A Pickathon Preview: Must-See Sets
Pickathon, the best fest in the Northwest, is BACK after a two-year hiatus!
As I've expressed many times on this site, I am a long-time and die-hard Pickathoner, and because of this, I feel that I've got a pretty good handle on how to do the festival well. I scout camping spots when setting up, I pack just right, and I conserve energy across all four days to make it through the long weekend. My friends and I balance our shade/sun, sitting/standing, and coffee/beer ratios. We share blanket spots, snacks, and shuttles into Southeast when we need a few hours of mid-fest rest.
And although years of experience have taught me to avoid doing so, I research music lineups and highlight the hell outta daily schedules. These music plans usually get tossed by Friday, as I end up roaming around Pendarvis, swinging by sets based on recommendations or simply following sounds through the forest.
But here I am, at it again, two weeks out.
In 2019 I wrote this Pickathon REview for Oregon Music News, so I thought I'd try a PREview this time around on my own site. And I've decided to keep it simple. Since I'm bound to throw any sort of rigid schedule out the window, I've selected three acts I'm planning to see each day. No detailed itinerary from sun-up to sun-down. Just three commitments per day. If you're planning to attend Pickathon, you'll probably find me at these sets. Come say hi! If you're on the fence about coming, read on, and hopefully you'll decide to show up. It truly is the best weekend of the entire year. I know that the organizers are still looking for volunteers, too. I've helped set up and tear down a bunch of times, and can say from experience that it's a ton of fun. Plus, your shifts aren't during shows! There are so many other ways to help out for a free ticket, though.
But I'm getting off topic. Below, check out my Pickathon preview: three acts each day you won't wanna miss.
And thanks for reading. See you in a couple weeks on the farm!
A well-booked Pickathon Thursday is sometimes the high point of the entire festival weekend, because relative to other days, crowds are thin and energy is high. To attend Thursday, you've gotta buy an additional ticket (it's not included with a weekend pass), and most folks wait to come out until after work on Friday, meaning that if you're able to swing it early, you've got close-up access to most shows. Because of this, I'll likely prioritize watching the three Thursday headliners. You'll see that I take this same approach on Sunday, as most festivalgoers begin to trickle out that day, while I attend a lot of "small font" sets on Friday and Saturday, when Pendarvis gets super packed.
But back to the amazing Thursday headliners! Cassandra Jenkins released her second album, An Overview on Phenomenal Nature, in early 2021 to much critical acclaim. Lead single Hard Drive became an indie anthem, so you can definitely look forward to a "1-2-3" crowd singalong during that highlight. Michelangelo was one of DC's favorite songs of 2021, so really, I'm quite excited to see those two cuts (and many others) performed live.
L'Rain is an experimental artist I've had on my radar since first hearing her self-titled debut back in 2017. The swirling blends of jazz + samples + electronics on that album felt dizzying and electrifying. Last year L'Rain released her much-anticipated follow-up, Fatigue, another 2021 gem. An artist who embraces the opportunity to push sonic boundaries, her set will be a real trip for the Thursday night Pickathon crowd.
Finally, I am so looking forward to Armand Hammer's team-up performance on Thursday. Both billy woods and ELUCID have individual sets on Friday, so you can catch them each then, but to watch the duo split verses on stage together, you'll need that early ticket. I reviewed the excellent Haram last year, but be sure to cram Shrines ahead of time, too.
Things really start to ramp up on Friday. Festivalgoers pour in through the front gate all day, and by dinnertime, Pickathon is fully rolling. As I alluded to above, the more crowds swell, the more I seek out smaller sets. Sure, I'll probably catch a bit of Wet Leg and GZA from backstage, but for the most part, it's the down-ticket artists for me!
I saw Yasmin Williams' outdoor set last September at Treefort (shout out to Treefort!), and was absolutely blown away by her performance. Williams is a virtuosic guitarist who approaches her craft in an altogether unique way - laying her instrument in her lap and hammering on its strings. Beautiful acoustic constructions paired with Williams' engaging stage presence makes her set a must-see on Friday. Check out another one of DC's favorite songs of 2021 below for a preview.
