Kris Rothstein's Blog

Pickathon 2016 Preview

Kris Rothstein

When I tell people about Pickathon, I sound like a starry-eyed convert.The festival has integrity! It's so civilized! It's beautiful (the cloud-like tentscape over the Mountain and Meadow stages), sustainable (solar power, no garbage, stages built from recycled materials), creative (jam sessions, workshops for kids, amazing camping set-ups).

It's not like other festivals, I say. It hits this sweet spot which is both authentic 1960s granola vibe and modern, sophisticated mashup. And it's equally fun if you are just there to camp, hang out and listen to a few jams or if you are a hardcore fan of folk, bluegrass, country, rock or even more underground experimental music.

I love that Pickathon is free for kids. I love that what security they have is there to help people and not to harass them. I love that it's on a farm but is just about twenty minutes away from Portland, one of the most fun cities in North America. And I'm excited that a comedy and storytelling component has been added, as Portland is home to amazing scenes crossing both genres.

OK - it's not all harps and angels. It's no picnic finding a good campsite and last year I was wedged on a steep slope and narrowly missed staking my tent on a wasp's nest. It's hot! Portland in August tends to be pretty, baking so drinking a lot of water, walking slowly between stages (instead of sprinting from act to act) and finding a shady spot to watch bands is essential.

Pickathon usually sells out although you may still have a chance to get a ticket. Come for the ambiance and come for the bands. OK. So here is the music you need to see.

You probably don't need me to mention some big names but since some people associate Pickathon with heroes of the banjo-world, I will. Jeff Tweedy from Wilco, Wolf Parade, the dreamy pop band Beach House and Vancouver's immersive psych rock band Black Mountain are all playing.

Another Canadian hitting the stage is Mac De Marco, once the leader of Vancouver's Makeout Videotape, a band basically no one ever noticed, and now a massively popular darling of the weird soft rock variety. I don't love him, but lots of people I know do. And since I'm Canadian I have to plug a few other acts from north of the border - acclaimed singer-songwriter Lindi Ortega and Patrick Watson, who is best known for his work scoring film and TV and, as such, knows how to create intimate textured soundscapes. I don't really know what to expect from him but I've heard his live show compared to Rufus Wainwright, so that's good, right? Toronto rock group Alvaays originally hail from Cape Breton and they have had critical honors heaped upon them. If you like exquisite pop in the vein of Belle & Sebastian, then you will love listening to them.

And come listen to legends like King Sunny Ade (a massive star of world music and beyond!), Yo La Tengo and Sir Richard Bishop of the Sun City Girls.

Expect a full report of everything that L.A. musician Ty Segall (my favorite) is up to during the Festival. For now I'll just say that this year's Emotional Mugger is one of his very best records and the supergroup he pulled together to tour it puts on a blistering live show. I don't think even Ty decides what he'll perform at Pickathon until he gets there, so it could be a solo acoustic folky set or screaming weirdness while wearing a baby mask.

Other indie rock bands I will be watching are Ultimate Painting, The Cairo Gang, Moon Duo and Fruit Bats.

And when it comes to the pick in Pickathon, I am planning to see I Draw Slow (roots from Dublin), the beautiful singing sisters from eastern Washington known as Joseph and The James Hunter Six playing traditional soul/R&B. Margo Price is a singing star of traditional country whose grit and sincerity (and voice) are never in doubt. With 10 String Symphony I will sample some virtuoso fiddling and twangy tunes.

From further afield: Ibeyi is twins Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi Diaz who are were raised French/Cuban and sing in English and the Nigerian language of their ancestors. The appeal starts with their voices but the elements which include traditional instruments, beats and deeply soulful textures all combine to create a compelling effect. They are still in their very early twenties! Yemen Blues was started by Ravid Kahalani whose parents come from a Jewish Yemeni background. Expect songs in various languages with influences from different musical traditions. The Swedish/ Icelandic duo My Bubba are two women who harmonize on contemporary folk songs with gorgeous clarity.

I'm also looking forward to Thao & The Get Down Stay Down from California. It seems like one of those acts I would never have been exposed to without this festival and I can already tell I like their brand of folk rock. And Boulevards - which is Jamil Rashad playing irresistible modern funk from North Carolina.

Did I mention that every band plays twice at Pickathon? It means festival-goers won't miss anyone they want to see, even if there is a timing conflict or they can't make it early or stay up late (music goes until after 2am! Too late for me!).

If you want to know what happened last year then read my 2015 coverage.

Pickathon happens at Pendarvis Farm in Happy Valley starting on August 4th. 2016. You can get a free shuttle there from transit. You can join a bike caravan. Bring your own cup.



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