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Tuesday, July 17, 2007
And we've got to get ouselves back to the garden
Three days later, there's still dust in my hair.
We'd come expecting hastily constructed stages and a few rows of booths surrounded by campgrounds. Instead what we found at the Oregon Country Fair was a Shangri-La/Brigadune for the unwashed masses, a temporary, utopic Disneyland for anyone who wishes the early days of the Summer of Love had infected ever facet of this country, replacing our still lingering Puritan hang-ups with endless drum circles, Thai tea and clouds of pot smoke reaching up to the skim the heavens.
But, when you boil it all down in blue-collar, layman's terms, the Fair consists of little more than 10,000+ people walking around a sprawling, 280-acre Ewok village jammed full of people selling bird houses made out of cowboy boots and license plates. Like most things, it's a matter of perspective. One person's festival of all that is Good and Right in this world is another person's overpriced arts and crafts festival.
My opinion falls squarely in the middle. So much love and communal spirit drenches the fairgrounds outside of Vernonia that it's impossible for even a lifelong curmudgeon to sneer at it outright. I was too unborn to watch the '60s go by. I only managed to witness the strung-out, Trustafarain echoes still lingering around Eugene during my days at the University of Oregon. Despite the high admission price, the Fair at least feels like something pure and innocent, at least as pure and innocent as a 40-year old woman covered from head-to-toe in gray body paint cavorting past candle shops and an endless, three-day long drum circle can be.
In an afternoon I saw what may as well have been an Ent, a man rubbing sticks together to make fire, a college kid on a bed of nails getting hit in the stomach with a sledgehammer, a marching band fronted by the counter-culture equivalent of Papa Smurf and Tigger, an Elvis singing songs about global warming, people making Icees on a contraption made out of a bicycle parts, a woman reading a bizarre rant in front of a crowd of agitated children, a device that allowed me to "hear what the trees hear," art made out of rusty silverware, several oversized puppets, gongs, bongs, schlongs and enough bare breasts and naive optimism to fuel Vegas for a month. Take Burning Man, toss it in a forest with looser rules when it comes to capitalism, add more families and less Silicon Valley geeks and you've got yourself the Oregon State Fair.
At the Fair I also ate the best potato I've ever had. It was at an Afghani booth. I have no idea what the staff did to the thing. We're talking about manna from heaven here.
After a spell on a beach blanket next to two giggling, tripping teenagers in an ocean of people and smoke camped in front of the main stage, we went on an hour-long search for an elusive deep-fried ice cream stand. No contact highs for us, honest, no sir, uh-uh. Afterwards, metaphorical batteries recharged, we headed back to Portland, KLCC broadcasting, live, the final musical act of the night. After a spot-on cover of "Penny Lane" and "I Am the Walrus," the Beatles cover band onstage rolled into "All You Need is Love" as the late summer night sun poured over the Willamette Valley.
Sure, just love but don't forget about the high-paying job, the 401K, the stocks, the bonds, the Lexus SUV, the discarded ethos, the condo, the pressures, etc. The '60s crowd didn't and their kids and their grandkids won't either, if they bother with the hippie game at all. Can you find me a more apt metaphor for Baby Boomers than that little Buddha up there? I'm wiling to bet the Papa Smurf equivalent, that benevolent, slightly-crazed icon of the Oregon State Fair, works as a stockbroker the other 362 days of the year. How did Hunter S. Thompson describe this sort of thing? "We're all on a survival trip now"...or something like that.
Still, it's fun to believe and break out the old magic for 72 hours once a year. Myself, I've always preferred the sentiments behind "A Day in the Life."
More photos from the '07 Oregon Country Fair can be found over in the ol' Flickr gallery.