Even the most well-organized festival can be a crapshoot, with weather typically acting as the spoiler. Most music fans can share war stories about slogging through mud or dodging hailstorms and torrential rain in an effort to see their favorite band. And while Pickathon is held during the never-ending Oregon summer with almost guaranteed blue skies, the grounds at Pendarvis Farm have been known to get a little too hot, dry, and dusty. Last year’s event was unfortunately marred by record-setting temperatures and an ever-present blanket of forest fire smoke. It didn’t stop the fun, but the rough conditions left musicians and fans alike coughing for days.
That has not been a problem this year — the festival’s 20th edition.
So far, the weather has been absolutely gorgeous. It’s resulted in happy crowds and seemingly spurred on artists to give some of the best performances in recent memory with standout performances on Saturday from The Lost Bayou Ramblers, Jamila Woods, Sunflower Bean, Kikagaku Moyo, Karl Blau, and Orkestra Mendoza.
Scroll to see reviews and photos from Saturday, Aug. 5, 2017.
Portland-based artist Haley Heynderickx and her band played in a packed Lucky Barn Saturday afternoon. It was a struggle to even find room in the barn it was so packed. And it was hot. But despite the heat, Heynderickx asked that the AC be turned off a few songs in because it was a little too loud, a reasonable request considering her songs are dynamic yet intimate.
During a Q&A session in-between songs, Heynderickx mentioned that even recording the album was a struggle, scrapping sessions that were recorded at, yes, the Lucky Barn a few years ago. So it was fitting that she was back at the barn after the release of her debut album that has received high praise from fans and music critics. And we got to share that struggle with her, one sweaty song after another. — Arthur C. Lee
Getting in to see a set at the Pickathon Galaxy Barn is something special. In a festival with several thousand attendees, the barn appears to hold only 150 people, give or take. Those who don’t get in can watch from several live video feeds in the courtyard outside while enjoying a cold beverage. If you do get inside, it’s going to be compact, hot, sweaty and loud.
Orkesta Mendoza is a self-described “Indie Mambo” band from Tucson, Arizona. With a 10-piece group crammed onto the stage, the band was squeezed in as tightly as we were in the audience. They had the crowd dancing with them from the start. Their songs feature quick stops and changes, with lots of call-and-response exchanges — all great fun in an overflowing small room like this. — David Christensen
Positioned up the hill above the Main Stage, the Starlight Stage used to be a kind of musical snack for die-hard fans who stayed up late after most of the evening crowd had left for their campsites. Now, with sets that begin just after the last Main Stage act, these late night/early morning sets attract larger and larger groups. Most stand, but some people lie down on blankets within the crowd, blissfully lost in the music while looking at the stars.
Chicago native Jamila Woods took the stage at midnight for a set of modern rhythm and blues with a very tight backing band. A public radio Slingshot artist, Woods brings a poet’s ear for wordplay to her songs. She began one song riffing on the “Mister Rogers” theme “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” fluidly moving into wondering where in this neighborhood can two people go, to lamenting souls from here gone to heaven too soon. — David Christensen
I’ll admit it: I’m a sucker for slide guitar. The instrument transforms any regular old song into a lonesome country wail. So when I arrived at the Karl Blau set and saw Blau, accompanied by a slide guitarist wearing a cowboy hat, I knew it was going to be a good set. Plus, Blau’s songs are anything but regular. His music is sincere and weird in the best way. He’s got an impressive vocal range and a supple voice, which he used to cover songs by Vangelis, Link Wray, and the Bee Gees. Did I mention that he pulled out a saxophone at one point? He and the trombone player made a nice horn section. — Isabel Lyndon
I’d call myself a Sheer Mag fan. But I had no idea before I saw their Pickathon set that the band sounds so great live. I thought they owed their rich, raw sound to a producer, but they sound just as strong on stage as they do in recordings. That might be because they have three guitarists who complement and build on each other. It’s also thanks to singer Tina Halladay’s voice, which sounds like a heart breaking or glass shattering, or a marriage between Etta James and Brian Johnson. It was weird to see these Philadelphia punks play a daytime set in a forest grove, but they had more than enough presence and personality to pull it off. — Isabel Lyndon
When I arrived at Pickathon early in the afternoon, I immediately went to the Woods Stage to see L.A. folk singer Bedouine, who I have been jonesing to see for a few months. Set against the stage’s wooded backdrop, Azniv Korkejian, who goes by the stage name Bedouine (based on the nomadic Middle Eastern Bedouins), played songs from her self-titled debut album.
Her warm voice and pared-down sound — the only things on stage with her were a stool, a mug and her worn acoustic guitar — hushed the audience her whole set. She joked with the audience about using them to name a new song she played, told stories about her Armenian family in Syria and ended the set early to meet with fans. This was a comfortable way to start a busy, busy day. — Sararosa Davies
After impressing at last year’s Pickathon, young Brooklyn, New York-based trio Sunflower Bean made their second festival appearance in a row. This time, they were upgraded to the main stage where they played a high-energy set of dreamy glam rock. And they looked the part. Lead singer Julia Cumming wore a flowing royal-blue rock-goddess dress and guitarist Nick Kivlen sported silver-silk pajamas (both had eye-catching footwear).
But as the set wore on, the focus quickly shifted from the band’s style to their immense raw talent and stage presence. Although they’ve only released two albums, they played with the confidence of a far more experienced band. Halfway through the set, Cumming reminded us just how young they are. “I hope to play Pickathon in 20 more years. I’ll be,” she paused sheepishly “42,” she said. — Jerad Walker
The Lost Bayou Ramblers
I don’t know a damn thing about Cajun music, but I know a good party when I see one. And The Lost Bayou Ramblers threw quite the shindig at the Treeline Stage on Saturday afternoon. Fiddle, accordion, surprisingly crunchy guitars, and double-barrel percussion lit up the hillside and sent the crowd into an impromptu dance party. It was without a doubt, the most impressive performance I’ve seen all weekend. — Jerad Walker