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Picking Away: Pickathon makes beautiful music in a beautiful setting 

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This year's Pickathon brought together 44 bands, covering styles ranging from folk to indie rock and Americana on Pendarvis farm in Happy Valley, OR. Originally conceived as a "better way to throw a party," by founder Zale Schoenborn, an engineer by day, the festival, now in its 12th year, welcomed more than 4,000 people to the sprawling 80-acre farm.

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By most anyone's standards, the festival was a mellow affair. The weekend's uniform was flannel, wayfarers and a generous amount of dirt mixed with sweat that made for a natural sunscreen covering every inch of exposed skin. The mellow vibe was aided by the fact that each band played multiple times during the festival. Each of the six stages was intimate, from the 50-person indoor Workshop Barn to the Woods Stage, which, like its name suggests, was in the middle of the woods and made from tree branches twisted together. The main stages, the Fir Meadows Stage and Mountain View Stage, allowed anyone who desired to stand at the foot of the stage, and those seated on the lawn were shaded by huge spider web-like swaths of white and orange fabric.


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Kid-friendly and laid back, Pickathon focused on sustainability with solar-powered stages and steel beer cups, making the festival plastic-free. The environmentally friendly gathering went off smoothly, with only one power snafu, when Dr. Dog's otherwise epic set had its vocals cut out when somebody plugged in a dishwasher backstage. "The perils of having no trash," guitarist/vocalist Scott McMicken intoned.

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The bands were as excited to see each other play as the festival goers were and every show had headliners in the audience. The Fruit Bats, who played an energetic evening show on the Mountain View Stage, said, "We have band crushes on half the bands here. This is kind of a band crush festival. It's like we're all dogs here. The big corporate festivals are like going to the veterinarian's. Here, on this farm, we can roam free."

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Festivals like this make Twitter a useful tool - OPB Music seemed to be at all places at all times, keeping followers updated on who was playing where and the bands that were in the audience. A Twitter user also made the apropos observation that "In terms of hats, Pickathon is the Kentucky Derby for men." Indeed, there was even a vendor solely selling straw farmers hats.

While each band was amazing, some of the best music came from the campgrounds. Everyone was encouraged to bring their instruments and I don't know if it was the quality of musician attendees or just the general vibe of the festival, but no matter where you looked or when you listened, it was quality music everywhere. Kids were playing their violins on camp paths with their cases overflowing from tips. Guitarists who had never met played together, forming ever-growing jam circles. And the music continued late into the night, long after the bands left the stage, making for some beautiful sounds to fall asleep to.

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