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Pickathon Independent Music Festival 2016 Recap

Thursday 25th, August 2016 / 17:54
By Colin Gallant, Jamie McNamara and Liam Prost
PROTOMARTYR at Pickathon 2016. Photo: Jamie McNamara

PROTOMARTYR at Pickathon 2016.
Photo: Jamie McNamara

August 5-7, 2016

PORTLAND, OR — Before we get to the meat of it, there are just a few things that need to be mentioned to understand what it’s like to be at Pickathon. The festival is spread across the Pendarvis Farm, just 20 minutes outside of Portland, OR. The venue encompasses an idyllic forest with winding trails, perfectly nap-worthy hills and six handmade performance spaces, including tiny, sweaty barns and outdoor stages nestled in valleys and groves. It looks fantastic, and sounds even better. The crystal clear, meticulous audio mix is at a quality previously unknown to outdoor festivals. Between sets, influential radio DJs and personalities spun vinyl perfectly tailored to the acts to come. It’s a thoughtful, beautifully produced festival that aces every component of an audience experience, while still maintaining reverence for its host site. Neighbourly behaviour was encouraged and no single-use foodware was offered by food or alcohol vendors. In the spirit of Portland, great coffee and a wide variety of food (plus plenty of booze options starting at $5 for a fill-up) were available. Between the visuals, atmosphere and refreshment, one could have missed every act at Pickathon and still had a great time. However, BeatRoute’s marathon of catching bands play proved that would be a huge mistake.

Foghorn Stringband at Pickathon 2016. Photo: Liam Prost

Foghorn Stringband at Pickathon 2016.
Photo: Liam Prost

One of the more elegant features of the festival is that almost every artist plays twice (or sometimes more as in the case of Caleb Klauder/Foghorn Stringband). If you miss an artist because another is playing that you want to see even more overlaps it, you can always catch them again at another stage. Or if there is a stage that you particularly dislike (perhaps you are a little too dehydrated for a loud set at the dark, often sweaty, indoor Galaxy Barn) you can choose the best venue to see your favourite act. This also allows bands with a wealth of material and/or multiple sets or modes, to perform different sets depending on the stage they were set up at. For instance, the small and beautiful Woods stage attracted a fair few “acoustic” styled sets during the festival.

Kacy and Clayton at Pickathon 2016. Photo: Liam Prost

Kacy and Clayton at Pickathon 2016.
Photo: Liam Prost

After a 13-hour drive from Calgary and brief romp through Portland, we arrived at the Pendarvis Farm on Friday, August 5th. Missing Thursday night’s opening night festivities, including a square dance featuring Foghorn Stringband, was much to the chagrin of some of our group, but brought a grin to the rest. While we parked and picked up our passes, the familiar sounds of Saskatchewan’s Kacy and Clayton blew in with the wind; an air of familiarity in an otherwise alien landscape. We have to admit, we were woefully underprepared for the festival, and presumed a more traditional car camping experience. What we got was a beautiful, but exhausting, trek through the woods past hundreds of campers that obviously knew that the best spots went to the early birds. After some haggling with our neighbours we settled on a subprime spot between two trees that barely fit our tent (which in turn, barely fit ourselves), and rushed down to greet the day. This also led to the first disappointment of the weekend wherein we missed Kevin Morby’s set by only a few minutes while we fanangled back down through the campground. Luckily this was one of the few such times we had to miss something entirely. The fact that we missed Kevin Morby entirely was due to us skipping the Thursday, a mistake we will not make again when we undoubtedly return to this incredible festival.

