Pickathon finished up its 16th festival this last weekend, welcoming several thousand fans to a spread of stages at Pendarvis Farm outside Portland. 50-some bands played the festival, most playing a couple of sets at different stages over the course of the weekend. The large number of children among the campers and day-trippers attest to the festival’s family-friendly atmosphere. The lack of disposable cups and food service (the festival sells reusable plates and cups, and provides a dishwashing station) backs the festival’s focus on sustainability.
For the music, the eclectic reach of the festival included a healthy share of rootsier acts alongside indie-rock stalwarts, r&b, hip-hop, and the branch of the musical tree occupied by Foxygen. Click on the slideshow below to see the full set of our photos from Pickathon. Below that, we’ve posted notes about some of the notable performances.
Destroyer: Dan Bejar never exactly seems to love being on stage. The Destroyer frontman will occasionally play with his back to the audience, and in his live shows with the New Pornographers, he’ll leave the stage entirely during the songs written by other members. But Bejar did seem to be enjoying himself during his Friday afternoon solo set at the tranquil Wood Stage. He noted the beauty of the setting, saying of his experience of the festival, “I’ve just been wandering around. Music, schmusic.” The setlist was well chosen, hitting early highlight “To the Heart of the Sun On the Back of the Vulture, I’ll Go” venturing into the New Pornographers territory with “Streets of Fire” and testing out an unreleased track, “Light Travels Down the Catwalk.” Stripping away the full band let the audience appreciate the tricky yet intuitive melodies, and the dizzying plays on words. The highlight was “Helena,” a gorgeous ballad that brought even the chattier parts of the crowd to rapt silence. — Dave Blanchard
Lonnie Holley: 64-year-old Lonnie Holley has only been working on his music career for the past two and a half years. He’s known among the gallery set for his found-art sculptures that have been displayed by the Smithsonian and the White House, but music was always a private endeavor. Thanks to a chance meeting with Dust-to-Digital record company founder Lance Ledbetter, though, he’s begun to release his hypnotic, philosophical songs to a wider public. Holley’s set inaugurated the Wood Stage, and his otherworldly free-associative musical rambles were a great way to help people forget the outside world, and enter the three day break from reality that is Pickathon at its best. Halley picked up Portlanders Steven Nistor (on drums) and Kelly Pratt (on all matter of brass) to embellish his chiming keyboards. Though they’d only played together the night before, they sound like they had been playing for years. — Dave Blanchard
The War on Drugs: I might be alone in this conviction, but The War on Drugs almost always plays too loud. I enjoy the slow, chugging build of songs like “Best Night” off 2011’s Slave Ambient and the grandiose setting of “Come to the City,” where frontman Adam Granduciel is mixed far back and the music swells around you. Live, all that tends to be obliterated by the band’s preference for an achingly loud mix. All of which is to say, their Pickathon performance was different and I loved their set in the woods Friday night. Granduciel announced, “We play a lot of festivals, and we all agree if we were going to attend one, this is the one we’d go to.” He was loose during soundcheck, joking with a member of the audience about the food she had, “What is that, iceberg lettuce and squash? I’m not having that.” Their set was crisp and full of high points, including relatively new “Red Eyes,” “Baby Missiles” with a baritone sax giving a thick fog of bass, and a rousing, jangly version of “Brothers.” — David Christensen
X: This was the band I most anticipated seeing at Pickathon this year. At the Woods Stage Saturday — in John Doe’s words, “probably the weirdest X show we’ve done” — it was interesting to hear the rootsy underpinnings of classic songs like “The New World” and “Poor Girl” come to the front, with their rockabilly jump and crooning. Hearing “I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts” you could trace a line from the post-punk LA scene to Athens, Georgia’s REM and their tidier country-inflected beginnings. I had to pull up songs on my phone afterwards to check whether they’d played them at 3/4 speed. They hadn’t. If this was the first time you heard X, it might’ve been hard to get how urgent and new the band sounded in, say, 1983. For anybody old enough to have listened to hours of X on sun-baked cassette tapes in cars, like me, it was a cool and nostalgic set, and let you hear the iconic band’s music in a different way. — David Christensen
Foxygen: From the time they hit the mainstage Sunday afternoon Foxygen seemed to confuse the Pickathon crowd. Frontman Sam France began by screaming and jumping through the first song, their very catchy new single “How Can You Really,” with his mic unfortunately off for part of the song, while an apparent power source problem left the right side of the stage (with keys player Jonathan Rado) completely off. The band took a break to let the crew solve the sound problems, and then resumed where they left off. Rado and the rest of the band played gamely, the backup singers danced and sang in synch, and France did his thing. Shirtless, he doused himself with water, slipped and fell on the stage, then fell more times on purpose, dropped the mic repeatedly, tried to climb a lighting truss and wisely changed his mind. In between, and out of breath, he would sing or shout the lyrics. The crowd didn’t quite know whether to laugh or look away. On the way to a total disaster, something funny happened: the band pulled it together. France sang more and posed less, and the weirdly appealing mash of psychedelia, blue-eyed soul and whatever else they do.. worked. Plainly, Foxygen has something. It’s hard to know whether they’ll be able to make more of it without getting their act together on stage. — David Christensen
Mac DeMarco has had quite a year. The 24-year-old Edmonton product has been hailed by many as a pop wunderkind with the release of his latest record Salad Days, appearing on many best-of-lists and profiled by the likes of Vice and Pitchfork. As the sun set on the Wood Stage Saturday, his smile and wry wit had the crowd eating out of his hand. Highlights included the sun-dappled “Let Her Go”, “Brother” and the infectiously groovy “Cooking Up Something Good.” In the middle of the set, bassist Pierce McGarry announced they would be playing a song by guitar player Peter Sagar. DeMarco promptly began strumming the opening chords to Coldplay’s “Yellow” with McGarry on lead vocals, delighting the crowd with his attempt at a Chris Martin falsetto. It was this kind of irreverence that permeated the entire set, with the band continuously poking fun at each other. DeMarco’s Roy Orbison-influenced ballad “Still Together” gave him a chance to show off his impressive vocal chops. As his band kept the groove, DeMarco swan-dived into the crowd. Not content with a short crowd surf, he breast-stroked his way to the edge of the trees lining the Wood stage, and then came all the way before being deposited back on the stage to belt out the chorus one more time.
The People Under the Stairs have been around for two decades, but performed at the Galaxy Barn with the energy charisma of a couple of teenagers. Michael Turner (Double K) and Christopher Portugal (Thes One) came out with gusto from the opener and carried it through to the last song, with the set feeling a lot longer than an hour, in the best possible way.
PUTS’ set included a heavy dose of booze and drug references, including “Acid Raindrops”, “Trippin’ at the Disco” and “Beer” but contained relentless positive energy from the duo. Double K spun and scratched while Thes One jumped up and down and mingled with the crowd, at one point banging his programmable control pad on the head of a Pickathon videographer in time with the beat. He also held up a record to tell the crowd that if a group doesn’t play real records, that’s their cue to leave, which received big applause.
The highlight of the set may have been “San Francisco Knights”, which samples the California Dreamers’ “San Franciscan Nights”. PUTS had the whole crowd swaying back and forth, and when they asked for the chorus, the whole Galaxy barn responded in kind.