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Pickathon Music Festival - Unplug To Recharge The Innovator In You

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Published on Jul 29, 2014

Twenty minutes outside of Portland, Oregon, lies Pendarvis Farm - a pristine mix of meadows and Douglas Fir with miles of hiking trails and views of Mt. Hood. Sometimes our most disruptive experiences have nothing to do with our use of technology. In this special episode of A TOTAL DISRUPTION we witness what happens when a key designer of the microchip applies all of his UX/UI insight into creating one of the most unique music festivals in the world.

Each year, in the first week of August, Pendarvis Farm plays host to Pickathon, one of the most eclectic music festivals on the planet. “It’s three days of no agenda, a total break at life. Nothing else to do but wander around, talk to people, and watch music,” says Zale Schoenborn, who founded the festival sixteen years ago.

An amateur Mandolin player, he brings a combination of creativity and practical knowledge to curating a festival which has an equal amount of artists and volunteers as it does paying attendees. Artists like Neko Case and Feist describe it as “the most amazing place” and simply “the best.” As the festival prepares to kick-off August 1st, with yet another incredible line-up of musicians from all over the world, we thought it was the right time to motivate you up to Happy Valley (as it’s so aptly named) to refuel. You’ll see exclusive interviews and performances from Tift Merrit, Shakey Graves & Marco Benevento. We enter the festival with world-renowned violinist and composer Andrew Bird - over the course of three days A TOTAL DISRUPTION has unparalleled access to the inner workings of this magical community that comes together to transform a farm into a work of living art.


Having moved to Portland to work at Intel, the year before founding Pickathon, Schoenborn is responsible for writing the PCI Express Physical Specification. In layman’s terms this is essentially how computers talk to memory. He brings the same approach in solving technical problems to designing Pickathon. “Technology is a lot like a music festival. You’re solving things that haven’t been solved. No one’s gonna tell you how to do it. There’s no recipe. You just have to know how to take the beautiful and make it practical.”

Innovation is central to the process of Pickathon, since it’s never had an investor and it’s eschewed big corporate sponsorships in order to stay self-reliant. “We’ve done this from dust,” Schoenborn says. Pickathon was the first music festival in the country to go plastic (bottle and cup) free and it is still the only large outdoor music festival in the United States to minimize all single-use dishware and utensils.

“Pickathon is all in the physical world. It’s all about beauty, it’s all about the music, it’s all about the effect it has on people. The sum of all of this really wells up and overwhelms you,” says Schoenborn. Unlike other major festivals which can be overwhelming for entirely different reasons, Pickathon has worked hard to keep the experience intimate and unique. It’s not a “meat market commodity,” but a place for families and music lovers of all kinds to come together and unplug (though they do offer charging stations for cell-phones).

Smartphones aside, Schoenborn is trying to change the way we experience music. Almost all of the headliners at Pickathon can never be heard on mainstream radio. But he wonders if that can change. “How do you subvert pop culture? How do you take...what is supposedly pop music or indie music and take control of the needle, jam it a little bit to the left or to the right and start to actually control the flow of what people think is interesting.”

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