It’s a strange thing, driving to Pickathon. You’re in the middle of Portland, tied up in its highway knots; you’re driving south on 205, trying not to feel like you’re heading home from the airport; you’re turning off an an exit that quickly begins to feel frighteningly like Agrestic, all matching complexes with intimidating names.
And then you’re in the middle of nowhere.
I’ve been here about three hours. I’m pretty sure my face is sunburnt, despite the late addition of sunscreen to my wardrobe. (I had to ask someone if I had dirt smeared all over my face.) I made a beer garden mistake and wound up trapped in a pool of heat, just feet from the bar in which a young man with a banjo sounded too old for his years. A bicycle hung from the rafters and a fan pointed at the electronic whatsit on the walls.
But don’t get me wrong: I’m not complaining.
I got here about noon and walked in to the quietist, loveliest festival atmosphere I can ever remember experiencing. There is plenty of space. There are chairs scattered around the grass near the two main stages. There are signs that point off into the woods, trails that may or may not take you where you want to go. The first thing you see when you come in the day entrance is the kids’ circus area, which I’m overlooking right now. One man with a violin plays while kids juggle, hula hoop, try their best at stilts and balance peacock feathers on their fingertips.
There are kids everywhere. A toddler who sat near me with his parents as Horse Feathers played on the shaded, idyllic Woods Stage said, “Nom nom nom nom nom,” â€” no, seriously â€” as he gulped water. Bigger kids did their best to balance on the bent tree branch behind my head, and I wondered if I’d be able to catch them if they fell. Strangers offered to share their blanket with me, and every so often, a misting cart drove past. It didn’t stop the dust waves from coming through, though; the Woods Stage is down a small incline, and if you’re below the level of the path, you’ll find clouds of dust, sparkling like the dust in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials books, floating past your nose every few minutes. It’s an outdoor festival. You simply don’t worry about being clean.
White fabric stretches above the grounds in shapes that remind me of the Enterprise. The first thing I did when I got here â€” after watching the well-dressed Sadies play a song or two â€” was buy a small tub of Fifty Licks’ Stumptown coffee ice cream and go for a walk in the woods, wrestling with a tiny wooden spoon as my feet grew a layer of trail dust and I remembered all the other woodsy trails I’ve walked on in the past. I took the long route to the Woods Stage, missing Laura Gibson and slipping past the two guys holding “Dance Toll” signs (written on the back of PBR cases) without having to shake my ass.
It took forever for Horse Feathers to set up, so I watched people. Women in charming sundresses. Pale men with their shirts off for the first time this summer. The lucky bastards in the tree-nooks, wedged in among thin saplings and braced against the thicker trunks. The women in front of me had a Nalgene bottle full of red wine and the man they were befriending said he wasn’t quite ready for that yet. I forgot it was so hot out in the rest of the world. A man shimmied farther up the trees, and took sky-high pictures when the band finally went on.
Quiet, cello-supported, moody folk-pop in the middle of the woods? Yes, please. I texted my boyfriend and told him everyone was right: This is a different kind of festival. I haven’t quite pinned down why. It doesn’t have a straight-up hippie vibe; it has an urban hippie vibe. What that means, exactly, I guess I’ll spend the rest of the day figuring out.
Yes, I should’ve camped. But there’s always next year. This is the warm-up.