8 Acts That Blew Us Away at Pickathon, Featuring Daniel Norgren, Michael Nau, Shovels & Rope
By Neil Ferguson
For a 20 years now a little group of music fans have been carving out a niche on the small Pendarvis Farm just outside Portland, Oregon in, perhaps fittingly, a town called Happy Valley. Pickathon is now the model of what a truly independent festival can be, and as massive corporate-backed fests bite the dust, it’s now clear that those music fans on Pendarvis Farm have been ahead of the curve all this time. With a capped audience, a devotion to sustainability, plenty of quality food vendors, and perfect weather all around, the 20th year of Pickathon on August 3-5 was once again a quintessential festival experience. Of course, the music was the center of it all and there was no shortage of talented acts big and small to catch. These are the acts that blew this writer away – sometimes twice – at Pickathon 20:
Shovels & Rope
One of the first acts of the day to get the party started was Charleston, South Carolina duo Shovels & Rope. With their stripped down setup, Michael Trent and Carry Ann Hearst started their set by serenading the crowd with their downhome blend of country, garage rock, and gritty blues and soul. Though they have developed a large and loyal following over the years, they appeared humble as they switched roles of drummer and guitarist while Michael Trent treated the crowd to more tender moments on a piano song. The set included songs off their 2017 release Busted Jukebox Vol. 2 alongside longtime fan favorites like the pounding rocker “I Know” and the catchy folk-Americana tune “Birmingham”, all served up right and raw.
Michael Nau celebrated the release of his new album on Friday night with a mellow set for the late night crowd. Playing mostly songs off Michael Nau & The Mighty Thread, Nau and his band soothed and grooved with songs that felt carefree and dreamy. The new material would go over even better on Sunday afternoon as the band dipped into Grateful Dead-esque guitar jams and laid back psych-folk that felt made for laying on a blanket on a sunny day.
Last year Swedish artist Daniel Norgren made a major splash at Pickathon and was invited back yet again. For his set at the Woods Stage on Saturday, it was clear from the packed turnout that many of those who had caught his set last year had came back and brought their friends. Norgren began by playing piano alone. The audience was enraptured as he opened his moth and let his gritty and haunting voice carry through the trees. One by one his band mates slowly drifted onstage and joined in. Soon Norgren picked up guitar and let himself glide through bluesy jams that at times brought to mind the more mellow work of Neil Young with Crazy Horse. Norgren’s lyrics are simple and direct, at times almost meditative, and he complemented them with a sprawling 15-minute jam. His set was made up of peaks and valleys, with the unassuming Swede conjuring gothic folk that was at times momentous and other times trance-like, but always haunting and lonely. By the time he wrapped up there was a sense of collective goosebumps in the air as a result of the power and stark beauty of his performance.