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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
AndyC of Linnton

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.


$260 for a weekend pass?!


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.

was carless
was carless

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.


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.

Beth Hamon

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?