“Oh my god, the fiddles, oh, YES, the orchestration!” Sherry Pendarvis interjects mid-sentence as the elaborate intro to James Brown’s “Man’s World” swells in the kitchen behind her. Kicked back with a Sunday afternoon beer and cigarette as farm dog Freckles curls up nearby, the longtime proprietress of Pendarvis Farm has been explaining why volunteers for summertime roots-rock fest Pickathon have put their spring campsite cleanup efforts on hold.
On Saturday morning, in response to an open call, almost a hundred volunteers arrived bright and early at the Happy Valley locale with work clothes and gardening tools. They fanned out over the 80-acre Pendarvis property, removing debris from would-be campsites and untangling brambles from some of the iconic statuary (a giant piano, a massive black stallion) that Sherry, a parade float maker and stage dresser, has dragged home from her day job over the years. But at some point during their blackberry-hacking and fallen-branch stacking, the crew started to worry for the forest’s avian residents.
“We were listening to the birds,” says Sherry in the least casual sense of the phrase. Worried that the group’s work might be disrupting her farm’s already-precarious fledglings, she made an investigative phone call to the Audubon Society.
When Audubon confirmed her hunch, she quickly rearranged the farm’s priorities: They’d postpone the rest of their campsite clearing until three weeks before the fest, and from now on, forest winnowing will take place in the late fall. ”The impact on the animals will be less,” Sherry explains. “The birds will have fledged, the bunnies will know how to get home….Quail love a brush pile; pileated woodpeckers need snags; we don’t want to take these things away from them.”
Behind her, a small remnant work crew takes a hula-hooping break, then regroups to paint a nearby retaining wall. Sherry gets back at it, too, discussing lighting in the Galaxy Barn. (After all, putting the woods on Do Not Disturb is no excuse to waste daylight.)
Is it typical for rock festival planners to be this conscientious about their scenic settings? It would seem not. Sasquatch Festival, a regional contemporary of Pickathon, boasts that its beautiful basalt cliffs over the Columbia Gorge are a natural wonder, but hasn’t shown much evidence of environmental concern for the land, admitting thousands more in 2012 than the year before and visibly failing to keep pace with cleanup. In the crowded campsites, mountains of loose trash formed around overstuffed receptacles and dust devils whirled the debris high into the sky. We’ll soon see whether 2013—rumored to be even more populous—is a repeat performance.
Coachella in California is similar in age and scope to Sasquatch, and though it’s become an easy mark for ridicule in other respects (Bullet Magazine recently panned its spring-break-style party culture while Jimmy Kimmel made sport of concertgoers’ musical illiteracy), to its credit it has begun baby-steps of environmental stewardship, rewarding car-poolers and implementing first a plastic-water-bottle exchange, and eventually fest-issued refillable cups to reduce waste.
Elder eco-champ Pickathon has not only maintained land use ethics but steadily expanded them, partnering year-round with Clackamas Soil & Water Conservation and Friends of Trees, and hosting SOLV site visits to assess impact. Organizers have also added a multitude of eco-upgrades: shuttle transport from Portland, solar showers, re-usable plates and cups to make the fest “plastic free”—and now, a brush-clearing schedule that syncs to the needs of the native birds.
Admittedly, Pickathon is a much smaller-capacity fest than juggernauts like Sasquatch—but that’s not by accident, either. Currently admitting around 5,000 people (less than a fifth of Coachella and Sasquatch), Pickathon recently polled its regulars asking if they’d rather raise capacity or price. “Around 90% voted ‘price,’” declares Operations Manager Ronnie Beoicourt. “So we’re keeping it small.”