[Click Here for Day 1]
August 4, 2012
7:00 am – Ahh, Sweet Morning:
Waking up in the old growth forest is a pretty nice thing. I smell pine and hear birds. It’s early and the light is filtering down. A few mamas and their kids are eating oatmeal in their jammies… but mostly I spy no-one; people are sleeping. I hike down to the showers alone. A sweet couple of guys sit at a woodsy little table. The pastel chalk board signage says showers & massage. My $5 fee goes into a tin coffee can. The line is non-existent. I’m happy to be an early riser.
Undressing in an outdoor shower, with four unknown women, in a room constructed of colored cloth walls, is surprisingly natural for me. The water in the individual wooden shower stalls is hot and the gratis Dr. Bronner’s soap is the perfect extra. I step out under the trees and slip my clothing on. I smell like biodegradable tea tree liquid soap. There are a couple of nude ladies brushing their hair and a small girl is jumping on her mother’s feet while she waits for a turn in the shower.
At 8am it’s warm enough for flip flops, a skirt and a light t-shirt. The shower entrance sits within a grove surrounded by a funky fence, made of tree branches, painted vintage pie plates and other found objects. Within this same outdoor enclosure sits a vegan bakery stand, a coffee vendor, and the entrance to the masseuse station. I buy a cup of coffee and a piece of banana bread, which is dripping with Nutella. It’s heating up, but there’s still that coolness of fresh summer morning in my nose. I take a seat at a communal table made of tree stumps and logs. There are places to sit alone too, but I’m in high spirits–this place feels like a dreamland, and I feel like chatting.
Before long, I’m drinking my coffee with two strangers. A tall blond-grey woman comes and starts a conversation with me. Her name is Athena. Athena is sharing a casual version of the story of her life. Another stranger asks to join us. We’re amiably sharing our histories; talking politics, kids, music, and jobs before we say goodbye.
9:00 am – Nap plan:
It’s a vertical walk back to our camp. Jamie is still cosy on the inflatable mattress. I crawl back into the tent and fall asleep next to him. We wake up, check the online Pickathon schedule (via iphone app) and make a game plan. We plan to see the Bower Birds first.
12:45 – Move it or miss it:
We lie in the tent half sleeping, then chatting, then sleeping again. We hear music, rise, and make salami sandwiches. Oh crap, we miss the Bower Birds. It’s time to get our butts in gear and out of the woods.
1:00 – The Two Man Gentleman Band:
The two gentlemen that are The Two Man Gentlemen Band stand side by side on the Fir Meadows Stage. Their old timey gentlemeny appearance, complete with bow ties and slim cut trousers, looks both fresh and old school. They introduce themselves as Andy Bean and The Councilman, before whipping through a set of new fangled retro jazz.
This duo has the rag tag crowd smitten with their bopping tunes and vaudeville worthy repartee. This is the kind of act to start a day off with. I’m enjoying a passionfruit sorbet on a cone and wishing that I had a partner to dance with. I’m a lady with mediocre rhythm and a passion for swing dancing. Jamie is a guy that has never been forced to Lindy hop (yet). No-one is dancing, but, at last, the woman in front of me can’t keep from springing up. She grabs a girl friend and begins an easy East Coast Swing. I’m jealous. This swing feels too good to sit through.
With tenor guitar, stand up bass, the occasional “banjo feature,” and comedic timing to spare, The Two Man Gentlemen Band have us grinning so big that it’s painful. They play songs called “Chocolate Milk,” “Walk on down to Panama City,” and the Bob Wills classic “I can’t go on this way.” They invite the audience to sing along with a song and amuse with peppy melodies about drinking and wooing the ladies, with titles like “Fancy Beer” and “We like to party with Girls.”
Andy Bean announces, “here comes the song with the big John Mellancamp ending” and, at the end of a jazz grab bag, they both shout “John Mellancamp ending!” This is the tone of the duo; so vividly set in time that they’re timeless.
2:30 – Thee Oh Sees:
This two-stages-side-by-side set up proves its genius once more; a casual way to take in a wide variety of music. Thee Oh Sees have been silently completing their sound-checking while The Gentlemen have been receiving an ovation.
The Two Man Gentleman Band have reconfirmed for me the transcendence of swinging jazz.
AND NOW… LIKE A GRATIFYING BLOW TO THE SKULL, Thee Oh Sees bring home the case for ROCK N’ROLL.