The crowd at the Woods Stage during Pickathon 2016. Photo: Liam Prost

The crowd at the Woods Stage during Pickathon 2016.
Photo: Liam Prost

Below are all live reviews of this year’s Pickathon acts seen and photographed by this trio of BeatRoute reviewers. (LP)

Day One

Thee Oh Sees – Woods Stage

Thee Oh Sees at Pickathon 2016. Photo: Jamie McNamara

Thee Oh Sees at Pickathon 2016.
Photo: Jamie McNamara

Thee Oh Sees aren’t still one of the best live bands around, they’re now something even better. Madman ringleader John Dwyer’s infectiously playful snarl still anchors the allure of the band’s faster than hell performance style, but the addition of dual drummers Ryan Moutinho and Dan Rincon add a considered oomph to underscore his mania. The breakneck pace of the set had the often-calm Woods Stage crowd at full aggression in the pit,to the point where this reviewer had to hide and subsequently lost his camera. One welcome surprise was extended stoner dirge near the end that proved the chemistry of the band works at speeds slower than 200 miles per hour. (CG)

Ultimate Painting – Treeline Stage

One exciting new discovery made at Pickathon was the smooth Brit-pop of Ultimate Painting. Playing directly before La Luz, this uninitiated reporter expected a Burger Records/Hardly Art style set of precocious, scruffy rave-ups. Instead, Ultimate Painting delivered delicate, hummable bass lines and guitar melodies that patiently raised the intensity over the course of an hour. By the time the 10-minute guitar solo coda wrapped, I had already Googled their publicist to try and hunt down the forthcoming Dusk (due 9/30 on Trouble in Mind). (CG)

Mac DeMarco – Mt. Hood Stage

Three Albertans travel to Portland and spend their time watching Mac DeMarco. It almost sounds like the premise for a joke, but catching DeMarco in a return-by-popular-demand context was a rewarding way to reacquaint ourselves with ‘Berta’s most popular golden boy. While DeMarco is still touring the same set he’s had under his belt for a while, seeing the enthusiasm of the audience raised the stakes somehow. Plus, that Steely Dan cover never ceases to be a blast onstage. (CG)

King Sunny Ade – Woods Stage

King Sunny Ade at Pickathon 2016. Photo: Jamie McNamara

King Sunny Ade at Pickathon 2016.
Photo: Jamie McNamara

Despite his set being hampered and shortened by some technical issues, the 69 year-old Nigerian music legend still managed to start a full blown dance party with what time he, and the double-digit band that accompanied him, had. It was one of the more left-field bookings of this year’s fest, but judging by the crowd reaction it was also one of the year’s most underrated. (JM)

Patrick Watson – Woods Stage

Patrick Watson at Pickathon 2016. Photo: Liam Prost

Patrick Watson at Pickathon 2016.
Photo: Liam Prost

We don’t fault Patrick Watson for playing basically the same set twice. The group was captivating. During the Friday performance they couldn’t even fit the whole band on the intimate Woods Stage, leaving their back up vocalist trapped behind a tree branch and sending Patrick Watson himself into the audience for a song to watch a magnificent saw solo. The sweeping arrangements from new release Love Songs for Robots were colourful and dynamic, but the biggest moments were the most familiar. Cuts like “Adventures in your own Backyard” hit hard, with a palpable affection for that material from the band and audience alike. The set closed with a few acoustic tracks played Bluegrass style through a condenser microphone, including fan favourite Wooden Arms cut “Man Like You.” (LP)

La Luz – Treeline Stage

La Luz at Pickathon 2016. Photo: Liam Prost

La Luz at Pickathon 2016.
Photo: Liam Prost

La Luz is a BeatRoute favourite. This Seattle surf rock outfit has been charming us for a few years now, and this was the most polished and clean we have ever seen them. Set at twilight at the colourful Treeline Stage, the misty keyboards and elastic guitars felt cool and lucid. Their tracks are often low tempo, but folks were on their feet nonetheless. Even after seeing them earlier this year at a larger stage at Sasquatch, the band felt in their element at Pickathon, with big smiles to match their gallant songs. (LP)

Yo La Tengo – Woods Stage

Yo La Tengo at Pickathon 2016. Photo: Liam Prost

Yo La Tengo at Pickathon 2016.
Photo: Liam Prost

Knowing that Yo La Tengo’s first set was at the Woods Stage, we prayed that they might bust out the infamous “Freewheeling Yo La Tengo” acoustic set. The upright bass hanging on the stage all but confirmed that theory as the techs bustled around the stage. This was the only set over the course of the weekend where the sound was noticeably off. Some vocal feedback hurt the impact of the extremely poignant track “The Summer,” it was so distracting that we left the set early, which was revealed to be the wrong decision when later heard that the band busted out an excellent cover of “Friday I’m in Love.” (LP)

