Pickathon Goes Black


I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Pickathon is the best music festival in America. Yesterday, the 17th-annual, three-day blowout wrapped up at Pendarvis Farm, about 20 miles northeast of Portland. Sound production, stage design and food and drink options were world-class, though only 5,000 lucky people—roughly 3,000 ticketbuyers, plus another couple thousand staff, volunteers and artists—were there to enjoy the goodness. 

Yesterday was one of the most remarkable days of music I’ve ever experienced. In a span of five hours, I watched one of the architects of Jamaican music, 84-year-old composer/arranger/guitarist Ernest Ranglin, play an intimate set with a nine-piece band; then watched young R&B revivalist Leon Bridges perform with a cowboy-hatted Western Swing/Motown band on the festival main stage; then watched Tinariwen, a group of ageless Tuareg musicians from Saharan Africa, play on a stage that looked straight of of Lothlorien; then watched Thundercat, the heartbeat of modern jazz, play a midnight set under the stars. Oh yeah: on Friday night, Shabazz Palaces and Kamasi Washington played back to back. Those seven acts offer a profoundly diverse slice of Black/African/African-American music. At Pickathon, of all places. 

Pickathon is rootsy, as its name implies. A wealth of real-deal bluegrass, blues, folk and twang was on-hand this year. It’s also rocking, a gathering of the world’s best psychedelic garage-rock bands: Ty Segall, Broncho, A Giant Dog, Meatbodies, DIIV, Cloud Nothings, Hiss Golden Messenger and King Tuff all ripped and shredded throughout the weekend. And now it’s attracting the best acts in Black music, from icons to upstarts, all sharing dusty stages inside barns and in the woods. Genuine diversity through superlative artistry. For three days every year, Pickathon is as close to a utopia as humans can achieve. That’s the only kind of festival I want to go to. That’s the only kind of world I want to live in.

Update: Yesterday I overheard someone talking about Sinkane, a band that’s I’d missed at Pickathon on Saturday, as “DFA Records does Afrobeat.” And yes, their music is fantastic. So there’s that too.