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Bikes help ‘Pickathon’ build a city of music just outside Portland

Posted by on August 6th, 2013 at 3:45 pm

lots of bikes

Pickathon offered 200 bike parking spaces this year and was full to overflowing.
(Photos: M.Andersen/BikePortland)

Pickathon, the 15-year-old music festival rooted in roots and held each August at Pendarvis Farm a few miles southeast of Portland’s city limits, is unusual in lots of ways.

For one thing, last weekend’s event is known as one of the most environmentally friendly festivals in the country. More controversially, it’s chosen higher door prices ($260 this year for a weekend pass) over hefty concession fees and bigger crowds.

But one of the most interesting things about Pickathon is that, befitting a farm-based festival that’s so freakishly close to the big city, it makes a concert series in the countryside feel, in the best sense, urban.

wide angle lawn

Beneath the tension-fabric roof that shields Pickathon’s main stage.

It’s a formula that only works because Pickathon manages to fit so much festival on so little land so close to the city: the whole farm is just 80 acres. And that’s something it does with a big assist from bikes.


The Springwater Corridor Trail is the best way to reach Pickathon by bike.

The key to reaching Pickathon by bike is the Springwater Corridor Trail, the rails-to-trail path that runs right into Portland’s inner east side. The best way to reach Pickathon by bike from Portland is to ride the Springwater to 158th Avenue and head about four miles south via Foster Road (briefly), 162nd Avenue, Baxter Road, 170th, 172nd and finally Hagen Road.

If you arrive that way, you’ll have plenty of company:

bike park sign

Thanks to the space that Pickathon doesn’t have to reserve for auto parking — about 25 percent of the 7,000 or so attendees arrives by bike, bus or shuttle, and thousands more carpool — its main amphitheater is uncrowded and relaxed.

festival lawn

But for a lover of urban design, the more interesting parts of Pickathon might be the lounge area tucked behind the main stage, for food and drink:

bales wideangle

yerba bales

full sail

Further from its main stage, the festival is full of places to explore, including rows of city-quality food carts competing for your business.

food carts

Two secondary stages offer acoustic acts.

Bradford Lee Folk and The Bluegrass Playboys

A network of paths integrates the music festival with the campground that sets up in the woods nearby and the working farm that hosts the whole thing:

barn path

Around a corner you might see the bike-based Hydrofiets water fountain.


Unlike the huge, rural Gorge Amphitheater, this temporary city leaves relatively little grassy space to spare for recreation, but there is some.


Instead, most of the main concert space is devoted to a few hundred blankets:


And, of course, music:

felice brothers


With buses and shuttles popular and bike attendance on the rise, Pickathon organizers have floated the idea of cutting out auto parking (currently available for $25 per day) and going completely car-free. That’d truly make it a one-of-a-kind event.

But for now, Portland’s backyard music festival is a three-day reminder of how much value bikes can create by making efficient use of precious urban space, and how much people tend to cherish time they spend in spaces that haven’t been designed around the automobile.

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  • AndyC of Linnton August 6, 2013 at 7:12 pm

    Every event I attend in Portland in the summer has a dearth of bicycle parking. Event planners: plan for twice(possibly even thrice) the amount of bicycles you think will show up.

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  • annefi August 6, 2013 at 10:13 pm

    $260 for a weekend pass?!

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    • Dave August 7, 2013 at 8:56 am

      Have you ever helped put on a weekend music event? Do you know what is involved? Don’t whine about the pass price unless you have some background.

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      • Mike August 7, 2013 at 9:51 am

        Full disclosure: I have not helped put on a music event.

        I don’t believe that annefi was whining. Probably more like shock.

        Assuming my wife and I wanted to attend, $520 plus additional for food and beverages seems like a lot of money. Maybe ~$600 for live music is nothing for you, but it is a bit much for a lot of people. That is a whole paycheck for someone that works retail.

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        • dan August 7, 2013 at 10:37 am

          Pickathon is an amazing event, but I haven’t attended since they moved to this location because it just got too expensive. Obviously they have no shortage of customers at this price point though, so arguably, they’re pricing correctly.

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        • annefi August 8, 2013 at 2:05 pm

          Thank you, Mike. Shock it was!

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  • Dave August 7, 2013 at 8:55 am

    There’s surprising crossover between acoustic music and cycling. Fort
    Worden, WA’s fiddling camp populates the park with cyclists and not just the usual Huffy on the back of the RV type cyclists. My wife and I were trading touring stories with a few other musicians there last year.

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  • was carless August 7, 2013 at 10:40 am

    While Pickathon is arguably expensive, volunteering for 8-10 hours gives you a free weekend pass. Burning man and Coachella, by comparison, are $600 and $399. I don’t know about Sasquatch, but multi-day festivals are extremely expensive these days, with state of the art sound stages (Pickathon had 6), awesome foodie options (Pine State Biscuits, Bunk Sandwiches, Koi Fusion, etc etc), and great beer which wasn’t overpriced. All in all, a great event if you can afford it.

    Oh, children under 12 are free – there were hordes of children running amok through the event. They also had kid-friendly morning & afternoon venues with musicians and singers putting on events for them.

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    • Zach August 7, 2013 at 6:47 pm

      Burning Man lasts for more a week and is not a music festival, and only the hardiest of hardy souls would ever bike there. Even then, you’d probably have to have someone else haul the 30-40 lbs. of water you need to bring in addition to your other gear. And you’d better have a friend with some shade to pitch your tent under.

      Anyway, the idea of making Pickathon (or any similar event) car-free is preposterous. Most people who camp for a weekend at a music festival want to bring more tents, awnings, clothes, gear, and beer than they can fit on a bike or in a suitcase.

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      • detling August 7, 2013 at 10:49 pm

        We biked there as a family, tent and all. We borrowed a bike trailer and it worked beautifully. There are of course a lot of other shuttle and public transport options that would assist with the heavy loads and still avoid teh car parking at Pickathon. And as to riding there, the spring water corridor is a lovely, peaceful route with only minimal road time at the end.

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  • gl. August 7, 2013 at 9:10 pm

    I’ve sworn off biking in that area; I’ve had the worst harassment there and the roads have little or no shoulder. Which is too bad, because it’s my closest New Seasons and has a blueberry farm I’d like to visit.

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  • Beth Hamon August 16, 2013 at 11:48 am

    For those of us for whom Pickathon and similar events are so expensive as to be priced beyond the pale: most Wednesday evenings you can find live music for FREE at Ladd’s Circle. And there are tons of coffeehouses and similar venues that support live music without charging a cover. If neither of these suit you, gather some friends and make your own hootenanny/singalong any time.

    Why consume culture when we can create it?

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