Wolf Parade – Mountain Stage

Wolf Parade at Pickathon 2016. Photo: Liam Prost

Wolf Parade at Pickathon 2016.
Photo: Liam Prost

Having not gotten an opportunity to see the band in their heyday, but loving their separate releases as Moonface, Sunset Rubdown, Handsome Furs and etc. The expectations for a reunited Wolf Parade were high. Wolf Parade’s response to this was to rock through the set, playing their wordy rock songs fast and loud. Turns out they even have something new on the horizon, here’s a hint that it might contain more than a few bangers. (LP)

Day Two

Tennyson – Galaxy Barn

Tenny Son at Pickathon 2016. Photo: Jamie McNamara

Tenny Son at Pickathon 2016.
Photo: Jamie McNamara

It says something about Tennyson’s career trajectory that it was the first time any of our BeatRoute crew had the chance to see the Albertan synth-pop siblings live. The Edmontonian brother sister duo of Luke and Tess Pretty are on their first summer of touring as a duo, and if their set at Pickathon was any preview of what’s to come, Tegan and Sara might not be the most famous music siblings in Alberta for long. (JM)

Vhol – Treeline Stage

Vhol at Pickathon 2016. Photo: Jamie McNamara

Vhol at Pickathon 2016.
Photo: Jamie McNamara

Music festivals can sometimes feel like you’re seeing the same band copy and pasted across all of the lineup. Pickathon’s booking of Pacific Northwest metal heavyweights Vhol is evidence of the festival’s willingness to add variety to what could be just another folk music festival. The band made up of members of YOB, Hammers of Misfortune, and Agalloch ripped through a set of blackened thrash that had quite a few of the younger attendees opening up a pit that would make metalheads proud. (JM)

Dan Deacon – Galaxy Barn

Dan Deacon is a relentless optimist, but his outward, audience-participation approach to live performance can be downright awkward if people aren’t willing to play along. After a full day of music located in the middle of the woods, a retina-melting array of lights, and a drummer that managed to keep up with Deacon’s spastic electronic ecstasy-bombs and it doesn’t take long for the audience to let their guard down and submit. Pickathon not only did that, but they stuffed it all in a sweaty barn, filling the air with a literally palpable sense of positivity. (JM)

The Oh Hellos – Mountain Stage/Woods Stage

The Oh Hellos at Pickathon 2016. Photo: Liam Prost

The Oh Hellos at Pickathon 2016.
Photo: Liam Prost

One of the best kinds of music festival moments is the discovery. We were going facefirst into one of the weekend’s many handmade pizza dumplings when The Oh Hellos busted into a full-on indie rock Irish jig at the Mountain Stage. The showing was so impressive, the whole BeatRoute crew went out of their way to see their set at the Woods Stage, which was well attended and sounded excellent. The band played a quieter and more stripped down set, which was appropriate given the massive band and tiny stage, but was adorable nonetheless. The brother-sister duo at the helm felt like our best friends, telling us about their heart breaks, set to a great quirky indie movie soundtrack. (LP)

ALVVAYS – Galaxy Barn/Woods Stage

ALVVAYS at Pickathon 2016. Photo: Jamie McNamara

ALVVAYS at Pickathon 2016.
Photo: Jamie McNamara

We didn’t ride the ALVVAYS train as hard as some, but we wanted to see as many Canadian acts as possible, and after catching a few tracks off-handedly at the Galaxy Barn, we knew we couldn’t miss their Woods Stage set. Cuts from their self-titled debut all sound crisp and polished, with great push and pull between Molly Rankin and the lead guitarist, letting differences in tone between her mustang and his jazzmaster colour and shape the clean leads that typify their tunes. They had a few new songs to share as well, and it leads us tantalized for what their second record might have to offer. (LP)

