Photos by Ryan Angrove.
Pickathon, located just outside of Portland, Oregon, may have just had its biggest year to date. Despite its size (only 5,000 attendees!) this 18-year-old festival has been able to attract a larger and more eclectic mix of artists while still maintaining its modest atmosphere. From more established acts to up-and-coming gems, this festival had something for everyone. With its distinctly non-corporate vibe, complete with camping in a forest next to a quaint little farm, it was hard not to be charmed by this music festival. It challenges notions of what a festival can be. Giant monitors, lack of intimacy, littered camping sites, belligerent crowds, dehydrated drunks, pervasive advertising, emphasis on spectacle; none of that is to be found at Pickathon.
Here are some of the biggest surprises, disappointments, and acts of Pickathon 2016.
Ty Segall and the Muggers
Pickathon vet Ty Segall ended Friday night at the Galaxy Barn, his set was a whirlwind of bruises, sweat and raucousness. The small venue was jam-packed, and the mosh pit spread throughout the crowd. The smaller venue offered an up-close look at Ty’s fantastic madness. Their set at the Mountain Stage was just as impressive but the crowd’s energy wasn’t there.
Currently working on their second upcoming album, Alvvays played some new songs, but mostly stuck to the dreamy indie pop of their titular debut. The crowd bobbed and swayed as Molly Rankin’s showcased her gift for melody.
The atmosphere was clam and attentive as Beach House took the Mountain Stage to close the festival. Frontwoman Victoria Legrand’s moved in exaggerated motions, slowly drifting away from the microphone and letting her long hair hide her face.
The music and vibe of indie rock legend Jeff Tweedy was the perfect match for Pickathon’s atmosphere. Both sets at the Woods and Mountain Stage were warm and poignant. It was incredible to see what this artist could do with only his voice and guitar. Between songs, he offered wit and comedic relief. Poking fun at Mr. Trump, Tweedy exclaimed, “that he had the best songs, nobody has better songs than I do.”
Coming off of a five-year hiatus, Wolf Parade was a highly anticipated act and they exceeded all expectations. The audience kept yelling “We missed you!” in between songs.
Yo La Tengo
Another thing that separates Pickathon from most festivals is that artists will often play two separate sets. Yo La Tengo took full advantage of this setup and delved deep into their discography. The first night at the Woods Stage they played a stripped away acoustic set. The next day at the Mountain Stage they brought up the intensity with frequent psychedelic guitar solos from Ira Kaplan.
Thee Oh Sees
Administrating a near lethal dose of mania, Thee Oh Sees ripped apart the Woods Stage on Saturday night with squalling guitars and a pair of drummers. Closing the entire festival at the Galaxy Barn, the audience head banged and moshed into obscurity.
Multi-instrumentalist Cory Henry isn’t quite a household name, but he had a breakout performance at Pickathon. The crowd was as a diverse as a Star Wars cantina, from a group of Dads on acid to indie rockers with full sleeves, no one was able to resist. The next day he took the main stage – this time on the piano – and was equally impressive.
The appearance of thrash metal band VHÖL at the Treeline Stage speaks to the eclecticism of this festival. There may not have been a huge audience for this performance, but those that stuck around ate up every menacing guitar solo.
Thao & The Get Down Stay Down
With the release of her newest album, A Man Alive, Thao Nguyen has completed her transition from humbled folk to noisey art rock. The showmanship here was unexpected.
As a devout follower of the indie rock court jester Mac DeMarco, it saddens me to see him losing steam. His charm still oozes out of every orifice, but his songs seemed to lack the gusto that they had in the past. Not to say his show wasn’t entertaining, but like a teacher coming down on a favourite student, I expected more from him. He probably just needs a recharge.
Black Mountain delivered a set full of hard psychedelic rock, but attempts to deviate from recorded material seemed a bit aimless. The crowd responded with enthusiasm, but behind all the distortion and intensity was a ship without a captain.