Speaking of Treefort, I just saw Nubya Garcia play that fest in March (and it was awesome), but think that I'll prioritize Emma-Jean Thackray this year at Pickathon. Not that the two English artists play the same music, but as relative jazz newbie, I'm just trying to soak in as many different styles as I can. And Maybe Garcia will jump on with Sons of Kemet later? Anyway, I'm pretty stoked to see what's sure to be a wild show by Thackray, full of propulsive arrangements and cosmic psychedelia.
And speaking of wild shows, how 'bout Guerrilla Toss' technicolor dance-punk maximalism? If you're of my generation and remember Sleigh Bells and Dan Deacon circuses fondly, let's all meet up for Guerilla Toss, hold hands, smile into the sun, and feel "famously alive" together.
By Saturday, my energy begins to wane, and bloated festival numbers turn Pickathon into Line-a-thon. Most years, I take a "half time" and go home for a shower, a phone charge, and a coffee (all of which are available on festival grounds, btw), but also for a little peace and quiet before the second half of the fest. By lunchtime I've usually recovered, and carrying a bag full of banh mi from An Xuyên, I trek back to Pendarvis for more music.
Oh, Lomelda. I've been in love with Hannah Read's indie project since the mid-2010's when she sang about a couple of rivers and New Age Lines. Out There was my favorite song of 2017, and her 2020 album, Hannah, felt like a high water mark in her impressive discography. I was all set to see Read's band (which features some truly sweet musicians) when they came through in January, but was scared off by rising COVID numbers. Now, I'm fully ready to watch them run through their greatest hits this August.
I first learned of S.G. Goodman through Rich Ruth, a good friend to the site who plays guitar in Goodman's band, and was simply floored by her self-produced Teeth Marks when I heard it this spring. Goodman is a master storyteller, sometimes recounting tales through soft balladry, and other times spitting gritty descriptors over heavy riffs. It's Southern rock n' roll at it's finest, so be sure to swing by for a bit of her set on Saturday.
Honestly, when I go to Pickathon, I seek out hardcore wherever I can find it. There isn't very much, typically, which is fine, but as someone who would 100% take a Wolf Eyes headliner over Valerie June, I like a little edge and aggression from time to time. Soul Glo is a rising band in perhaps the most fertile music environment in the nation, and these Philly punks are injecting a new voice (specifically screaming) into their already inventive scene. Diaspora Problems, their singular new release, is a must-hear, so check it out and catch me in the pit.
Sunday is a hugely underrated day at Pickathon. A lot of folks pack up and begin to leave by the afternoon, and festival numbers eventually recede to near-Thursday levels. One of the perks of being a teacher is having summers off, and the years that I've done Pickathon correctly - appropriately conserving energy and such, I find that I'm ready to go hard on this final day. In 2022, I plan to close out the fest with a few more headliners.
Hey! This is your last chance to see Sons of Kemet. Like, literally ever. Their Sunday set at Pickathon is their final show in North America before Shabaka Hutchings and his brass quartet call it quits for good. The incredibly prolific Hutchings will undoubtedly keep releasing music through his other projects, but if you wanna watch this group of musicians breeze through diasporic-themed jams together, this is it.
I expect Sampa the Great to absolutely bring the house down on Sunday night. I've been watching videos of her recent full-band shows, and cannot wait for the international hip hop star to rip a set blending neo-soul, lush jazz, and bouncy rap. If your energy is waning this late in the fest, Final Form (truly an all-time track) will lift ya right back up.
When it was announced at Rev Hall back in 2018 that Built to Spill would be one of the headliners at that year's fest, I turned around in my seat, grabbed founder Zale Schoenborn's leg, looked him in the eye, and excitedly yelled, "Finally!" It was a truly embarrassing moment, but really speaks to how much I love this band. It seems that I can't get away from writing about them on this site, so I'll cut myself off here. Just know that I'll be the one in the front row at Doug's Sunday night set, singing along to every word of every song, and playing air guitar to Carry The Zero.
And that's a wrap! See you on the farm in a couple short weeks for the best weekend of the year. Thanks for reading, and happy listening.