Old Light in the barn on Friday. What could have been a polite afternoon rock show turned into a gonzo psych-shred bonanza. There was a clear red Mylar guitar in the shape of an X. There was guitarist Garth Klippert sauntering out into the crowd, towering over them and brandishing his guitar, looking something like The Motherland Calls. There were alternate tunings. There were two drummers. There was psychotic disco. It was weird and wild and heavy and loose.
King Tuff and JD McPherson in the barn on Friday night. Stylistically, these two couldn't be more different, one pumping out soda-pop glam jams and the other strutting through natty, '50s-style rock 'n' roll. Playing consecutive sets, they each ruled the sweat lodge in their own unique style. King Tuff's riffs felt like they were exploding through the walls; he and bassist Magic Jake looked positively delighted with every note. JD McPherson, meanwhile, was a (relative) paragon of restraint, walking a tightrope of boogie-woogie and blues, then letting the band swing out when the situation demanded it. It was a time machine back to an era of well-dressed men and swishing skirts—there wasn't a foot in the place not tapping.
Yellowbirds' twin sets on the main stage and the barn. Their hazy, tangled-guitar, low-simmer rock felt warm like the sun, bridging the gap between folk storytelling and psychedelic soaring—both of which were perfectly at home at Pickathon.
The Cactus Blossoms, in heat of the sun at the new Pickathon Café stage, and in the even more heated Workshop Barn the following afternoon. Playing classic country and old-time music, their delicate sound was assured, stately, and stunning, topped off by the intertwined harmonies of brothers Page Burkum and Jack Torrey. They were one of the unexpected highlights of the weekend.
Lake Street Dive in the barn, playing immaculate, professional, jazzy pop. Lead singer Rachel Price is a world-class vocalist—like, Aretha level—and the rest of the band is just as good. Watching them work a hot crowd was a marvel. My favorite part: the three devoted teenage fangirls in the front row (one of them was wearing a Rent shirt) simultaneously losing their shit and carefully studying the band's every move with wide eyes.
Parquet Courts in the barn at 2 am—a punk rock pajama party. I don't remember too much about this except wheeeeeeeeee!! I caught some of their main stage set the following day, and it was righteous.
Shabazz Palaces in the woods. I saw part of their barn set, which was apparently besieged by sound difficulties, but their set in the woods was moony and interstellar. I'm not the first one to liken Pickathon's Woods Stage to Endor, but that's what it was like, and the weird, nebulae-spanning sound of Shabazz in that setting felt like stumbling across a ritual taking place on a strange, distant planet.
Lady in the barn. "It's hotter than a juke joint up in here!" said Nicole Wray, an immense violet braid dangling across her back. And it was—after three days of hot crowds being crammed in their, the barn was positively roasting. It didn't stop Lady from kicking out sexy, heartfelt soul.
A couple other quick notes: I didn't see anything bad all weekend, but I didn't quite get the buzz around Shakey Graves, which for many was the breakout star of the weekend. Plucking and mumbling updated white-guy blues while stomping on a drum pedal that beat upon a suitcase, it felt a little like the theme-park version of old, spindly, troubadour folk. Clearly I was in the minority, though, as his name spread around Pendarvis Farm like wildfire as something to see. Perhaps in any other setting, without the serious competition for my attention, it would have clicked. And Feist's headlining set on Sunday evening was fine, but was relatively sterile compared to the dusty passion and urgency that characterized so many other Pickathon performances. Perhaps at that stage, after three days of being wild in the woods, it was necessary to be in her well-guided, Joan Baez-like hands. She sounded great, for sure. But her songs felt a little too mellow, and her fancy LED stage setup was the definition of superfluous.
Oh, some other great things: White Fence, one of whom wore makeup and played a Steinberger guitar. Ty Segall doing his new acoustic thing, which still rocks pretty heavy. It was sorta like the "bustle in your hedgerow" section of "Stairway." Breathe Owl Breathe, spinning their weird, camp-counselor magic as always. And on and on. It was an incredible, wonderful weekend—Pickathon never fails to deliver.