Posted August 10, 2014 by Gerard O'Sullivan in Show Reviews

Pickathon // 8-1 thru 8-3-14 // Pendarvis Farm


Located a mere 30 minutes from downtown Portland, Pendarvis Farm provides 40 acres of shady groves, Christmas light-lit trails, lush campsites, and open woods–enough to house a commune. And once per year, it does. Held in the dog days of August, it is transformed into a paradise—with a canopy of shade provided by trees and colorful sails. It brings me a certain sense of comfort to know that this site has been locked in by Pickathon for another ten years. The beauty of this locale is matched only by the dedicated folks who put on the festival each year–from the owners and artists to the throngs of volunteers working endlessly for a ticket slinging beers, cooking food, carrying gear, directing traffic or washing dishes. There is something organic–a labor of love–driving this festival.

They say, “Not all who wander are lost” and this is certainly true of wandering Pickathoners. There are seven stages to wander upon and good music can always be found.

The main stages, Mountain View, Starlight and Fir Meadows are set under a canopy constructed for months before the festival, is truly a sight to see. Blankets and chairs abound in the meadow beneath this architectural revelry…all day, every day. Simply coming to view the main stages and the sails that provide shade is enough to keep people coming back, it is truly an art installation put on by Portland’s own GuildWorks.

The Woods stage, appropriately named, is set in the woods under a canopy of trees and enveloped in an arbor of branches. An amphitheater of haystacks and hammocks provide seating for many.

The Tree Line Stage, with its stage & seating designed by Portland State Univeristy architecture students is made entirely of sustainable wooden pallets provided the most interesting viewing option for those who like to climb. Spectators could climb up into the walls of the stage for a better view and their very own seat.

And finally, the Galaxy Barn and the Lucky Barn for the most intimate and usually sweaty shows.

Whether you’re at one of the main stages, the woods stage or one of the barns, each setting provides a certain character to the set. The timing of day also adds a certain element to the environment.

My two favorite settings– no matter the band– is dusk at the Woods stage and post-midnight in the Galaxy Barn.

As far as headliners, Pickathon typically does not need huge headliners to bring back the masses, instead they rely on finding the perfect mix of bands to provide a soundtrack to the best weekend of the year and this year they did it again. Nickel Creek probably topped the bill in terms of a “headliner,” and this quartet proved why twice on Saturday. They played a brunch set at the Woods and late night set at the main Mountain View Stage. Mandolin virtuoso, Chris Thile, summed the day up perfectly during the night set, “It’s not often you start your day with the trees and end it amongst the sails”.

If I could nominate a mayor of Pickathon it would be a tight race between Shakey Graves (aka Alejandro Rose-Garcia) and Pendarvis newbie, Willie Watson.

Shakey Graves became one of the festival’s favorite acts from previous years and multiple sold out shows in Portland proper. His unique fingerpicking style, voice and foot-controlled percussion makes him a one-man powerhouse. His sets included a Friday main stage slot and a very intimate Woods set Saturday afternoon. In between the sets you could find him wandering amongst the crowd and sitting front row from many of the other acts.

Willie Watson, one of the founding members of Old Crow Medicine Show, has quickly established himself as a must see act for anyone that needs a history lesson on traditional Americana music. Watching him in the Lucky Barn during his performance/Q&A session, it was obvious that this guy has a wealth of musical information and he is on a mission to disseminate that message. He closed out the festival playing a 1 am Sunday set on the Starlight Stage to a very intimate crowd of about a hundred people.

One of my unexpected favorites of the weekend were the hip-hop duo, People Under the Stairs, coming off their national tour, Pendarvis Farm was their final stop and their two sets (Woods Stage and Galaxy Barn) had the entire audience in a synchronous head-nod throughout their set. The love they felt for the audience was reciprocated ten-fold and I am almost positive that those tough LA boys cried during their set from the love that Pickathon was showering on them.

Earlier in the weekend, Gregory Alan Isakov provided my first taste of Pickathon with a late afternoon Woods stage set. It was the perfect appetizer and held true to the Pickathon namesake by showcasing some of the finest bluegrass talent on the bill.

The annual Friday night Square Dance with Old Buck and Caller Caroline Oakley, was another highlight. After the sun had set and folks had retreated to their camps to refuel with a little dinner and booze it was time for a good old-fashioned hoedown. The massive crowd was surprisingly well choreographed and there were countless dosey-does to be had.

Valerie June Took the stage shortly after the square dance and soothed the sweaty audience with her sweet southern charm.  And as a perfect contrast to June, I found myself a final nightcap in the Galaxy Barn for the 1 am set from Diarrhea Planet. This band confirmed why I never miss a late night barn set, armed with four lead guitarists; they provided a high energy set to end the night.

Saturday morning started with Nickel Creek, who threw the hottest (if not most surprising) cover of the weekend with “Toxic” by the one and only Britney Spears.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra provided another highlight of the weekend, with Ruban Nielson’s unique guitar ability.

Bobby Patterson brought a little of his Texas soul up to the Main stage Saturday, bringing up friend Ural Thomas of Ural Thomas & The Pain, on stage to sing “How Do You Spell Love”.

Brownout provided the most danceable funky beats of the whole weekend with their Saturday night set on the main stage.

As a general rule-of-thumb for those that may go see Pickathon next year, do not miss a post-midnight Galaxy Barn set. This became clear once again Saturday night as The Sadies nearly burned down the house with their set. Most people could not even squeeze into the barn but were able to watch the set near on the projection screens out by the campfire. Picakthon’s stellar film crew picked up every bead of sweat that dropped off of these four gentlemen as they powered through and nearly collapsed in exhaustion after the show. (If you can find one video from all of Pickathon, find this one.)

Marco Benevento closed out the barn on Saturday night to another raucous crowd. Benevento has become another Pickathon veteran and it is because of his mastery of the keys and an assortment of effects pedals.

Hiss Golden Messenger performed a set/Q&A in the Lucky Barn for a few lucky fans and spoke openly about his musical upbringings and the reliance on friends to get him to where he is today. Shortly after he was joined by fellow hometown friends Mandolin Orange for a couple songs to close out his set.

The Barr Brothers played a very powerful set on the main stage Sunday that included probably 25 instruments including a bicycle wheel, a glowstick, and a full harp.

Parquet Courts, hailing from Brooklyn  brought a little bit of a mosh & crowd-surfing scene to a serene Woods Stage.

Courtney Barnett, all the way from Brisbane, Australia brought the 90s rock with her impressive guitar stylings.

Warpaint provided one of the most surprising sets of the weekend. Closing out the Woods stage for the whole weekend, they truly left that Woods Stage with something that will resonate there until next year. These four women had the packed audience in a psychadelic trance for their entire hour long set.

Mac DeMarco handed out free pizza at the Starlight stage to start his set filled with numerous funny happenings including lots of band crowd surfing.

And what more appropriate way to end the weekend than with a 1 am set from Willie Watson to close out the entire festival. There were no more than 200 people gathered for this set, most simply too exhausted to even move or speak, which was a perfect setting for this final set. And with the final count in, Willie Watson, you have been crowned my official mayor of Pickathon.

See you next year, hopefully.

Gerard O'Sullivan



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