Another year at Pickathon, merely days away
Every August for the past four years or so, on the first Friday of the month, I’ve woken with the sun and boarded a train for Portland. By mid-afternoon, I’m rolling my suitcase (packed tight with tent, sleeping bag, and a couple of clothes) over hay and dirt, dodging the occasional patty of old horse shit, to choose my camp spot on Pendarvis Farm.
Last year, the split second I entered the gates to Pickathon, a smiling John Doe nodded and said “Welcome.” It’s just that kind of place.
Pickathon is increasingly on my mind these days, as we barrel toward August at a faster clip than I’d like. But there’s a lot to look forward to this year. I’ve been to my share of folk and roots music festivals through the years, and have come to consider Pickathon one of the finest. Its mainstage is perched halfway up a hillside. The view beyond it on a clear day is quite lovely. Overhead, the most peculiar and creative shade structure breathes in the wind. Backstage, there’s a pit of pillows and carpets which calls my name during each day’s peak of heat.
Before I go further with the music, a note must be made about the food – all local, mostly organic. I had some French toast at Pickathon last year that still creeps into my food cravings now, almost a year later. It’s fresh, it’s delicious. Not that odd, awful fast food truck sort of stuff you usually find at festivals. Pickathon’s food area is representative of the rich and fresh food truck culture boasted by downtown Portland (where food trucks give you restaurant-caliber meals).
Wander into the woods for a spell (at night, you’re led by LED lights – Pickathon prides itself of being about as “green” as a festival can be). You’ll wind up at a clearing where bales of hay and, if memory serves, carefully placed logs form a tiny amphitheater around a makeshift stage. Another perfect reprieve for those mid-day heat spells. Overhead here, the trees sway. These mid-woods sets are often some of the most surprising, relaxing, spellbinding moments of the festival for me.
On the opposite end of camp, there’s the barn. I’m not generally a party girl, but the barn blowouts are some of the best parties I’ve ever seen. Bands make a habit of giving 200 percent in the barn. There would seem to be an unwritten mission to that stage, to see if music alone can push the roof off the place. Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band came close a few years back, as did the Gourds and the Lost Bayou Ramblers. Last year, John Doe and the Sadies gave one of the best moments of the weekend in the barn. This year, I’m expecting no less from Heartless Bastards, Elliott Brood, and Langhorne Slim.
Then there’s this kind of stuff – the stuff of random festival goodness, which just kind of pops up here and there, when you’re not looking for it (Slim playing in the middle of the night, somewhere on the ranch):
When I started out on this post, I thought I’d give you a list – a sort of “five artists whose sets at Pickathon I hereby swear not to miss.” But alas, the lineup is too stacked and there’s no way to truly plan these things. With both members of the now-defunct everybodyfields on the bill, I’ll be interested to see if and when they get convinced to play some songs together. I’ll be curious to see Black Prairie live, having so enjoyed that record this year. (A little bluegrass for those of you who have mentioned there’s not enough of that on this site. I’ll do what I can to deliver some coverage there.) Other participants of note: T Model Ford, Punch Brothers, Richmond Fontaine, Anais Mitchell, Stone River Boys – all of whom I’m shocked I’ve yet to see live.
Indeed, this year’s Pickathon is poised to be the best yet. I’ll be there, sharing my weekend via blog with you fine folks. Curious, though, who else is going?