Music Festivals

Pickathon Is Back (and Vibier Than Ever) After a Three-Year Hiatus

The 10,000-person Happy Valley festival returns, and it’s bigger and weirder than ever.

By Matthew Trueherz August 4, 2022

Image: Heather Binns

Self-described “nature punk” Alynda Segarra, who performs under the name Hurray for the Riff Raff, headlines this weekend's return of Pickathon, one of the Portland area’s largest music festivals. “Nature Punk” is also a pretty apt description of the festival itself.

From humble beginnings in 1999 as a KBOO fundraiser, Pickathon now notches more than 10,000 annual attendants, and separates itself from your Coachellas and Lollapaloozas with a lush canopy of trees (you’re actually camping in the woods), a limited number of tickets sold to keep things cozy, and a service that hauls your gear for you so you can join one of the group bike rides making their way into the festival grounds unencumbered. It is famously free of single-use plastics, operating on a system of reusable dishware that the festival washes on-site and attendees eventually take home as a souvenir. 

The festival has been on hiatus since 2019, when two arborists were killed in a boom lift accident while breaking down the event. After a hard pandemic no in 2020, the 2021 festival went through a few false starts, but was ultimately postponed owing to a lack of lead time in planning around COVID regulations. At the time, Pickathon founder and CEO Zane Schoenborn told OPB that the festival had made the decision to look to the future instead. 

This weekend, Pickathon is back, and that look to the future has yielded something bigger and weirder than ever. Schoenborn says a major pivot is that this year’s festival will embrace its site, Pendarvis Farm in Happy Valley, by building stages that echo the space instead of simply plopping them in a parking lot. “This is a really, really beautiful farm,” says Schoenborn, “and having the ability to use it in more of a park-like fashion was an inspiration for us this year.” Different sections are designed like neighborhoods, each with its own unique bars and food carts, “DJ barns,” fruit trees, and whatever a “luv captivator” is.  

To bring the neighborhoods to life, Schoenborn says he and his staff have tapped a range of architects, builders, agencies, and manufacturing companies. “It’s like a fantasy sandbox,” Schoenborn says. The neighborhood names are out there, even by Pickathon standards. There’s a “Galaxy Barn,” and a neighborhood called “Coyote”; a distant and aptly named “Woods Stage” hangs off the site's northernmost point. There are also a variety of art installations sprinkled across the space, with titles like “Shelly the Recycledelic Snail.” 

Pickathon has never had a shortage of talent, but this year’s lineup lands like it’s making up for lost time; 125 performers fill out the most extensive roster to date, and each act will take the stage at least twice. There will be readings from Oregon Poet Laureate Anis Mojgani and Portland novelist Jon Raymond, standup from acclaimed comedian Kyle Kinane, dinners from modern Mexican pop-up Astral PDX and chef Luna Contreras . . . and that’s all before the music.  

Faye Webster, the Atlanta-based indie-folk/alt-country star, feels like a perfect fit for Pickathon—tuned into the mainstream with a bit of twang. The impossibly cool British duo Wet Leg, one of 2022’s buzziest bands, will bring their mesmerizing brand of well-dressed indie-rock to the Paddock stage; pioneers of the genre Built to Spill are headlining Saturday night and playing an intimate 80-person show paired with a nutritionist-prepared meal. Grammy-nominated singer Valerie June will close Sunday with her Memphis-inflected soul ballads. 

Interest piqued? Good news: though Pickathon technically starts today, both weekend and day pass tickets are still available.  

Schoenborn says, even after all these years, he and the team behind Pickathon continue to ask themselves a single question: “Can we make the experience even better?” This year, with lofty nature-punk goals and more programming than ever, he’s confident “the answer is yes.” 

Filed under
Show Comments