell formed the group as a side project of The Gourds when the band was still going strong. It soon became clear that Shinyribs would need to be a full time job in order for it to satisfy the demand of an increasingly devoted fanbase in Austin and beyond. Whereas The Gourds dwelled in their own realm of cow punk and Southern roots rock, Shinyribs steered closer to swamp pop, New Orleans R&B, and Gulf Coast soul. Over the course of four albums, Russell has continued to expand the size of his band and in turn the sound. Now the band has evolved into one of the best live acts around, with Russell leading conga lines through the audience and busting out 90s R&B covers while never breaking stride.
Friday 8:10pm-9:10pm – Treeline Stage/Saturday 1:05am-2am – Starlight Stage
If you want proof that the future is female when it comes to rock and roll, look no further than Valley Queen. Front woman Natalie Carol has the kind of vocal power that lets her soar over the scorching rock and roll instrumentals of her band. On their new album Supergiant, the band mixes 60s and 70s folk-rock with the kind of catchy alt-rock of the 90s but with a sustained heaviness. Carol is the star of the show, simultaneously exuding vulnerability and strength in every note she sings in her beautifully wavering voice. The word isn’t fully out on Valley Queen yet, but they are sure to make a splash at Pickathon.
Friday 5:30pm-6:30pm – Mt. Hood Stage/Saturday 4:50pm-5:50pm – Treeline Stage
Truthfully, I don’t know much about Orkestra Mendoza. Here’s what I do know: cumbia is a party for your ears, as is mambo. These cats throw both together and make it even weirder with a mélange of rock, dance music, and even polka. This is border music for people who don’t believe in borders. Beyond that, I don’t know much else about the Orkestra except that, based on the sheer intensity and weirdness of their music, I can only imagine they put on a wild, high-energy live show.
Saturday 8:20pm-9:20pm – Galaxy Barn/Sunday 10am-11:30am – Curation/Sunday 11pm-12:10am – Woods Stage
Pickathon takes place August 3 – 5 at 16581 SE Hagen Rd. in Happy Valley, Oregon. To see the full lineup and get tickets, visit pickathon.com.