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The Jefferson Journal is JPR's members' magazine featuring articles, columns, and reviews about living in Southern Oregon and Northern California, as well as articles from NPR. The magazine also includes program listings for JPR's network of stations.

Sampling The Regional Festival Circuit

As you might assume, I see a heck of a lot of live music each year. It’s an absolute blessing to be able to see so many amazing performers showcasing their ability at venues throughout Oregon and northern California. Last summer, I had the opportunity to experience my first true multi-day music festival: Pickathon. Held at privately owned Pendarvis Farm in Happy Valley, Oregon, Pickathon is a sight to behold. Three days of music, managed crowd density, no plastic, free water, reusable serving dishes for all food vendors, composting sites, solar panels, and on and on... Pickathon features seven different artistic stages, each delivering a unique and incredibly memorable experience. And the talent was amazing:  Feist, Kurt Vile, Sharon Van Etten, Andrew Bird, Lake Street Dive, Shakey Graves, Parquet Courts, The Devil Makes Three, Tift Merritt and dozens of others.

I knew when Pickathon ended last summer that I’d be going back this year. I actually put the dates on my calendar last fall and spent months waiting for the first weekend in August to arrive. What I didn’t plan for, however, was that I’d actually be able to attend three distinctly different music festivals this summer, and gather unique perspective of how festivals small, medium, and gigantic can each hold their own charm and excitement. Indeed Pickathon lived up to all of my expectations this year, and I think I would have been happy if that had been my summer pinnacle. But, it wasn’t. 

In September, I was lucky enough to experience another of the Northwest’s hidden gems: Sisters Folk Festival. Where Pickathon’s main stages seat (hold?) thousands, the biggest stage locations in Sisters hold roughly 700.  The smallest ones hold maybe 50. Those small venue sizes can really create trouble if you’re too ambitious when planning your day of music as I was. Simply put, if you stay too long at one performance before wandering over to the next, the venue will be full, and you’ll be on the sidelines for an hour as your punishment. On the flipside, when you do manage to squeeze in, you’re treated to an amazingly intimate show. Whereas Pickathon has a family-friendly feel, Sisters makes you feel like you’re part of the family. And beyond the scheduled sets, there are numerous “jam sessions” with artists gathering for impromptu music-making just minutes after walking off of one of the festival stages.  This year, Barnaby Bright, Anaïs Mitchell, Ruth Moody, Shakey Graves, The Duhks, Eric Bibb, Black Prairie and more were all wandering around the charming town of just over two thousand residents.

In early October, a took a trip to San Francisco for Hardly Strictly Bluegrass. HSB couldn’t be further from the quaint charm of Sisters. Founded in 2001 by San Francisco venture capitalist Warren Hellman, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass is held each year in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park and can draw a crowd over its three days of nearly three quarters of a million people! This year featured Emmylou Harris, Chris Isaak, Ryan Adams, St. Paul and the Broken Bones, Jerry Douglas, Ralph Stanley, Jessica Hernandez and the Deltas, Johnnyswim and over 50 others across seven stages. Did I mention HSB is free? Billionaire Hellman’s mantra, when it came to the festival he privately sponsored each year until his death in 2011, was “money is like manure — if you spread it around, good things grow; and if you pile it up in one place, it just smells bad.” Even upon his passing, Hellman established an endowment to ensure the festival would continue, free for patrons and completely devoid of corporate sponsorship.

Despite the heatwave San Francisco was experiencing this year, the crowds were absolutely enormous. Saturday’s evening set by Chris Isaak must have had 15,000 people watching and listening. What made it the all the more enjoyable were Isaak’s comments about living just mere blocks from Golden Gate Park, and that HSB was the most local gig he could imagine that wasn’t in his own living room. Visibility was certainly difficult at times, and unless you’re in the front half of the crowd, even the sound suffers a bit. But, what amazing gift to San Franciscans and the world. I knew of people flying in from Nashville and Pittsburgh just to attend.

Looking back, I really enjoyed all three of the events I attended, and I’d strongly encourage you to start looking early when the lineups are announced and see if any might work with your schedule and budget. With proper planning, adequate water and comforts (shade clothing, sunscreen, snacks, decent concert blanket, etc) festivals can be a wonderful way to experience some of your favorite performers live, while at the same time conveniently exposing you to many that are unfamiliar and may quickly become your next favorite.

When he isn’t on-air, or locked in the ‘Zippy Room’ making sure our programming schedule stays on track, Program Director, Music Director, and Open Air host Eric Teel can be found with his headphones on poring through stacks (and stacks) of CDs, looking for gold.

As FM Network Program Director and Music Director, Eric oversees many aspects of JPR's broadcast day. He still hosts the occasional Open Air or classical music shift, and is the driving force behind JPR Live Sessions - our popular series of live in-studio music performances and conversations.