Concert Festival Heartstrings Review

Requited Love: Pickathon 2014

By: Lauren Jahoda

The praise I have for Pickathon is boundless and can only be exceeded by the experience they have given me as a festival-goer. Pickathon prevails among its fellow festivals by lifting the distinction between owner, performer, volunteer and patron and designing an event that guarantees each of their attendees an equally rewarding experience. While I was at the merch table, buying my two-year-old niece a Pickathon-stamped tee (so that she could spread the word of Pickathon all the way to the parks and playgrounds of the East coast), I met a Portlander, originally from Pennsylvania. As he and I relished in our discussion of  our favorite performances “so far”, and the anticipation of the acts to come, he expressed one of the best descriptions of the festival that I had the pleasure of hearing:

“You know the feeling of putting 100% effort into something, only to receive half or even just a quarter of that back? Well, with Pickathon, the return is exponential.”

I first began to realize that I was in for an uncommon festival experience when I was one of only five people on the school bus shuttled from the Clackamas Town Center to Pickathon on Happy Valley’s Pendarvis Farm. I am aware that many camp and some drive, and while this may not be the most profound clue, my past festival-going experiences usually entail the competitive “If we want to get a good spot…!” mentality and the anxiety-ridden strategizing in order to avoid swarming crowds and long lines. We arrived at the farm and the easiness carried through every step of the way. Registration/Check-in, no line. Entrance, no-line. It was all very inviting. In fact, I had so much freedom that I found I needed a little direction once I passed through the yellow fabric gates. It’s very obvious that this freedom to wander is not only allowed, it’s highly encouraged. Unsure of which direction to head, I wandered to the right towards the Pendarvis house, as I noticed several women gathered at the right corner of the porch harmonizing, with the pluck of a banjo here and there, as if to be practicing for an upcoming performance. I listened and captured a couple of photos of the home and the red tractor that sits out front, labeled “Pendarvis Farm”—the lettering, since having ventured all the way from New York, confirmed a personal accomplishment—I had officially made it.

Here, the confines of designated press areas, audience areas, backstage-only areas, staff-only areas and artists trailers just aren’t necessary. After drifting as far right as possible, I turned around and headed left. I eventually greeted a pair of volunteers at the first checkpoint and asked for some recommendations on where to head first. One of the young women rose without hesitation and led me to the nearest large board map (no print-outs to reduce waste) and spent at least 10 minutes looking over and discussing some of the history of the festival grounds with me.

The festival began in 1999 as a rather small gathering at Horning’s Hideout in Portland, which after seven years, became unsuitable in size for the audience they were attracting. They then moved to the present festival grounds of Pendarvis Farm, situated on 80-acres and privately-owned by Scott and Sherry Pendarvis, who for a long time had been hosting local festival jams for incoming musicians and the surrounding community. Without even having met the pair, it’s obvious that the rare and ultra-positive spirit of Pickathon is largely due to Scott and Sherry’s involvement. Just prior to Robbie Fulk’s performance in the Lucky Barn, I noticed a laminated message posted to the porch side of the building. The notice contained rules, guidelines and humble advice about time spent while on the farm, directly from the owners themselves, along with their cell phone numbers, should you need to reach them.

“’People have always described [the farm] as having a cyclone of creative energy swirling around it,’ Sherry says. ‘It sounds very hippie and woo-woo, but that’s what people have said so many times. But I know that when I first moved here that I was feeling this sense of history.’ She continues, ‘I try to think of the farm as a canvas for possibility.’” (Hillary Saunders, Paste Magazine).

The festival contains 6 stages: Mountain View, Fir Meadows, Galaxy Barn, Woods, Starlight, Lucky Barn (formerly the Workshop Barn) and the Tree Line Stage. Each has its own ambience and flavor, and is as extraordinary as the next. With 6 stages and 50+ performers, each as attractive as the others, Pickathon designs a schedule during which each artist performs twice throughout the weekend. Rather than having to leave half way through The Sadies to catch the last ten minutes of Nickel Creek, you can remain seated (or standing) and make less sacrifices when ranking your must-see bands, with a better chance to discover someone new. To top it off however, if you do have the opportunity and availability to see the same band twice, you most definitely should, because you will experience two very different performances–each on a different stage. The Blind Pilot you get on the Mountain View Stage will be a completely different adventure than the Blind Pilot you get on the Woods Stage.

The first stage I visited (once I figured out how to get there upon my arrival on Friday morning), was the Woods Stage. Photographs I had previously seen of this stage alone, are what prompted my discovery and following of Pickathon several years ago. I headed straight for the woods, while frequently catching overwhelming views of everything along the way, and fighting the urge to interrupt my mission to meet the idyllic woods before all else; this inaugural mission was necessary, as for me, it marked the point of transition from being a remote spectator, viewing the picturesque scene on the screen of my laptop miles away in NY, to a traveler, just steps away from the oh-so tangible forest that lied ahead of me. It was incredibly hot that day, but as I entered the woods I instantly cooled under the shade amidst the aromatic soil and lush foliage. I felt calmed by the ethereal atmosphere of the woods, the multicolored fabric balloons propelled in the air and the comfort of walking in an enormous shared living space. 

For those of you who were fans of Fern Gully as a kid, the Pickathon woods are as close as it gets. So much so that, before, during and after the festival, the Pickathon team marked all their media with the hashtag “#notadream,” assuring their audience that as magical and unbelievable as it may be, Pickathon was and is, in fact, wonderfully real.

Over the next several days, I will be posting reviews and photos of some of my favorite performances at the festival, and the tales of a Pickathon camper. Until then, please enjoy our photos from the weekend and be prepared to fall in love over and over again.

(Photography by Lauren Jahoda)



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