There is music that makes you forget that you ever make pleasant conversation, or that you eat with a knife and a fork. Thee Oh Sees are a primal liberation from polite society which accosts me at the core. The Bay Area outfit hasn’t invented anything particularly new, but it is evident that there is more here than a titillating excuse to forget my name and occupation. This isn’t just one-note music; the group is well versed in rock and they can play their instruments brilliantly. They nimbly choose from a rhythmic palette of heavy hitting rock n’ roll– I hear parallels to The Pretty Things, Can (which they claim as an influence), The Sex Pistols, Janes Addiction, early-Beatles, Dick Dale, The Nerves, Metallica, Sgt. Pepper-era Beatles, Nirvana, and even, Marty Mcfly.
Lead singer, John Dwyer’s voice weaves smoothly between the lambasting, then punctuates with high pitched yelps. Dwyer places the entire mic in his mouth, making guttural sounds, as he engages in a serious make-out-session with the microphone. Bass player, Petey Dammit’s appearance is a true throwback to the original punk era (save that his body is liberally dipped in tattoos, which weren’t as prevalent in punk era Britain). Dammit plays a 6-string Fender Jazzmaster which he utilizes “as a bass guitar” (erg… I conducted a humble layman’s Internet search on this guitar-as-bass thing, and found almost nothing)?
They start off the set with a track that they say that they have never played live before and continue by performing both new songs and old, including “Tidal Wave,” “The Dream,” “Contraption/Soul Desert,” and this song, which they also played on the Galaxy Stage, but I can’t seem to find the title to:
At points, I am catching myself wincing just to listen. My body is jerking to the beat. At almost any other venue this kid and mom crowd would be replaced by a boozy mosh pit. The crowd near me is heaving in unison. My senses have been hijacked.
4:00 – Hot Hot Hot, fucking hot:
Now, it’s sweltering; possibly the hottest day of the year. The crowds are friendly, but covered in dust & dragging in the heat. Some lucky people have their face holes protected by bandannas. The luckiest people have their own mist bottles, along with something to protect their faces from inhaling all this dust! Bandannas were given out by some Pickathon booth on Friday. Now I wish that I had one too, but I would never have anticipated a need for it. We’re making our way back into the woods to see the Cave Singers at The Wood Stage.
I’m really dragging. The swelter is difficult to trudge through. Sitting on hay bales in the woods is physically cooling things a tiny bit. I feel rough though, and am too exhausted by heat to walk the distance to the bathroom. I see a peppy team of two of the official Pickathon beer crew members (these are the volunteers that check that you’re not abusing the alcohol rules. I think that’s their job, but I haven’t seen any need to enforce rules in this amiable crowd all weekend). I go up to this couple of peppy beer crewers and ask them if I can take a shot of them in their face bandannas (the popular style of the afternoon). They oblige and direct me to the nearest porta-potty location. I get into a portable potty and notice that the toilet paper is missing, then another with missing toilet paper and another. I decide to take a long walk to find the next bundle of porta-potties. No toilet paper anywhere. So it’s the super long walk up the hill to grab our own toilet paper. The way back in the heat is difficult for me. I suspect heat exhaustion and sit on the side of a walking trail with my head resting on my knees. Making my way back to the Wood stage, I feel nauseous and dizzy, and look like crap. Jamie is concerned for me. He brings me some water as we await The Cave Singers.
4:30 – The Cave Singers:
The Cave Singers is one of those bands that I’ve heard people really speak positively about over the years. They are also one of those groups that I that I know almost nothing about. I do know that they are from Seattle, but that is basically it. Going on band name alone, I begin to imagine Gregorian chants by firelight in Lascaux (but I’m prone to far fetched mental riffs).
Lead singer, Pete Quirk stands center stage between the branches of the Wood Stage. He’s not what I am expecting. Bearded in a tanktop, jeans, and a cap, he is adorable and authentic. The front man reminds me of a number of other Seattle guys that I have waited tables with, or gone to painting school with. Impishly, he starts a monologue, which feels like a regular conversation.
Quirk tells his story of arriving late at Pickathon, on the previous night, finding a camp site high in the woods, and taking hallucinogenic mushrooms. His story continues with “a come to Jesus moment” following a trail of lights, and sleeping in his underpants. Bantering on, he asks, “is Coors Banquet better than MGD?” And concludes, “It’s a toss up.” He’s a likable guy with a sprightly appeal.
