Pickathon is a music festival from another time. Coming down from Seattle, you find yourself coming across the breathtaking Columbia Gorge, taking exit 17 off of I-205 straight onto Woodstock Drive, and maybe that’s no mistake. The closer you get to Happy Valley, the further back in time you seem to go. Once you reach the beautiful Pendarvis Farm, it’s another world. We arrived 10 minutes after check-in closing Thursday night, and not a single volunteer in the lot seemed to care. Once you breathe in the air here, the stresses of the outside world seem to melt away. There’s no Wi-Fi, and sparing charging stations don’t give our tech-obsessed modern world much of a footing. Huffing gear up the hill into the camping area, you can find yourself all the way up in the back 40 enjoying silent nights, or rubbing elbows with the artists near the Heartwood camp near the designated jam areas (every other attendee you see has an instrument in hand). Signs are posted throughout the camping areas stating the obvious – “Leave no trace”. It’s a sentiment that not a single person present seems to mind, every one conscientious of their footprint on the land. It’s this same communal feeling that guides attendees and artists through the weekend of music, sharing blankets on the grass in front of the breathtaking Mt. Hood stage and splitting folding tables between full meals from local food trucks lining the Starlight area. Pickathon doesn’t have its heart set on exponential growth or magnificent exposure. Rather, it’s quite content with its nearly sold-out weekend of family and fun. And as the Thursday night fun begins, there are few places in the world anyone here would rather be.
While preparations finish on the main stage, the smaller Starlight stage in its background is set for Thursday night action. Portland rapper Myke Bogan is just the type of dude to kick off the action in perfect style. His delivery stylings and his choice of topics both scream Portland – namely, low-key old school tinted grooves topped with musings on hippie life, drinking craft IPAs, and enjoying a quality cigarette when the night’s action has come to a close. Mixing in plenty of crowd participation, Bogan shook the crowd to attention and made sure that not a face was left without a smile. And, should there be one by some ridiculous off chance, his closer put any hesitation to rest. Queuing his DJ to drop the beat, Bogan led a karaoke singalong to “Wonderwall”. No, this wasn’t a rap over top or a flip on a classic – just the Oasis song as is, sung at full volume like this was a college bonfire. Truly, you can’t beat that for an opener.
Over in the Galaxy Barn, the action began with The Easy Leaves. For those early Pickathoners not partial to hip-hop, the band’s Bakersfield country sound provided an irresistible alternative. Immediately, the Barn packed out with people eager to dance. It makes me antsy just to think what the crowd will be like for Ty Segall & the Muggers packed in here tomorrow night at 2am. The Easy Leaves burned through a lovely set of country thunder, ending their set with an encouragement to attend the Yoga session tomorrow morning at the Lucky Barn across the lawn. At Pickathon, it’s everything in moderation.
The Easy Leaves:
After a set of all-vinyl classics spun by the Starlight stage’s designated weekend DJ, Kevin Morby kept the action going with a lovely set of Americana goodness. Morby’s prior projects like the Babies have proved he is a master songsmith and guitar player, but with his more recent work under his own name, he finds himself taking notes from America’s great songwriters and lending a few of his own creations to the fold. While his own guitar work is stellar, the presence is double with the help of Meg Duffy, who rips into a couple fantastic solos through the set. Morby owns the late night set with ease, sending campers off to their slumber with his dreamy vision of the world. After knocking out an eight minute original number, Morby closed tonight with a Towns Van Zandt classic. With all the grace and poise in the world, he looked to the sky. “Thanks Towns.” Morby’s world has no line on the horizon, and that’s a good place to dream. This lovely precursor to his Treeline set tomorrow was a treat worth making the early journey for.
Through some unfortunate events with their airliner, Cuban sister act Ibeyi were forced to cancel their Starlight appearance later in the evening, but even with the slight disappointment, Pickathon’s Thursday night was the perfect taster for the three days of enjoyment to come. The warm, crisp Oregon air followed campers back to their tents, lit softly by coordinated strings of soft Christmas lights, lining the trails and alleviating the need for flashlights (all solar-powered, of course – nearly every aspect of Pickathon is conscious of carbon footprint). There’s plenty more action to get good rest for, and when there’s nothing but forested beauty to wake up to, the morning comes sooner than you think.
Check back to the KEXP blog for more Pickathon 2016 action.