Ty Segall and friends @ Pickathon 2013 (Photo: Joseph Schell)
Ty Segall and friends @ Pickathon 2013 (Photo: Joseph Schell)

Article by Anna Schell / Photos by Joseph Schell

Bay Area artists Ty Segall, White Fence, Jessica Pratt, The Devil Makes Three, and Diane Ferlatte played at Oregon’s annual Pickathon music festival this past weekend. After 15 years, Pickathon’s organizers have the winning festival formula dialed in: eclectic line-up + attendance capped at 7,000 + kid-friendly + environmentally-friendly = everybody’s happy. Featured musical artists tended to agree, frequently declaring the three-day festival a highlight of their touring circuit.

“Everyone in the world is trying to do what you’re doing here,” declared Leslie Feist, who began her first performance of the weekend by playing a sparse and riveting solo set (which she hadn’t done in seven years, she said). Feist headlined the festival, along with Andrew Bird and Divine Fits.

Located on Pendarvis farm in the aptly named Happy Valley, just outside of Portland, the festival grounds offered a range of unique stage-settings, from the open-air, arena feel of the two main stages to a series of barns and forested enclaves, which hosted more intimate shows. Most artists performed more than once, in different settings, eliminating the frustration of missing shows due to overlap. The more relaxed schedule allowed attendees to meander into performances they may have otherwise skipped and experience a sampling of musical talent.

Unique stage settings made for unique shows. Ty Segall played their first set at the “Woods Stage,” which was tucked deep into in a thick forest. The band played with acoustic guitars, with band members seated in a half-circle on stage to suit the tranquil vibe of the woodsy venue. It must have felt like a shocking change of pace for front man Segall, who’s accustomed to shredding his garage-punk tunes on an electric guitar, stage divers crashing into him at every turn. He still managed to rock-out, despite the unusual setup.

San Francisco’s Jessica Pratt played a sparse, haunting set in the intimate confines of the “Workshop Barn” venue, where she was given an opportunity to discuss her recent recognition as a musical talent. Pratt attributes her growing success in part to White Fence front man Tim Presley, who started a record label (Birth Records) in order to release her debut album and send her on tour. Seeing her play live, it’s clear what Presley saw in the young artist: her songs are ethereal, her voice trilled with a unique antique-like quality reminiscent of Joanna Newsom.

White Fence played their first set in the main stage area, where their raucous sound had plenty of room to breathe. Presley’s high and whiney guitar riffs rang out, his fingers a blur on the neck of a beat-up looking guitar he declared “very old and very broken.” On the other end of the musical spectrum (and the other end of the festival grounds), The Devil Makes Three capped night two of the festival with their usual catchy set of foot-stomping bluegrass tunes. The dance floor quickly turned into a dust bowl as people in the crowd stamped in time with the thump of the stand-up bass.

Perhaps one of the most unique artists invited to perform at the festival was Oakland’s Diane Ferlatte, who won over her audience, both young and old alike, with her interactive, musical storytelling. Although devised mostly for kids, Ferlatte’s stories had everyone balanced on the edge of their seat. Her tales ranged from well-known allegories to personal stories of her life growing up in New Orleans.

Other great acts at the fest included Texas-based Shakey Graves, a one-man band with an entrancing sound; Louisiana-based Cedric Watson & Bijou Creole, who worked the dance floor into a sweaty tizzy; Austin-based Shinyribs, whose front man Kevin Russell (also of The Gourds) might be the most likable man in America; The Relatives, a self-proclaimed “gospel funk” group from Dallas and winners for most high-octane, dance-inducing performance of the entire weekend. There are plenty more worth mentioning here, but the best advice is to plan on attending Pickathon next year and be prepared to bust your musical palette wide open.

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