After nearly four years of living in Portland, I finally bit the bullet and overdrew my bank account to attend Pickathon. The weekend-long festival showcases indie and roots musicians from Portland and far beyond, plus a buttload of craft beer, food carts, and a commitment to sustainability.
Before heading out to Happy Valley on Friday, my anxiety about camping alone, feeding myself (all I brought was four bananas and a bag of Kroger spice drops), and making the most out of the event as possible was high. But three hours into my Pickathon—tent set up, stainless steel Kleen Kanteen cup purchased—I sat, watching Jolie Holland, sure that coming to this festival was the best decision I’ve made all year.
Fests for me are as much about discovery as they are about appreciating bands you’ve already come to love. Here are my picks for best shows of the weekend, the biggest misses, and my favorite discoveries:
Diarrhea Planet (Friday, Galaxy Barn and Saturday, Woods Stage): The six piece band from Nashville, Tennessee was one of my must-sees of the weekend, and they did not disappoint. Their show at Galaxy Barn was a sweaty, bruise-inducing mess in the best way possible. Even with four guitars Diarrhea Planet is tight—and as you might expect, unrelenting. I wasn’t planning to see them twice but I couldn’t pass them up. Their second show at Woods Stage had the same great energy, but felt a bit more laid back. Maybe it was all the twelve-year-olds.
Angel Olsen (Saturday, Lucky Barn and Sunday, Woods Stage): Angel Olsen’s Burn Your Fire for No Witness is a haunting record that I’ve listened to regularly since it came out a few months back. Her voice is absolutely mesmerizing on record and her live show made no concession. Both performances were humble and stunning. Sunday’s show at Woods Stage was packed, and many musicians lingered backstage to take it in. Though she’d never admit it, Angel’s set herself up for a quick and lasting climb.
Warpaint (Sunday, Woods Stage): I’ve had a slow start with Warpaint. Some days, their album is great to me and others I’m a bit bored. Their performance, however, made me more than a fairweather fan. The four talented women share stage time, alternate who takes the lead, and present themselves so honestly. The final song of the set, “Baby,” was flawless.
Foxygen (Friday, Galaxy Barn): A big draw to the fest for me was Foxygen, whose album We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic was one of my favorites of 2013. The group’s live show left a lot to be desired. They hardly played any of the big songs off of 21st Century and overall the performance seemed over the top yet lackluster. The energy was all over the place—one of the backup singers was so much more enthusiastic than all the others; the sound wasn’t great; overall I was left disappointed.
Shakey Graves (Friday, Fir Meadows and Sunday, Woods Stage): I got into Shakey Graves just before I left for Pickathon and was particularly excited by his performances at last year’s festival. And he’s a good performer—he’s talented, his songs are catchy, and everyone loves him, but I was bored. His first set had me hooked, but by the time I saw him again on Sunday, I realized that all of his songs rely on the same Johnny Cash rhythm, and though playing drums with your feet while also playing guitar is impressive on a surface level, it gets old fast. I’ll still check out his new album in October, but I won’t have to see him live again.
Destroyer (Friday, Woods Stage and Treeline Stage): I’ve been well aware of Destroyer for some time, but never invested that much in him (I’ve always just been a diehard New Porn fan). But Dan Bejar’s performances Friday were spectacular, shimmering, intimate, and unique. I’ll have his stuff on repeat until further notice.
EDJ (Friday, Treeline Stage): When Fruit Bats played their last show ever this past fall, I didn’t feel terribly sad—because I knew that frontman Eric D. Johnson would go on to create projects just as exciting. EDJ is his debut, and a strong one at that. If you haven’t already, listen to “For The Boy Who Moved Away.”
Parquet Courts (Sunday, Woods Stage): I knew absolutely zero about Parquet Courts going into Pickathon. Now I know that they are energetic, loud, and fabulous.
Courtney Barnett (Sunday, Fir Meadows): Australian-based DIY rocker Courtney Barnett took the cake Sunday afternoon with her high-energy main stage performance. Unapologetic, straight-up, finely-tuned grit.
I learned a whole bunch about music this weekend. And if there’s one thing I’m taking with me it’s that I should never miss a Pickathon again. A weekend of partying with music lovers in Portland’s backyard? Why did it take me so long to come around? I’ll see you next year, Pickathon! I just hope someone will come with me.