Palehound – Galaxy Barn

Palehound at Pickathon 2016. Photo: Liam Prost

Palehound at Pickathon 2016.
Photo: Liam Prost

Palehound came up on a Pickathon playlist, and her sweet, lo fi charm left us intrigued. She played her first set at the Galaxy Barn, and we immediately fell in love with her self-deprecating humour and punchy rock songs. Palehound strikes us as both a music and music festival fan. As someone who knows and loves what it’s like to be in the audience, her reverence was well felt. (LP)

Jeff Tweedy – Mountain Stage/Woods Stage (Days Two and Three)

Jeff Tweedy at Pickathon 2016. Photo: Liam Prost

Jeff Tweedy at Pickathon 2016.
Photo: Liam Prost

With a recent tease of new Wilco, and the recent release of the Tweedy side project featuring Jeff’s son Spencer on drums, it was exciting to see what a Jeff Tweedy solo set might bring. Interestingly, it was a true acoustic set, featuring a totally clear stage and a condenser microphone for vocals and guitar. The man himself was hilarious, cracking Donald Trump jokes and appealing to his wife for their anniversary via the Pickathon livestream. The set was a good combination of covers, some new songs, and some classic Wilco favourites including “Misunderstood,” and the heartbreaking “Jesus Etc.” His second set during Day Three at the Woods Stage was more of the same in the best possible way. He didn’t repeat a song, but did reiterate and contextualize a few of his jokes from the previous evening. This Tweedy solo set felt like a treat for true Wilco fans more than anything else, a way of engaging us in the songs we forgot how much we loved. It wasn’t a discount Wilco or Tweedy set, it was beautiful and intimate, and we loved how raw it was. (LP)

Cass McCombs – Treeline Stage

Cass McCombs at Pickathon 2016. Photo: Liam Prost

Cass McCombs at Pickathon 2016.
Photo: Liam Prost

Turns out, Cass McCombs is a jam band. Each track swivelled and waved for upwards of 10 minutes a song, even tracks that were relatively short recorded. The stage volume of Cass’s guitar was way louder than anything else in the mix, but otherwise, the jam was a potent one, culminating in the fantastic “County Line,” a track that got the audience up and swaying. (LP)

Day Three

Beach House – Mt. Hood Stage

Beach House at Pickathon 2016. Photo: Liam Prost

Beach House at Pickathon 2016.
Photo: Liam Prost

In an interview with Beach House, Charlie Rose described the duo as “one of indie rock’s most consistent bands.” More than just a case of “real recognize real,” their appearance on Charlie Rose is evidence of the ascent that Alex Scally and Victoria LeGrand have taken since their lo-fi self-titled debut back in 2006. Their headlining appearance on Pickathon’s mainstage was the first opportunity any of the BeatRoute team had to see them live since their appearance at the now-defunct Republik in 2013.

The band at Pickathon seemed brand new, the beautiful mainstage visuals provided perfect accompaniment for the full band version of Beach House, who were playing a set of hits blown out into bonafide stadium anthems. A beefed-up version of Thank Your Lucky Stars single “Rough Song” provided perfect emotional catharsis to wrap up an amazing weekend. (JM)

Fruit Bats – Galaxy Barn

Fruit Bats at Pickathon 2016. Photo: Liam Prost

Fruit Bats at Pickathon 2016.
Photo: Liam Prost

Fruit Bats were put in the worst places at the worst times, but we still managed to get a few minutes of their time. At the Galaxy Barn they eeked around the sweaty crowd with well oiled indie pop songs, a little heavier on the guitar than on record. You wouldn’t know they’ve been playing for 20 years, their energy is vibrant and their songs are smile-inducing. We can’t wait to see them again. (LP)

Joseph – Starlight Stage

Joseph at Pickathon 2016. Photo: Liam Prost

Joseph at Pickathon 2016.
Photo: Liam Prost

This Portland three-piece is already going places, and apparently one of those things is marriage, sadly to someone who isn’t us… sigh… Their new Mike Mogis produced record is dense and lush, but live, they perform with only three voices and one guitar. It almost feels like a song circle to watch them take turns explaining the songs and bantering, lightly making fun of each other. It felt like the best of a hometown show, even to the point where was more talking than performing. What we did get was raw and honest, if a little raw. (LP)

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