Saturday was a rager. Anyone who happened to retire early, which were very few, could hear the roar of blaring music, rowdy can crushing and the snapping of twigs as tipsy bodies stumbled throughout the forest. Much of the noise didn’t calm even into the wee hours of the morning, implying that the typical rise and shine time on Sunday would be fairly silent…silent, it was.
Prior mornings were preheated versions of sweltering afternoons, but Sunday morning was brisk, grey and sleepy, like much of Portland usually is. The first yawns and stretches that weren’t from the families packing up their sedans, suburb-bound came from the food cart workers, volunteers, and of course, the day drinkers that did crash out early. There was a somber air that rained over the fest, as if the atmosphere was filled with the lingering knowledge that the end was near. Despite the day having somewhat of a slow start to it, attendees were determined to make that festival feeling last as long as possible.
That’s why one of the earlier sets, Portland’s 1939 Ensemble at the Treeline Stage, was well attended but pretty mellow. The band themselves were incredibly vibrant, mixing jazz with math-y, post rock. For the hungover crowd, it may have been a bit much for their bodies to handle in the way of movement, but steady head bobs showed that their brains were stimulated. Despite how groovy and rhythmic they were with their production, there was still a technical and robotic feel to them mechanically. Whether all eyes were on the 1939 Ensemble or not, they helped ease the crowd into the last day of festivities.
Sunday was a day where those that missed the highly anticipated artists on Saturday’s bill were able to catch them. One of those sets in particular was Black Milk with Nat Turner, whose mid-weekend set at the Treeline Stage was packed with drunkards and deep fans. On the sabbath, Black Milk and Nat Turner, who had been a live band he’d worked with for some time now, claimed their set on the main stage was a bit tighter and more cleaned up than their performance the night before. Those that managed to be there for both sets seemed to feel their second set was more mild despite their disclaimer, but both were a welcomed addition to the rest of the hip-hop acts on the fest’s predominately white and folk country bill.
Much like the general affect of the patrons, the festival itself was running behind on many of its Sunday aspects. Quite a few of the sets weren’t starting on time, which left many swaying in their tipsiness during a soundcheck that was scheduled to be song two or three of the actual performance.
Such was the case for Dinosaur Jr. frontman J Mascis’ solo set in the Galaxy Barn. The Last Artful, Dodgr had her last set in the same barn, with a capacity barely over a comfortable 30, prior to Mascis weirdly sleuthing onto the stage. He’s known for his weird demeanor and was less interactive with the crowd than with his guitar. Slight peeks above heads from the doorway, and the little that could be heard above the groans of disinterested viewers revealed just Mascis and his guitar, along with some sort of effect pedal. He played reworked versions of Dinosaur Jr. songs, like “Ocean in The Way” and “Get Me,” but also some of his own solo stuff like “Drifter” and “Heal the Star,” but it wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea. One attendee was even overheard saying “I’ve had enough of this,” before he stumbled passed the horses in the barn.
It’s possible Julia Jacklin may have been more his speed. The slow folk artist did an amazingly heartfelt and beautiful cover of The Strokes’ “Someday.” It touched on every lyric and note angelically, her somewhat raspy croon being a mercurial female equivalent to that of Julian Casablancas. Experiencing Jacklin perform that song, during that weird sort of haze during the festival where many weren’t even sure where their shoes were let alone their minds, made it easy to get lost in some of Jacklin’s other tracks like, “Don’t Let the Kids Win.”
Tank and the Bangas breathed a little bit of soul into dazed guests with their chaotic fusion funk. From as soon as they took the stage, lead vocalist Tarriona “Tank” Ball took the yet again packed audience on a vocal ride. On top of pleasant measured beats and horns, on tracks like the one, “Quick” and their other free-jam type tracks, Tank and the Bangas also made great use of samples. One of the most popular ones they used was made famous particularly by Biggie Smalls and the Junior Mafia in their song “Get Money,” taken heavily from Sylvia Striplin’s “You Can’t Turn Me Away.” Silver Pickathon cups filled with beer and cider rose into the air as people screamed “cash money!” along with the sample in the song. Tank and the Bangas also set an old school cheer team chant to a beat, slyly saying “my back is achin’/my bra too tight/my hips are shaking from left to right,” which of course made those who thought they could dance try and move those hips.
The overall demeanor of the group changed as Tank began to talk about the strife that’s going on back in their hometown of New Orleans. It sounded as if tears were building in her eyes as she stared at the crowd and sang “there is this moment/where you feel like you’re in an ocean of your butterflies/this is the moment when you get free and you let your arms fly.” Some in the audience were there for the more somber tunes, while others left in search of more upbeat sets.
That’s why it made total sense for there to not be as big as expected of a crowd awaiting Dinosaur Jr.’s second set. Granted the main stage had been running behind all day, but Dinosaur Jr. is impressionable enough to have affected many bands of today. Nonetheless, Mascis began indistinguishably going through the motions of their songs. They began with “The Lung” before going into some less recognizable tracks from their newest album. Bright white lights glared down on the crowd as they led into “Lost All Day,” where someone from the backstage area began to creep their way onto the stage and strangely danced alongside Lou Barlow. Lou and the rest of the band didn’t seem to mind, or really notice.
J Mascis’ hair gently blowed in the wind as they went through some of their other hits, but it was a familiar song by another seminal band that got the audience even more excited. In a slowed down, more ’90s alternative manner, Dinosaur Jr. began playing the intro lines to The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven.” They added heavy distortion and extended riffing to the track, bringing much delight to everyone in the crowd that was able to recognize it. After this rendition, the audience began to teeter along to other activities. They ended this set with an incredibly fuzzy, reverb-heavy punk-ish song where the only real recognizable words were regarding not wanting to go to college. Despite the crowd being predominantly emptied out at that this point, it still resonated with those that remembered it being their anthem from years ago.
Overall, Pickathon was a giant mess of a fun time. The heat, the incessant amounts of dirt, and the endless up and downhill battles of traveling between stages made it an exhaustive effort. For most, it was all worth it for the sake of the music. Although some may have felt that the festival’s lack of organization and not-so-solid lineup this year may make them not want to come back in the future, but the beloved Portland festival leaves us hopeful for the future.
Photo Credit: Jagjaguwar