Every now and again, Tim Rooney will waltz into our office with his mandolin, plop down in the corner and say, “So. You want a clean or dirty one?” And he’ll play us a little ditty.
About two weeks ago, he waltzed into our office to convince my supervisor Bea to let me volunteer at Pickathon.
Pickathon is a weekend-long music fest featuring countless bands that range from indie to bluegrass to rock, but all via string instruments. It takes place 20 minutes outside of Portland at Pendarvis Farm, a beautiful setup with five different stages for Pickathon, including a couple in barns and one out in the woods. Tim, a lifetime musician, was filming the 10th Annual Pickathon for the third time as a partnership between the festival, PCM and KBOO. Last year, his blip.tv broadcasts had brought in hundreds of thousands of viewers. For me, it would be a training opportunity, my crash course in production.
I got there on Saturday morning and watched Tim direct for the next several hours in a truck with all the fixings of a studio control room. There was sound control, panels to adjust white balance, knobs for iris-ing (read: tint), recording decks, screens for cameras 1-5, a preview and a program screen, an “iso” (for isolated; it records simultaneously with the live program in case the director messes up and wants to splice a frame out of the “iso”). It was incredibly fascinating to see how much photography and filming have in common. There were the same leading lines, the rule of thirds, messing with fore- and background blur that come from shutter speeds. I learned that television uses f-stops, too, but its range is far more limited than movie and still cameras, which deal better with extreme contrast on screen.
By the time the first day was over, I’d realized that people have their own shooting styles, seen the difference in shooting experience, and I’d also had my first taste of directing. I learned the importance of rhythm in switching frames and having a variety of shots to jump to.
Following Bad Livers’ twilight act, we took the cameras in and double-wrapped the tips of the TV cables with condoms for nighttime protection. I had a hard time getting the condom onto the television cable because of all the moving parts.
“There are so many things I could say about this right now, but I won’t,” Tim teased. He then took charge of putting on the second condom.
But it wouldn’t roll down.
“Tim,” I said, turning to him. “There are so many things I could say about this right now, but I won’t.”
We were short of volunteers for the first set on Sunday morning, so Tim put me on camera 2—the “monster cam.” Up till that point, I was probably the only PCM staffer who has never messed with a video camera. The first set happened to be Captain Bogg and Salty—Portland’s pirate band—making for a hilarious first shoot.
By the time Pickathon was over, I had learned theories about brewing good coffee and taken advantage of my first backstage pass. I discovered the best salsa in the Portland area from Canby Asparagus Farm (I do spicy, and this was the perfect embers-in-your-throat spicy). I heard great music; the Old Believers are the next duo I’m looking into. I wasn’t a huge fan of Jessica Lea Mayfield, but enjoyed her stage antics. But the best thing for me that weekend didn’t have to do with “the arts.” For me, it was meeting the owners of Gaining Ground Farm.
I visited Portland for the first time in January, about two weeks after leaving Peace Corps in Lesotho (pronounced leh-SOO-too). I was feeling the tendrils of readjustment tighten around me and beginning to choke me off—the difficulty, the loneliness, the fear. I picked up Ecotrust’s winter 2008 issue at Laughing Planet, and on the cover was an image from Gaining Ground Farm. There was so much that I was afraid of losing after returning—my Sesotho, planting my own food, a shared interest in permaculture, the frankness—and so much that I wished I could lose—a fear of being noticed and of being objectified.
I read about the owners of Gaining Ground Farm, how Mike Paine had been a Peace Corps volunteer in Lesotho from 1996-1998, that it was his experience in Africa which peaked his interest in permaculture. He even met his wife Jill in Lesotho. After returning to the States, Mike went to UC Davis for international agricultural development, eventually got a loan to start a farm and was now the picture of a happy farmer with a new addition to his family since his Peace Corps days: His son Eli. Readjustment was hard, and hearing Mike’s story gave me hope that things would turn out okay in the end.
The exchange with Mike and Jill at their Pickathon food booth was brief but incredibly meaningful for me. Gaining Ground Farm sounded familiar all weekend till I realized I had read about the Paines in Edible Portland. Among the highlights of my Pickathon weekend, meeting the Paines was the brightest.