If music could be translated into a soulful visit around a campground, this is what it might sound like:
The sound is rootsy and includes some mainstays of the Northwest’s modern traditional music. Harmonica, melodica and maracas make appearances. But The Cave Singers are teetering on harder material here too! The crowd is rollicking. I leave my notebook with Jamie and join the dancing masses.
The singer’s voice is both zealous and tender, growling and fevered. Quirk is all out there. His possessed spirit is catchy. A couple of stage folk dance in the blue glare of the lights behind it. Down front, hands are clapping. Bodies are shaking. Here in the woods, it feels revivalist.
5:30 – Danny Paisley and the Southern Grass:
While we discuss our next move, we sit still on our hay-bale and share a cold beer. Danny Paisley and the Southern Grass begin their set. A family legacy, The Southern Grass was founded by Bob Paisley (now deceased). Danny Paisley (on guitar); brother, Michael Paisley (bass); and Danny’s eleven year old son Ryan (mandolin) continue this spirited bluegrass tradition.
We listen to a song and then, a few more, before we come to the conclusion that all the acts at Pickathon are engaging and worth a watch. It’s hard to leave, but we need a nap. The heat has decided this for us. It’s physically necessary and not debatable.
5:45 – Evening nap:
Did I mention that we’re dirty and tired? We’ve funned ourselves out and head back to camp for a needed rest. I think that we’re getting spoiled. The choice is made to miss Langhorne Slim; and Kitty, Daisy and Lewis. We wake prepared for more exhausting amazingness.
8:30 – The blessed Shower:
I’ve had a shower this morning, but it doesn’t feel like it. I’m all sticky sweat, covered in dirt and filth. The sun is gone, but it’s still sweltering. Jamie has been listening to me whine about the heat and wane on and on about my morning shower experience. It’s an odd hour so we figure that lines are short in the cleansing tent. The lines are non-existent, but the showers are occupied. I pay my $5 (I would have paid triple) and get ready for bliss. My boyfriend goes into the mens shower area. It’s seems like forever before Jamie exits. The talk in both shower areas is all about how amazing showering is. It’s funny that something we take for granted at home can feel like such a luxury.
9:45 – Dr. Dog:
The one band that Jamie wants to see is Dr Dog. I want to see Neko Case, who is playing on the Woods Stage at the same time. I decide that the reasonable thing to do is to give him at least one concession. He’s a pretty damn accommodating boyfriend. And, I have a migraine anyway; a migraine which has likely been induced by dehydration, heat, and a lack of dinner in my belly. It’s a warm gorgeous night, but I wish that I was sleeping in my own bed. We stop by the first aid station on the way to the Mountain View Stage. Manned by a gracious team; they are quick to help. I accept free Advil, skip the free condoms, and leave money in the tip jar. We lay our blanket down in the grass. My headache recedes under the glowing lights projected on to the fabric art awning. We’re lying down and sharing dinner. There is a more comfortable evening warmth now. I feel blissful. Dr Dog begins.
When the music kicks in we’re eating our dinner at the feet of a happy crowd. I’ve never heard Dr. Dog, but this audience has. They are singing along to every song. After emptying our dinner bowl,s we get up and move our bodies to the rhythm. Almost everyone in this crowd is standing under the beautiful illuminated awnings and moving their bodies.
Hands grab my wrists from behind. Our campsite neighbors have been standing behind us without our awareness. Now they’ve decided that we are in dire need of glowing bracelets. It’s sweet that they’ve adopted us. We look behind us and the notice this little crowd of our campsite neighbors directly behind us. They are covered from head to toe with glowables. All dancing funnily; they are a little shouting joy party. Jamie and I bop a little with our glowing arms around each other. I go up front to take some pictures. In the press access area, there are lots of members of other big bands watching this one.
Oh Dr. Dog, everybody seems to love these guys. I get it… I think. But, maybe I don’t. It seems too well packaged, too perfectly commercial and non-commercial. There are good jazz references I think, occasional laser sounds, nice harmonies, a little Built to Spillishness, some Flaming Lips sounding stuff, and a little bit of a Phish jam bandy thing. It’s danceable and has enough edge, but it feels boring to me. Maybe I need to listen to the music without the performance, or maybe I’ve just seen too many great performers already this weekend.