There’s a certain point with multi-day festivals when there’s a level of getting lit that’s generally reached by attendees. After raging pretty hard on food, libations and of course, music, the crowd essentially awoke at the bottom of an Andrew W.K.-esque totem of partying, working their way up as the day progressed into the evening. The bars at Pickathon start serving at 1pm and as soon as they opened, lines grew and grew with the festive ragers, not even accounting for those that may have been partying back at their campsites during breakfast time.
As Pickathon patrons steadily began the process of pacing, acts were just getting into the swing of performing. If there’s one genre that can get everyone excited in a different kind of way it’s Motown, and one of the early afternoon acts definitely dished out a lot of feels to the crowd.
Liverpool by way of Baltimore, MD-based artist Jalen N’Gonda took the stage solo with his electric guitar. His charm quickly flooded over the crowd as everyone was immediately entranced by his endearing aura. N’Gonda’s croon is filled with soul — think Sam Cooke with the falsetto capability of D’Angelo. Intimacy and vulnerable realness are established as N’Gonda opens up by singing, “Would you like to live in this low down poverty?/Darling, if I had an option….” The tone of N’Gonda’s song is rife with longing for true romance along with the implication that he can really treat a woman right. It’s no wonder nearly every heart in the audience began to fall for him as he continued with his set with “Easy Street,” “Why I Try” and “Don’t Take Much.” Dirt and dust created this hazy fog filling the air as the audience sat quietly and respectfully paying attention.
N’Gonda, though fairly green in his English citizenship, has already developed a slight accent that makes his between-song banter more enchanting. Even pretty trivial statements like regarding the placement of his guitar pedals became captivating instead of mundane. The young singer doesn’t have many songs present online, but everything he played had everyone hooked as if these songs were classics. He even performed a song, “How Many Ways,” for the first time live and got a stream of screams and cheers for doing so. By the time N’Gonda got to his closing song “Day by Day,” the standing ovation he received was pretty much proof that he gained hundreds of new fans.
As full as the Woods Stage was for Jalen N’Gonda’s set, there were a bit less people present for Brooklyn’s Sunflower Bean. Their evening slot was at a time when the party was just starting to really roar and efforts to chug beer before the Drive By Truckers set. The sound was a little blown through the speakers so it was a little hard to recognize some of the lyrics, but “Come On” and another popular track of theirs was easy to recognize. They did a sort of redux of “2013,” where lead singer Julia Cumming traded the angelic vocal tones originally on the studio version of the track for deeper, moodier color. Their riffs got many woos from the crowd, but “Easier Said” got many to sing along to the song’s minimalistic chorus.
Just a stumble down the hill and the entire atmosphere was different. Hordes of people swarmed the Treeline Stage for what was one of the best sets of the day. Detroit, Michigan’s Black Milk has worked with some of the best hip hop artists around, including J Dilla, Slum Village, Pharaoh Monche and RZA, so those type of vibes were welcomed and needed.
“Fuck what we did in rehearsal,” Black Milk, aka Curtis Cook, shouted back at the live band he’s been playing with for a little while now, Nat Turner. Clouds of cannabis smoke began to engulf the air as Black Milk began his quick and slick flow. It could have been the weed, the focus on now falling down the hill slope that acted as the standing room space for the audience, or just a general tipsiness, but keeping up with Black Milk’s flow was quite a feat. While recognizing the songs didn’t come as fast they could have, bodies were definitely moving fast with heads bobbing, hips shaking and hands waving in the air. At one point, the stage lights synchronized with Zebulun “Z” Horton of Nat Turner’s drumming, creating an almost rave like effect that literally everyone was vibe-ing on.
Bumbling down the hill post Black Milk and fighting through the Drive By Truckers crowd was exhausting enough, so Dungen’s ambient set was relaxing and mesmerizing.
Dungen’s usual prog/psych rock blend would have been perfect for the Starlight Stage’s ambiance, but the Stockholm, Sweden quartet performed the original score they created for Lotte Reiniger’s 1926 animated film, The Adventures of Prince Achmed. The film is known to be the oldest full-length feature animation to still be in existence, which added another magical element to the show. The crowd stood and watched in silence, dazed by following the film’s plot along with the sequencing of the score. It was one of the most beautiful and enjoyable sets of the night, and it appeared to have had an impact on almost everyone watching.
Since Dungen’s yet was so emotionally stimulating, many began flocking over to the Galaxy Barn’s outside bar area for strong drinks and hits in the designated smoking area. The barnyard vibe quickly turned into disco hootenanny. Whoever was spinning cuts mixed it up between funk and ’60s jive, which made nearly everyone start kicking up dust with their dance moves. It wasn’t long before the entire atmosphere switched into a literal dosey-doe, as a live streamed Billy Strings’ Galaxy Barn set played over the speakers. Those opposed to the country sound made their way back over to the Starlight Stage for one of the fest’s headlining acts.
It’s no surprise that Ty Segall was one of the night’s closers, as he’s played the fest for the last few years in a row. The crowd was huge, but not nearly as packed as it was expected to be as he started out, but grew larger as he played on. He started with “Feel”/“Fire on the Mountain” and everyone immediately began jumping around. Rowdiness only escalated as he shredded on, reminding everyone that he is a modern shred God. Blue, purple and pink lights illuminated Ty and the Freedom Band’s faces as they did “You’re the Doctor” and “I Am With You,” which honestly looked better through the blunt haze and tufts of hair flying around from the thrash dancers. Suddenly, it was over just as quickly as it began; the lights cutting fully to black and the audience left to drift around to the next party opportunity.
Dancing, drinking and loud sex happened well into the early hours of the morning, so it’s a wonder how anyone is going to be fairing for Sunday’s festivities.
Photo Credit: Sharon Alagna