“We've played a lot of festivals, it's kind of our thing. But this is the prettiest festival I've ever seen.”
So were the words of Dr. Dog's Flea-like, raspy bassist, Toby Leaman. And he'd know. The Philadelphia band has done a number on musical gatherings lately, but perhaps none as fulfilling as this one.
“This place makes me feel better about being a person,” band mate Scott McMicken chimed in. The Pickathon crowd hooted and hollered, several in overalls kicking up dust in appreciation. Meanwhile, local beer came cascading down nearby taps, horses chomped grass and a fire pit was taking shape one hill away. And before I could search for the appropriate adjective—utopian, serene, blissful, fictional?—I was asked if I wanted my picture taken before a giant old-timey Pickathon sign. Of course I would.
Now in it's eleventh year, Pickathon has settled into a force to be reckoned with. Not that you'd want to, as its style is so fixed you'd be hard pressed to find competition. Somewhere between a tiny Sasquatch! and an enormous pastoral party, with a sturdy musical theme running through it all like a big fat artery. Smaller and folkier than most, P-thon truly embraces the core of music, the same roots our beloved bands of today continue to suckle from.
The scene is something out of Sawdust and Tinsel, albeit brighter and unmistakably welcoming. The fences are lined with Christmas lights and every shanty is vending something cool. All of the doors probably creak and the sound is surprisingly good. Even better, the steep slope affords ideal band viewing from all corners.
Local audio aficionado Dave Allen is gleaming, having helped put together another sturdy lineup. We exchange a few words and I thank him for his work. What Pickathon was able to do this year is three-fold: First, it proved itself to be a true festival. More than just a gathering of music hungry bodies, Pickathon is set in a location tailored perfectly to both the size and style of the bands playing. Being just far enough way, the short drive to Pendarvis Farm makes you feel like you're off to something special.
Secondly, it's accommodating. Rarely do sacrifices have to be made in terms of band viewing. Nobody is fighting for a spot in the pit. People are sedated by the tranquil landscape. Everything is within a few paces while the organization is still just loose enough it maintains its farmy feel.
Lastly, it's one more big reason Portland kicks all kinds of ass. Roots music has nearly been confined entirely to the elder and more remote parts of the country. For it to be celebrated in this magnitude is testament to the area's love of Americana, the widening niche it has carved in the Willamette Valley, and Portland's ever-growing musical versatility.