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Festival puts down roots on 80-acre wonderland

The eighth annual Pickathon music event finds a happy new home at the Pendarvis Farm in Pleasant Valley
by: John Klicker, Zale Schoenborn of Portland, a musician (mandolin and vocals) and lover of roots music, started Pickathon eight years ago with a handful of people and a few regional bands. The festival has since evolved into a showcase for some of this country’s best folk, blues and bluegrass artists.

East County is going to rock next weekend.

While downtown Gresham sways to Chris' Botti's new jazz, a whole mess of folks will be getting down to traditional American indie music at the eighth annual Pickathon Roots Music Festival, Friday and Saturday, Aug. 4-5, at Pendarvis Farm in Pleasant Valley.

With big names like Iris Dement, Kelly Joe Phelps, Greg Brown and CJ Chenier headlining the festival, the 2006 Pickathon is sure to draw fans from all over the musical map.

'We call it roots music, which, for us, means traditional North American influences,' says festival founder Zale Schoenborn. 'We tried to pick musicians that are inspiring to other musicians.'

The result should be a spectacular fusion of genres.

'We've sort of cross-pollinated, we've really mixed it up,' Schoenborn says. 'The musicians are all really different.'

There's bluegrass, of course. But there's also blues, zydeco, folk, a little bit of punk-bluegrass and old-time country and a whole lot of singer-songwriter tunes.

Take Friday night's main stage line-up for instance. CJ Chenier will show off his Louisiana zydeco roots from 6 to 7 p.m., then Greg Brown takes the stage at 7:30 p.m. Brown, a singer-songwriter Rolling Stone once called 'a wickedly sharp observer of the human condition,' is followed by his wife of four years, Iris Dement, a contemporary folk singer Merle Haggard has called 'the greatest singer' he's ever heard.

'For most of the musicians, this is the first time they've ever played together,' Schoenborn says. 'Usually, festivals stick to one type of sound, like bluegrass. What we have is something you don't find anywhere else in the country.'

More than music

Pickathon started eight years ago with a group of regional artists, and has evolved into a sampler of America's roots music scene.

Last year, Schoenborn partnered with Dave Allen and Ned Failing - two Portland-based musicians with some major connections. Allen, bassist for legendary British post-punk band Gang of Four and Failing, drummer for local band Dirty Martini, are partners in a media company called Pampelmoose.

Their help has taken Pickathon in a new direction. Regional bands are still involved, but the festival is drawing bigger names now.

'Everything has improved,' Schoenborn says. 'There's just more of everything now.'

This year is a turning point for the Pickathon festival.

The two-day shindig has switched locations, gathered some talented helpers and blossomed into one of the most environmentally friendly festivals around.

Compared to former years, when staff wondered if they could actually pull it off, this year's Pickathon seems like it's meant to be.

Watching the main stage go up on Pendarvis Farm one week before the festival, Schoenborn and Failing said this year's Pickathon came together like a dream.

'Karma is finally catching up to us,' Schoenborn says.

What's so special about Pickathon?

• It's green - From biodiesel bus shuttles that take people from the Gateway transit center to the festival every 20 minutes, to the recycled toilet paper in the porta-potties, this festival is focused on saving the earth.

'We really want to influence the behavior of other music festivals … to show them that being green is not that complicated,' Schoenborn says.

Festival organizers are hoping for a mainly car-free event. They've set up easy mass transit routes, have the biodiesel shuttle from Gateway running twice an hour, and you can download easy-to-follow bicycle routes from the Pickathon Web site at www.pickathon.com.

• It's family-friendly - Festivalgoers are encouraged to camp overnight at the Pendarvis Farm and organizers have arranged a family campsite, designed with little ones in mind.

'We've tried to be incredibly kid-friendly,' Schoenborn, a father of one (with another on the way), says.

Kids younger than 12 get in free (tickets for adults, for the entire weekend, cost $85 a person, or you can pay $55 for Friday only or $65 for Saturday only. All tickets come with camping privileges but not parking passes), and there are kid-friendly activities throughout both days of the festival.

On Friday, children can take zydeco lessons, design ultra-lite kites, draw with chalk in the courtyard or watch local acrobatic-balancing troupe Kazum! move to the tunes of Trash Can Joe.

On Saturday there's square dancing; clogging; workshops on the fiddle, banjo, bluegrass guitar and mandolin; movement workshops; old time fiddle and banjo music in the workshop barn; a songwriting session with Martha Scanlan and the Everybodyfields; and storytelling, kite-building, acrobatics and magic in the Backyard Amphitheater.

