The Pickathon music festival is underway just outside of Portland in Happy Valley. It draws nationally acclaimed folk and indie musicians to perform on stages nestled in the woods. It can feel more like a summer camp than a major music festival. Indie musician Feist once proclaimed that Pickathon is what every other festival only tries to be.
Now in its 20th year, Pickathon has risen from ramshackle beginnings to where it is today. But maintaining its charm without breaking the bank in an era of mega-festivals hasn’t been easy.
OPB “Weekend Edition” host John Notarianni sat down with Pickathon founder Zale Schoenborn recently. Schoenborn said that ten years ago, organizers realized they were either going to have to change the festival and bring in more money or shift their business model.
“There’s a really slippery slope in festivals,” Schoenborn said. “If you are a festival in a tradition sense, you have to make it kind of generic to make money,” with superstar acts and corporate sponsorships.
They found that business model in pursuing a new idea of filming the festival and repackaging it as digital original content. Schoenborn said it was the right choice. “Now, everywhere you look, original digital content is becoming something that’s growing really fast.”
Schoenborn said now the actual ticketed attendees are only a sliver of the people who interact with the festival. “We have 3,500 paid attendees, but we could potentially have a million people watching online.”
Diving deep into creating original online video content at Pickathon has had another unintended effect: it has helped the organizers view everything that happens at the festival with a more detailed, critical eye.
“We notice things you don’t pay attention to or forgive a lot more when you’re having a good time with your friends,” Schoenborn said. “But when you do fix those little things like the lighting and little things about the stages, it’s just better.”
It’s a big leap for a festival that began as a few friends sharing music in the woods. “We’re a content company with a live festival,” he says.
On Aug. 4 and 5, you can watch opbmusic’s live video stream from Pickathon.
Use the audio player above to hear the full conversation from OPB’s “Weekend Edition.”