Portland: Pickathon Isn’t Just a Festival, It’s a Portal

Indie Guides Portland author Hannah Brown shares with us her experience at Pickathon. This musical festival took place in the outskirts of Portland at the beginning of August.

I’ve been here a less than 30 seconds and already my heart is beating, quickly, to match the sounds floating from the Mt. Hood Stage: surrealist poetry streams from Robyn Hitchcock’s guitar, his alt-rock rhythm beating effortlessly. Tent, pillow, and backpack in tow, I stand eager to secure my wristband and march through the festival gates. It’s my maiden voyage to Pickathon – despite the festival’s 19 year-tenure – and I’m ready.

As my partner and I follow the Quail Trail to the Fern Trail, we realize our first mistake: festival veterans come hours, even a day early, to scope out the best camping spots in Pickathon’s forest. We climb upward, beads of sweat dripping down our spines as we bicker softly in search for a makeshift campsite. Half a mile into our climb, we find it: a soft patch of earth just large enough to fit our two-person tent. Tension sheds as we survey our weekend home: hammocks swing gently over the forest ravine, homespun tapestries billow in the hundred-degree heat, and nothing else matters – we have 60 hours to revel in Pickathon’s magic. I savor the moment. My stay has just begun.

tents forest festival


As we make our way to the Woods Stage, the steady pulse of Dezarie’s reggae pulls us closer.

Cast down your burdens / And stop all the worrying / Joy cometh in the morning / Still strengthen yourself fe this domain

A canopy of trees overhead creates a haven, a space untouched by anything outside these lyrics, this artist, this community.


Before we find ourselves back at this stage for a show-stopping performance by soul icon Charles Bradley and His Extraordinaires, we traverse our newfound utopia. Moving from stage to stage, we marvel at the intimacy between performer and audience in the Galaxy Barn; we delight in the carefully curated small press library. It’s hard to describe the sensory experience as you filter the sound, sights, tastes Pickathon shares with its visitors – it’s a world that yields to music over time, to fragility over cacophony.

What did you tell me Mary / When you were there so sweet and very / Full of field and stars / You carried all of time

The hours that follow over the next two days are a stream of hiking, eating (iconic Portland brewers and makers churn out local pizza, beers, biscuits, bagels…), drinking, laughing, and discovering — the latter being the pulse of Pickathon. Every artist plays twice, allowing festival-goers to catch disparate sounds of soulful punk from Xenia Rubinos without missing Deer Tick’s ragged blues, or the spoken word of Tank and the Bangas. At each stage, all ages gather at all hours to share in Pickathon’s vision – it’s as much as a conversation about intimacy as it is a performance of artists. As the sun sets on our final night, we stand by to watch color illuminate sails of fabric overhead; striking, and unlike anything we’ve seen, it lights up for the perfect photo as Drive By Truckers play.


I can still remember the sound of their applause in the rain/ As it echoed through the storm clouds, I swear/ it sounded like a train

My final hours at Pickathon culminate with the weighted power of Moorea Masa’s stripped back R&B vocals, time spent suspended in a hammock, another plate of Pine State Biscuits and a toast of Swift cider – a glass raised to each soul-lifting performer.

As I settle into the back of a cab and the car coasts back to the city center, I sway in the lingering intoxication of Pickathon’s melodies. Next year, there’s a few things I’d do differently. But for now, I’m counting the days until I can return to dwell in Pickathon’s magic.

Discover more alternative and cultural spots in Portland with our city guide Indie Guides Portland.

Enjoyed this article? Subscribe to our newsletter below: