Pickathon Music Fest Returns to the Portland Area This Week

Photo by Liz Devine

It’s nearly our favorite time of year (Pickathon!), and after a couple-year hiatus, we’re finding ourselves more excited than ever to see what’s in store. While the musical lineup is consistently phenomenal, introducing us year after year to new favorite acts, we’re mostly looking forward to revisiting the community-minded, light-dappled magic of Happy Valley, Oregon — on a farm just outside of Portland.

This year, Pickathon — taking place August 4 through 7 — unveils five new stages and a fresh layout – with interconnected “neighborhoods” that aim to merge festgoers with the natural environment and to minimize the event’s footprint. (The event’s incredible suitability practices have made it a global leader in the festival world since its inception.) Much to our delight, a Curation series takes place again this year, too, melding food, music and community at spirited sessions that unite artists and vinyl DJs with celebrated Northwest chefs.

We’ve chatted with Pickathon founder and director Zale Schoenborn several years in the past (see below), and we were thrilled to catch up with him just before the 2022 fest’s grand return. There’s still time to get your ticket!

Seattleite: For someone who’s never attended, what are a few words or phrases you’d use to sum up what makes this annual event so special?

Zale Schoenborn: Family and community. You’ll often hear people refer to themselves or others who attend the fest as their “Pickathon family,” and we love that. It has to do with the idea that the festival is about renewability, and sustainability. We take care of everything on the farm like its our own so we can keep doing it. That care extends to every musician and attendee, and also the forest and farm grounds. People go out of their way to be nice and helpful. Volunteers are a huge part of the festival, and people all feel like the have ownership in this thing.

S: What are a couple festival changes/additions you’re most excited about for Pickathon 2022, and how did these come to be?

ZS: The new neighborhoods and stages. Watching the neighborhood that is growing around the farm, trying to be positive about encroaching urban sprawl, made us think: What if we built our own neighborhoods inside Pickathon? So we did away with anything that separated people and stages on the festival grounds and began to build our own town, with various enclaves, connected by walking streets.

Our Coyote Neighborhood features and incorporates many of the family-friendly and kid-friendly activities at the fest and give all those things their own neighborhood. We’re always surprised by the impromptu DJ dance parties that happen at night, so we made more space for that in The Orchard neighborhood, with a bar called The Space Bar. This year we’ll have a massive craft and vendor boardwalk in The Market neighborhood. Lots of big, positive changes this year in layout and flow. Daytime sets will happen in the forested areas like the Windmill Stage, to take advantage of the shade, and at night crowds will spill out into the open air stages for more events towards the Paddock. It’ll be fun to see all the new movement around the grounds.

Courtesy Liz Devine

S: How would you describe this year’s musical lineup, and who are a couple acts you’re most looking forward to showcasing?

ZS: We always say eclectic, but this year more so than ever. We’ve got a huge contingency of UK Jazz coming, Nubya Garcia, Nate Smith, Sons Of Kemet, and Emma Jean Thackray leading that charge. There’s the classic Pickathon roots music Tobacco Road, Margo Cilker, Bella White, Meredith Axelrod. But we also pride ourselves on our tastes in pop and rock. We look forward to Feels, Deeper, Inner Wave, TV Priest bringing the energy to the farm. We also are always proud of our genre pushing hip hop and punk lineups. We’ve got Armand Hammer, ELUCID and billy woods, which are the vanguard of hip-hop. We’re also looking forward to seeing what Philly punks SOULGLO do with their space at Pickathon.

S: Can you give us a sense of what it’s taken to keep this festival afloat throughout a pandemic/the last couple years?

ZS: Obviously with COVID, we were devastated. In the beginning we went through archive footage and spent our time working on A Concert A Day to help musicians in need with YouTube, The Grammys and MusicCares helping out. As the months went by we developed a new streaming service called FRQNCY. We wanted to see the needs of a new livestreaming world met with good audio and video and ways to tip the aritsts, and audience participation options. It was hard to not have the festival in 2020, and then have to miss again in 2021. So we’ve actually been busy the whole time, just waiting to get back to this moment.

S: What have you missed most about this annual gathering? What is the first thing you hope to savor this year when arriving in Happy Valley?

ZS: The sun, the smell of fresh cut hay, the sound of a band sound-checking somewhere far off in the woods. Those first moments, watching people gather, watching vendors set up and tents go up. It’ll be good to see the whole “Pickathon family” together again.