Sometime after dark, in the middle of the woods, a young boy exclaimed, “Pickathon is so awesome, but it’s so short! Don’t you agree, Dad?” Even on day one, the magic felt so real and so fleeting on Pendarvis Farm. The bands performed with such intensity and the crowds embraced it honestly and completely at the family-friendly gathering in Happy Valley, Oregon.
While we dug into the background of Pickathon earlier, we tried to catch as many acts as possible on Day 1 on the farm. Highlights included Destroyer’s two solo sets on The Woods Stage and the new Tree Line Stage, Lonnie Holley’s stream-of-consciousness folk trance and Shakey Graves’ grand return (featuring a drummer and a new B. C. Rich guitar he named Count Axula). Foxygen, who had to cancel last year’s appearance due to unforeseen injury, and The War On Drugs also garnered rave reports. However, new songs from Blind Pilot and The Barr Brothers, and a number of covers stole much of Day 1.
Hiss Golden Messenger played a midday solo acoustic set on the Fir Meadows Stage, but played back to back covers by wildly different artists. Spotting the Magnolia Electric Company’s bassist Pete Schreiner in the crowd, MC Taylor dedicated a haunting version of the “What Comes After The Blues” to him and the late Jason Molina. Then, Taylor launched into a folky version of Townes Van Zandt’s “Loretta.”
Late night on the Starlight Stage, Memphis-based songstress and multi-instrumentalist Valerie June sat down with her acoustic guitar to cover Robert Johnson’s “If I Had Possession Over Judgment Day.” Trading the guitar for a banjolele she referred to as “Baby,” June performed a short, but emotionally fraught rendition of Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home To Me.”
Even Diarrhea Planet, the shredding Nashville six-piece (two-thirds of which is comprised of guitarists), sound-checked to Prince, Lenny Kravitz and Third Eye Blind riffs, making the packed Galaxy Barn laugh, sing along and cheer before the band even started their face-melting set that closed out the night.
You never know what you’re going to find at Pickathon. You walk past the lost and found right as you enter the Pendarvis Farm—and the story goes that nothing has ever been stolen at Pickathon. You might find boxer-clad band members roaming around the farm. Or, according to the kids at the Woods Stage during Valerie June’s set, you might find dinosaur bones while picking at tree roots. You spot an open-sourced, anonymous diary collecting of fears and worries hanging in the woods and you even find Assistant Editor Bonnie Stiernberg’s dad shredding on the mandolin with Robbie Fulks.
Pickathon is so small that even by Day 2, you start to recognize faces wherever you go. King Tuff, who isn’t even performing this year (although they did last year was spotted backstage during Mikal Cronin’s set and Diarrhea Planet stood side stage for Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Later, The Donkeys checked out Woods at the Galaxy Barn and Nickel Creek’s Chris Thile watched Gregory Alan Isakov take requests from the crowd during his set.
Paste also checked out musician/producer/radio DJ Bobby Patterson, who—at 70 years old—just released a new record called I Got More Soul! last month. Fierce Nashville lady-rock-and-rollers Those Darlins performed Friday, where the temperature inside the Galaxy Barn apparently surpassed 100º, but inspired the entire seated audience to get up and dance by the end of their Saturday set at the Tree Line Stage. Mac DeMarco performed a snarky cover of Coldplay’s “Yellow,” before crowd-surfing from the Woods Stage to the sound booth and back without falling. And later, Nickel Creek’s gloriously harmony-filled set closed the main stages.
Sometime in the middle of the second day of Pickathon, I was told that I’d officially, “been Pickathon’d.” It was almost like getting knighted—a true honor that entailed getting lost on Pendarvis Farm, meeting all the farm animals, seeing stars in the sky (and on stages), giving away purchased food for free and even receiving free hugs from adorable kids in the woods.
It took another full day, however, to complete the Pickathon experience. Since each of the approximately 50 bands performs twice over the course of the weekend, we checked out as many more bands as possible on Day 3 that we hadn’t seen, yet.
Marco Benevento, who concluded last year’s Pickathon with a middle-of-the-night marathon secret show in the woods, closed his midday main stage set with an energized cover of Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets.” Before Brown Sabbath—an Austin-based octet that pummels with Latin-funk Black Sabbath covers—brought down the Galaxy Barn late night set, members of the horn section performed with Spanish Gold on the Mountain View Stage. There, too, Foxygen brought the most ebullient set, even with sound trouble. Angel Olsen and Blind Pilot both delivered thoughtful sets on the Woods Stage, and Jolie Holland stunned audience members in the sweaty Galaxy Barn. But X—the seminal ‘70s Los Angeles punk band—proved a fan-favorite by offering an engaging, mostly acoustic set to close out the main stages. Jonathan Richman, Mac DeMarco and Willie Watson (of Old Crow Medicine Show fame) played the Starlight Stage late into the night, concluding the official performances Pickathon 2014.
Special thanks to the folks at GuildWorks for their assistance in arranging the aerial photo.