Pickathon (August 6-8, 2010) is coming back for another round. Portland's rootsy, old-growth-shaded oasis of Americana music, nature and general merriment. There aren't many gatherings that showcase the likes of Bonnie Prince Billy and Dr. Dog while encouraging you to bring your own instrument and play at your campsite with new friends that night.
In its 12th year, the organic-oriented festival is really coming into its own. This year's 40 booked acts include Langhorne Slim, Cave Singers, Black Prairie and Richmond Fontaine. Six more acts were announced today: Dr. Dog, Punch Brothers, Fruit Bats, Little Wings, Blind Boy Paxton and Cardboard Songsters.
The fest's $130 weekend ticket price may seem steep at first, but it's an experience unto itself. Set in the 80-acre Pendarvis Farm on Mt. Scott, Pickathon feels worlds away. Barns are transformed into stages, stages are carved out of wooded groves, and a circuit of tree-lined footpaths connect it all. In a single day, one can see a jug band perform in the woods from a hammock and a bluegrass group jam away from an old wood shop.
Unlike so many festivals that offer cafeteria-style lineups, Pickathon sticks more or less to its genre (broad as it may be). The traditional music elements at play provide the perfect backdrop for this working farm twenty minutes outside of Portland. Sipping local beer on a gentle slope above the Mt. View Stage last year, I watched Dr. Dog impress a crowd of hula-hooping children, aging hippies, cyclists—even a woman on a horse, and thought to myself: This is why I live here.
“Pickathon is my favorite festival,” says Scott McMicken, guitarist and vocalist for the returning Philly band Dr. Dog. “We got to hang out last year for two days. The layout is beautiful, and those crazy tarp-things hanging above are awesome.”
Given the Guilded Era meets Pacific Northwest Utopia nature of Pickathon, I can't resist asking Scott if he's ever distracted by crowd members. Especially if they might include equestrians or people on stilts.
“I usually don't notice the crowd, I get this tunnel thing going. If I start losing focus I might get bugged out,” he says.
“It's very eclectic and diverse all over the place,” McMicken says of last year's Pickathon. “It has a really cool perspective.”
It's a somewhat familiar setting for Dr. Dog, which recorded its latest record, Shame, Shame
in an old upstate New York church called Dreamland. The record was produced by Rob Schnapf (Beck, Elliott Smith), and it has officially launched the quintet band into popular music's fore.
“Rob is a great dude,” McMicken said. “He's funny, smart and has a great sense of humor. And he's not too intense,” he added, praising the recording's laid back feel. “It was kind of nice to submit a bit [to Rob] in the interest of learning more. His experience is amazing.”
If last week's show at the Wonder Ballroom is any gauge, Dr. Dog may be in their best form to date right now. McMicken avoids classifying it as such, not wanting to discount prior work, but admits the band “is firing on all cylinders.”
“We have a newfound confidence,” he said. “We're trying to make every show more of a show." The band talks through sets the night they finish them—like a basketball team watches tape—highlighting high points and working out the low points. It's the kind of professionalism that comes with age, and Dr. Dog, now seven records deep and touring more than they are resting, has plenty of it.
I suggest to McMicken that Dr. Dog do at Pickathon what they did on Letterman in 2007 and bring out some backup female vocalists, all clad in country dresses. “I don't know,” he said before laughing. “They're old friends, I think one of them has a kid now.”
Which would be perfect, seeing how Pickathon may be the most kid-friendly festival ever conceived by man. Kids 12 & under get in for free and there are countless activities planned for them.
Check out www.pickathon.com for a full festival lineup and additional information.