Festival Review – Pickathon Days 3 and 4Posted by Aaron Sharpsteen
(You can read about the first two days of the festival here) As Saturday morning came and I woke up on the side of a hill (as many people who sleep at Pickathon find themselves), I wandered down to the Galaxy Barn for one last show before turning my sights to other places. I was in for a surprise and for a reminder as to why I try not to get into the barn after a certain time of day. It was packed by 1:40 for Portland’s Moorea Masa and the Mood. I remember seeing her perform with Ural Thomas in the exact same venue a while back, so seeing her progress with solo success was satisfying. I will take this time to admonish what I saw as an established pattern throughout the festival: people sitting down. Absolutely fuck that. Sitting down does one thing mainly: it increases your footprint and therefore decreases the overall capacity of the space. If a BUNCH of people are sitting down in say, a barn, then the capacity of that room automatically becomes quite small. So fuck you. Stand up. I saw this happen many times throughout the festival and did my best not to tell anyone that they were awful, but consider this my stance on the matter. If you are sitting down, on purpose, anywhere near the front of the stage, and there aren’t chairs, you are a piece of shit. Moorea Masa was awesome as I knew she would be.
Wandering back to my tent to pop some edibles, I caught some familiar sounds on the main stage and was delighted to see that Priests was blowing up the festival once again, even in the middle of a sweltering afternoon. The energy of their late-night, indoor set was a little dissipated by the conditions, but they still impressed quite a bit of people with their presence and sound. I remember one dad in particular looking at another attendee and saying “I think they just won Pickathon.” It isn’t really a competition dude, plus there were two full days of music still to go. But yes, Priests did come away after two performances at Pickathon pretty much on fire. In terms of introducing themselves to a wider audience, I’m not sure many bands at Pickathon had the same kind of success.
After a lazy afternoon spent wondering why exactly three edibles and some puffery wasn’t getting me stoned (like, at all), I went back to the Treeline Stage for a performance by Black Milk featuring Nat Turner. I’m a drummer. I’ve always been a fan of drummers. The drummer for Nat Turner straight ripped, and did it all while chewing gum, which was super cool. It is always heartening to see just how well hip-hop and r&b go over at Pickathon, and when Black Milk brought out a more house inspired number that got bodies moving it made me wonder if Pickathon would ever consider an EDM artist at some point in the future to turn the party up.
Everyone talks about how Pickathon is great because if you miss a band one night then you can catch them another. That is generally true but there were two bands that were paired together during the same set-times twice during the weekend, making it impossible to see them twice: Dinosaur Jr. and Dungen. I had to pick one night to see one and the other night to see the other. I decided to see both of them on the Woods Stage, which meant trucking it over there early to get a good spot. I sat through the last half of Pinegrove’s set, which I will admit was shockingly good. They had been getting a decent amount of hype pre-festival, and most of it is deserved. The singer looked like a child but had an incredibly pleasant voice. I’m not sure I’ll ever put on any of their records but I was impressed with their live set.
I knew Dinosaur Jr. was going to get fucking loud when I saw not one, not two, not three, but 4 full stacks make their way onto the Woods Stage, which I’m pretty sure is a record for most guitar cabinets on the Woods Stage at one time. I was right, they came out blaring, ripping through a tight set of classics from throughout their catalog and ending on my personal favorite, “Sludgefeast.” I did see one moderately disturbing thing happen when a security guard approached two men who were kind of trying to start a little mosh action and immediately grabbed them both by the neck. The song ended just as he said “…kicked out of the festival.” It was an unfortunate reminder that when people in authority positions want to escalate a situation unnecessarily there isn’t really much that can be done.
Making my way back to camp, I passed by the absolute shit-show that was Ty Segall on the Starlight Stage. Just like his sets last year, he got people to go absolutely insane in large numbers. I eventually heard about at least one camera that was broken in the melee that was the crowd. I decided to skip the visuals for that and prepare myself for a night under the stars with Tuvan throat singing group Huun Huur Tu, which I was sure I would hear ring through the forest as I closed my eyes. I was not wrong, and after a few moments the meditative and trance-inducing sounds started to bounce off the trees. I eventually drifted to sleep only to be woken up by some drunken assholes having a bluegrass jam around 4 in the morning. Christ.
Alcohol day and marijuana day were complete failures, as I did not achieve intoxication on the level I wanted to by any measure. Sunday was the last time to try and get out of my brain, and it was also mushroom day. After spending the morning packing out so I didn’t have to worry about going back into the forest, I tore up a pretty sizeable stem and cap and stuffed the parts into a delicious breakfast burrito. As I was consuming it I had a nice conversation with a couple and their friend about all the different music they had seen at the festival, and we even mutually complained about the goddam child buskers all over the trails. Apparently one of the buskers had made the couples’ friend look quite the fool with a “magic trick” that involved her closing her eyes while the children ran away like little creeps. Capitalism sucks and kids are the worst.
The mushrooms totally worked and I had a lot of fungal thoughts. Perhaps one of my favorite moments of the day was feeling my mind expand when talking with a friend who is also a press person in the press area under a giant tree, where he point blank started asking “Why are we here? What are we doing here?” This was the perfect way to get ready for an interview with Dungen, which also happened under the same tree. Since the festival refused to stock the press area with any kind of booze, I brought a bottle of 93 proof rum and some trail mix and we talked for a bit. The results of that conversation can be read here.
After that, Sunday was a relatively easy day. I spent a couple songs listening to Mandolin Orange, and was once again annoyed by everyone sitting down like a bunch of idiots, so I went back to the Woods Stage to end the festival. First up was A-WA. I caught the last half of their set, which was energetic and unique. I mentioned it in the other recap and I’ll mention it here: Pickathon always has a decent world music lineup.
Next up was Drive By Truckers, a band that I didn’t “want” to see but was willing to sit through to get a good spot for Dungen and my final band of the festival. They started off with a song about tornado anxiety and pretty much didn’t stop the Southern/blue collar cliches for the next hour. I know they are festival favorites and friends of the organizers, but goddam some of that material was cheesier than a Wisconsin dairy farm.
Finally, Dungen was up for what was my most anticipated performance of the weekend. Ever since the lineup was announced I thought “Oh my god, Dungen in the Woods is going to be amazing.” Then the schedule came out and they were closing down the Woods Stage on Sunday night. The performance was everything I expected and more given the conversation I had with them earlier, with Gustav obviously performing on some kind of substance that gave him a manic/frantic presence, Reine constantly adjusting knobs to get his tone exactly right, and Johan and Mattias trying to keep it all together loosely. They played a bunch of material from 4, my favorite album, as well as my favorite song from Allas Sak, and one from Ta Det Lugnt as well. It was the perfect end to a festival that never fails to impress.
I will say that the issues that I was dealing with before the festival were not completely erased, and thus I don’t think this year’s festival measured up to previous years, but it was still good. I suppose with a bunch of stuff in Portland eroding everyday, a festival going from fantastic to pretty good isn’t all that catastrophic.