Out in the woods of Portland, Ore., lives a music festival
By Austin Powell,
1:40PM, Tue. Aug. 7, 2012
The Woods stage at Pickathon appeared almost like a mirage last weekend. After a quarter-mile hike into the forested area near Portland, Ore., an evergreen trail gave way to a small natural amphitheater, a canopy of trees shading the midsummer heat and a Hopworks stand serving microbrew on tap.
There on the gnarly, wooden stage stood Bombino, a Tuareg guitarist from Agadez, Niger. Dressed for the Sahara, the fourpiece entranced with nomadic desert-blues for the better part of an hour. The band’s sublime frequencies bear the same revolutionary streak as contemporaries Tinariwen, but Bombino (born Goumar Almoctar) bobs and weaves as a guitarist, floating and stinging with sharp arpeggios. It’s a divine, electric hypnotism, entrancing in its resilience.
That was the most surreal scene I encountered this past weekend at Pickathon, an annual three-day music festival at Pendarvis Farm, headlined this year by Neko Case, Blitzen Trapper, and Dr. Dog. The 5,000-capacity event, now in its 14th year, offers Portland’s counter to Old Settler’s Music Festival. Both reside just outside city limits, offer on-site camping, and merge folk traditionalists with modern indie rock and beyond.
What separates Pickathon is its scheduling and set-up. The roughly 50 acts play multiple times on different stages, like a musical version of Groundhog Day. Cass McCombs faded gently into early Sunday morning on the Starlight stage, a completely open set-up in the middle of the festival grounds, only to perform later that day in the Galaxy Barn, a small indoor stage with two white horses out back.
Pickathon’s also the most environmentally conscientious festival in the country, with plentiful transportation options, a dishware system, and no single-use cups or bottles. Then again, nobody picks music destinations based on composting options. It’s about discovery. And even for such a small bill, there was plenty of discovery to be had, from the swinging rockabilly of North London family band Kitty, Daisy & Lewis to the confessional catharsis of Portland’s Typhoon (think Quiet Company but three times the size).
Other highlights included Thee Oh Sees’ roving funhouse and guitar-psych rave-ups; the brazen and bruised country of Phosphorescent, with Austin’s Ricky Ray Jackson on pedal steel; and the War on Drugs’ needlepoint kraütrock, with closer “A Needle in Your Eye #16” from 2006’s Wagonwheel Blues set straight for the heart of the mid-afternoon sun.
And then there was White Denim.
The Austin powerhouse ripped through all of the hyper prog-soul on latest album D minus only “Street Joy” with the intensity, velocity, and expert precision of synchronized skydivers. All four – guitarist/vocalist James Petralli, drummer Josh Block, bassist Steve Terebecki, and guitarist Austin Jenkins – locked in motion for a series of medleys that hit on the essential jams (“Shake Shake Shake”), teased new material in the segues, and included what sounded like a late-Sixties superfunk remix of “Regina Holding Hands.”
White Denim delivered the absolute epitome of a midnight ramble.
Austin Powell, Aug. 4, 2014
Austin Powell, Aug. 7, 2013
Aug. 22, 2014
Aug. 1, 2014
Pickathon, Pendarvis Farm, Bombino, Neko Case, Cass McCombs, Dr. Dog, Old Settler's Music Festival, Kitty, Daisy & Lewis, Typhoon, Thee Oh Sees, Phosphorescent, Ricky Jay Jackson, the War on Drugs, White Denim