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Monday, July 13, 2009


Two days at the Oregon Country Fair

I spent the afternoon of Independence Day swimming out on the Wilson River. I mentioned to a friend of a friend that I was heading to the Oregon Country Fair the following weekend. He shook his head. "Don't you know what goes on down there," he said with a sneer. "It's a bunch of hippies running around naked."

Well, yeah, there is a bit of that.

He'd never been and admitted that he'd never get caught dead in the place. This is usually the sort of reaction I get when I tell acquaintances and coworkers where I've been spending the second weekend in July in recent years. There seems to be this impression that the fair is a Dionysian frenzy of "blissed-out" stoners dancing in drum circles. To clear up any misconceptions, during daylight hours at least, all of that is kept to one corner of the fair grounds called the Drum Tower.

More or less, the Oregon Country Fair is a mix-up of an arts festival, a rock concert, a food cart melee, a family reunion and the organizers' attempt to build an idyllic society out in the woods over the course of a three-day weekend. Or at least that's my take. Ask someone else and you'll probably get a different response.

I spent most of Saturday wandering the grounds and loafing around at the Main Stage watching acts like the March Fourth marching band. At one point, a guy in a Gumby costume was led out with his head hung low. I'm not sure what he did to get 86-ed. After the band's set, a few stilt-walkers kept the show going in the middle of the crowd while a guy in a unicorn costume danced alongside them.

Sunday was a different story. A thunderstorm hit right around noon, stuck around for a few hours and turned the fair's dusty dirt paths into a series of treacherous mud bogs. Some fair-goers left while others decided to stick it out and cheer every time the thunder rolled over head. I hung around long enough to catch the Nowhere Band cover The White Album with a group of performers from the Wanderlust Circus. The guy with the flaming, firecracker whip and the unicycle? Very entertaining.

If you click over onto KATU's brief rundown of the fair you'll find a slew of complaints in the comments section about the fair "selling out" and being overrun by suburbanite gawkers. I just started going a few years ago but I'm sure naysayers were muttering the same thing two decades ago. Rather than cover myself in mud and roam the fair alongside a traveling band of would-be Neanderthals, I stuck to the sidelines.

Maybe next year I'll get my freak-on proper. Regardless of these complaints, I'm happy to report that, even after two days at the fair, I still felt like a stranger in a strange land. And that feeling is why I'll probably be back again in 2010. During my time in Veneta, I watched a woman with a pumpkin on her head brave a storm, two musicians massage three people with the waves coming out of a pair of didgeridoos, a guy feed his pet parrot Thai noodles, a paint-covered woman allow a tourist from the south to take a photo of her provided "they won't put it on Facebook," and a band perform a cover of "Blitzkrieg Bop" on a giant stage in front of an empty field.

It's nice to know that, in the 21st century, there's still a place I can go and spend an uncomfortably long period of time explaining to a mud-covered man dancing in a puddle that the folks at the burrito stand have been trying to tell him his order is ready for ten minutes.

Many more photos of this year's fair can be found over here in a Flickr gallery.

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