I went to Pickathon with a plan this year, the details of which will be made clear. After weeks of rubbing up against corporate PR red-tape, I felt an odd mixture of relief and trepidation as I was standing in line in 100 degree weather at noon. I’ve learned an important lesson the hard way at this festival: if you aren’t in line close to when the gates open, you will not get a camping spot that is close. With many festival goers opting for the early night, many of them also planning on camping all weekend, the forest was impressively full even at 1 in the afternoon on Thursday. But no matter, I found a spot very close to a main trail, right near the artist/staff boundary, and set up.
Returning to the festival later on in the evening, my first act was Coco Columbia, an artist that I was introduced to this year when browsing through the Portland acts that were going to be at the festival. I’m not sure how I’ve missed Ms. Columbia in the past couple years, but her music was a weird, jazzy revelation as it sprayed from my speakers. The star went next to her name on the schedule. “Must see.” So I did see, and I was very impressed with the live translation, and charmed by the way she hid behind/under her keyboard at different intervals, as if she was both simultaneously recharging and also encouraging the audience to recognize the talent of her backing band, who were also all impressive. A good start to the weekend, for sure. After having a conversation with the head of the PR agency that was responsible for many of my frustrations, I had to wash away all semblance of corporate logic and prerogatives with Charles Bradley, who simply is the fucking man. I thought it was a risky move on the part of the organizers to put one of the bigger headliners on the main stage for a night that wasn’t even technically an “official” start to the festival, but I was surely glad to be able to easily walk to the front and center of the stage to catch the Screaming Eagle of Soul belt it out and melt everyone’s hearts, capping off the performances with roses handed out.
The last performance of Thursday for me was another Portland artist, Mic Capes, in the Galaxy Barn. There comes a point at which getting into the Galaxy Barn is pretty much a shit show, sometime after Friday night, so once again waltzing into the barn and getting close enough to photograph one of Portland’s up and coming rappers was a treat. He displayed his trademark story-telling style, with plenty of references to St. Johns as well.
Back to the plan I mentioned above. After a bunch of miscommunication, red tape, denials of requests, lack of information, and a general feeling of being dismissed, I came to Pickathon ready to get fucked up. Here’s another truth about Pickathon: they claim that cars will be checked for alcohol and “other substances. Never, ever does this happen. Ever. Which is good, and meant that sneaking in a bottle of rum, a bottle of champagne, multiple weed edibles, and a bag of mushrooms was as easy as laying down my gear at camp host and letting some poor sap truck it all up the trail behind a gator. The plan was a different substance each day: alcohol on Friday (to get the hangover out of the way), weed on Saturday, and mushrooms on Sunday.
As I was working on my bottle of champagne and drinking some tequila gifted from my lovely camping neighbors, a raucous and energetic sound came rumbling up the trail like a mountain lion dancing to cumbia. I took at a quick look at the schedule and wondered aloud “Who the fuck IS this.” MAKU Soundsystem, one of the many world acts that Pickathon brought out to cultivate posi vibes. While many observers will note that Pickathon always brings out local Portland talent and pairs them with national acts, I think it is time to also call out what is consistently a very solid world-music lineup.
Up next was my first trek to the Woods Stage for a band I had caught a couple years ago (in one of those shit-show nights in the barn), Meatbodies. Not sporting any more costumery but still coming to shred, Meatbodies generated one of the best pits of the festival yet again, a roiling mass of dusty bodies crowd-surfing without concern. It was at this point that I realized something frustrating: I had consumed a ton of alcohol (champagne, beer, tequila, and wine) and was barely buzzed. I chalked my sobriety up to the heat and moved on.
Wolf People once again joined Pickathon from the U.K to sling their modern take on a more rock-forward psych rock sound. Impressive guitar caterwauling and rambling drum fills were the order of the day, just as they were in 2015, and Pickathon was once again settling into that magical familiarity, a safe and creative place where artist and audience blend together.
After returning to my tent to don one of my favorite festival outfits, a black monk’s robe, I returned to the Galaxy Barn for my last night show in that venue of the festival, Priests. I don’t know if it was my persistence or my outfit, but people seemed to part when I entered and I was able to straight to the front for most of their set, a tight, coiling, post-punk affair that had people talking about the band for the rest of the festival. As with previous Pickathons, the Friday night punk display at the Galaxy Barn was the place to be, a sweaty, cathartic mess led this time by a maniacal singer who sneered and jeered in a red prom dress.
I declared that I was too sober at the end of the evening and thus alcohol day would be marked down as a failure. Walking back up the trail to the sounds of Alex Cameron, before I faded to sleep I caught some of his rambling speech about the condition of the straight white man, which made him seem like he might have been a little toasty himself. It also made the lines “I’m going to Chinatown, I’m going to get my happy ending” a little more suspicious.
Look for a recap of Saturday and Sunday (marijuana and mushroom day, respectively) here.