There are bigger festivals. This is for sure. And there are bigger performers and headliners. But few festivals can boast the ability to not just support worthy music from a wide swath of the American audio palette, but truly launch major careers for artists that go on to have an international impact—artists that music needs like The Avett Brothers, Sturgill Simpson, and Lake Street Dive just to name a few, while being way ahead of the curve with others like Leon Bridges and Shovels & Rope, and offering a family over fame environment.
Pickathon is a proving ground if there ever was one, and not to mention the forward-thinking nature of their grounds layout, and a zero trash model where no disposable water bottles are used, and all dishes are dispensed, washed, and reused on site.
What was patently clear at Pickathon 2016 is that the clientele of the festival continues to turn over from almost exclusively roots fans near the beginning for the fest some 15 years ago to a more hip, Portland-centric crowd. Yet the mix of country, bluegrass, and roots music has stayed fairly static in the lineup for the last few years, and 2016 offered plenty of rising country, roots, and Americana talent to peruse.
Margo Price has played Saturday Night Live and numerous late-night shows, but it’s performances like the ones she threw down at Pickathon 2016 are the kind that build the foundation for a sustained, and grassroots-supported career anchored by dedicated, hardcore music fans and influential tastemakers that then fan out across the country to spread the word.
A side note from Margo’s appearances is that former Sunday Valley/Sturgill Simpson bass player Kevin Black has now officially become a permanent fixture of Margo’s backing band, The Price Tags. Price’s husband, who used to play bass for her before injuring his hand, has decided to stay back and take care of the kiddo so Margo can be more free to tour. Another bass player of note on the weekend was Jessica Wilkes showing up in C.W. Stoneking’s all female backing band.
Western Centuries with their triple-headed frontman position of Cahalen Morrison, Jim Miller, and Ethan Lawton also helped round out the honky tonk lineup for Pickathon 2016, touring behind their recent release Weight of the World.
The Deslondes proved with their sets at the Lucky Barn and the Galaxy Barn that they are one of the best country throwback outfits to see live at the moment. Though their warmness and likeability may not translate as easily to record or CD, there is something incredibly fetching about seeing them live. Where in previous eras, stripped-down string bands relied very much on speed, The Deslondes are all about capturing the true essence of old-time music with a distinctly laid-back New Orleans influence.
The fast-rising band to keep an eye on coming out of Pickathon at the moment is The Wild Reeds. Their set at the Lucky Barn received a standing ovation, and was one of those moments of Pickathon legend that has springboarded people like Lake Street Dive into the greater music consciousness. The Wild Reeds said they had been trying to play Pickathon for years, and after a viral NPR Tiny Desk Concert, they are poised to be the next big thing in songwriting and roots circles.
Watching Jeff Tweedy as the fest’s headliner performing acoustics sets was monumental if Wilco and Uncle Tupelo loom large in your musical ethos. The Foghorn Stringband and Caleb Kaluder are always Pickathon favorites, and Hurray for the Riff Raff (of which The Deslodes are sort of a spin-off), also put together stellar performances.
Trying to be a bit adventurous and veer off the country page, an interesting set was turned in by heavy metal band Vhöl—the first metal band to be booked by Pickathon in their effort to satiate all sectors of the musical tongue. Though not in any way on the country radar, indie rock band Alvvays drew a big crowd with juicy melodies that were easy to enjoy.
Other country and Americana performers on the weekend included Canadian songstress Lindi Ortega, the hard-driving bluegrass of Town Mountain, and others Saving Country missed because of Southern California traffic jams and scheduling conflicts.
Pickathon continues to veer more eclectic, and more catered. Yet it remains one of the most influential epicenters for roots music on the yearly calendar, and continues to deliver unique experiences through a highly-produced, and forward-thinking approach to the music festival model.
The Price Tags