• The people - The people behind Pickathon are just plain nice. They're nice to the media. They're nice to the musicians. They're nice to dogs and kids. They're nice to each other.

And in a world that sometimes seems overwhelmed by violence, this type of old-fashioned niceness is more than just refreshing - it's catching.

This year, the Pickathon folks joined with Sherry and Scott Pendarvis, owners of Pendarvis Farm, an 80-acre wonderland in the middle of the rapidly growing Pleasant Valley.

'There's more heart and soul here than I can tell you,' Schoenborn says of the Pendarvis Farm. 'This is the perfect place for Pickathon.'

Fabric artist Marc Ricketts has designed an incredible shade cover for the venue - he's used 27,000 square feet of beautiful, ultra lightweight white and silver material to provide about 10,000-square-feet of shaded space near the main outdoor stage.

And just when these guys thought it couldn't get any better, in stepped Dale Miner.

A union member who has set up concerts for the Blazers, the Roseland and various big-time music acts, Miner and his crew brought in a better stage, better lights, plans to stripe the parking lot - even a complete dinner for the staff celebration party. 'It's gone from gold to platinum because of Dale,' Failing says.

The entire festival is a fund-raiser for KBOO, Portland's community powered radio. KBOO, 90.7 FM, will broadcast the Pickathon from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 5.

For information on tickets, camping, the musicians or directions, visit www.pickathon.com.

The Musicians

More than 20 musicians will perform at the eighth annual Pickathon Roots Music Festival.

This year's line-up takes on a range of musical tastes. Folk, bluegrass, country, blues - even rock and zydeco - mix together for two days, Friday and Saturday, Aug. 4-5, at Pendarvis Farm off 172nd near Foster Road.

Below are a few of the Pickathon headliners. For a full list of performers, visit www.pickathon.com.

Iris Dement - A frequent guest on Garrison Keillor's 'Prairie Home Companion,' Dement's introspective country/folks songs have been winning accolades for years. Her second album 'My Life,' released in 1994, was nominated for a Grammy for 'Best Contemporary Folk Album.' She has performed with artists such as Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle and John Prine. Artist Merle Haggard once said Dement was 'the greatest singer' he's ever heard. Dement headlines Pickathon from 9 to 10 p.m. Friday, Aug. 4, on the Mountain View stage.

Kelly Joe Phelps - The Portland native is known worldwide for his unpredictable country-blues-folk sound, which has been described this way by musician Steve Earle: 'He plays with a smoky, lonesome, painful feeling that lets you know you're not alone … even when you want to be.' Phelps has a new CD, 'Tunesmith Retrofit' coming out Tuesday, Aug. 1. He headlines the Pickathon from 10 to 11 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 5, on the Mountain View stage.

Greg Brown - The singer-songwriter from Iowa has been putting an album a year out for the past couple decades, but mainstream audiences are just catching wind of Brown's genius. He toured with folk/punk singer Ani DiFranco in the late 1990s. Musicians like DiFranco, Lucinda Williams, Shawn Colvin and Iris Dement (Brown's wife and another headliner at Pickathon) performed on 'Going Driftless: An Artist's Tribute to Greg Brown.' Rolling Stone magazine has called Brown 'a wickedly sharp observer of the human condition.' He will perform from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 4, (right before Iris Dement) on the Mountain View stage.

The Avett Brothers - Pickathon staffers describe this trio as 'pre-Civil War modern rock … a nearly transcendental brand of pop melodies played at punk tempos on banjo, acoustic guitar and upright bass.' The North Carolina trio's first album 'A Carolina Jubilee' is, according to their Web page, 'a mixture of old-time country, bluegrass, pop melodies, folk, rock n' roll, honky-tonk and ragtime.' What else would you expect at the Pickathon? The Avett Brothers play the Mountain View stage right before Kelly Joe Phelps, from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 5.

CJ Chenier - The son of legendary Zydeco artist Clifton Chenier, CJ blends the bayou sounds of The Red Hot Louisiana Band with funk, blues and ballads. Chenier will play the Mountain Stage from 6 to 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 4.

Martha Scanlan - This singer-songwriter's folk/bluegrass sound has been featured on some very high-profile soundtracks. Her old-time string band, Reeltime Travelers, have played the Grand Old Opry and the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. They recorded a cut for the Cold Mountain soundtrack and toured with artists Alison Krauss and Ralph Stanley on the Great High Mountain Tour. Scanlan will perform solo from 7 to 8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 5, on the Mountain View stage.