Describing the Oregon
Country Fair in words is a little like trying to describe the ocean, or
the Milky Way
there's just too much going on to say it all! The Country
Fair (OCF) is so dynamic and multi-layered, that you truly have to go and see
for yourself to fully understand the Magic and Wonderment that is created in
Venita, Oregon on the second weekend of July each year. The folks who work year
after year to bring the OCF to life have discovered a perfect recipe that blends
a great variety of music, the best collection of arts and craftwork I've seen
at any single event in the United States. OCF boasts an amazing array of foods
from around the world, a brilliant collage of community and environmental activities,
and a festival setting that inspires magic like nowhere on Earth. And it takes
a HUGE amount of work
I tip my hat to these dedicated souls. This year's
Country Fair was more of the same sweetness I've grown to expect at the annual
event, only better, sweeter, and way more fun!
that you have been transported to another world - a world that appears to exist
mainly in the shape of a figure eight of tree-lined trails alongside a winding
river through the temperate Oregon countryside. Envision that the trails are
filled with art vendors, food vendors, some of the best hand-made craftwork
you've ever seen
And interspersed among the vendors are music stages,
musicians, and about 15,000 shiny, happy people
Well, make that shiny,
happy, and DIRTY people. Leave your cleanest silk threads at home, cuz the Country
Fair is all about down home, dirty happy fun. What makes the OCF so great is
definitely the collection of people that it brings together
most of whom
come year after year, without fail. The main figure eight of the fair footprint
would take about two hours to walk, and that's without stopping to peruse the
art, paintings, sculptures, musical instruments, parades, clothes, kaleidoscopes,
jewelry, ceramics, face painters, masks, novelty items, or anything other than
walking the trails. There's Energy Park, Community Village, Shady Grove, Chela
Mela Meadow, the Main Stage Meadow, Drum Tower, the Ritz (probably the world's
largest outdoor wood-fired shower and sauna facility, complete with an outdoor
fire pit and a grand piano for musicians to serenade drying guests), the Gypsy
Caravan Stage, the Youth Stage and more to distract you from your wandering.
This is all waiting with hundreds of beautiful people for you to meet and befriend.
OCF is truly one of the finest events I've ever been a part of, and I encourage
all who live with a curiosity to discover the Country Fair to go out and DO
The figure eight of the OCF Trail
The Oregon Country Fair is located 11 miles outside of Eugene, Oregon. The grounds
are constructed in a flood plain alongside the Long Tom River. Mid July in Oregon
can bring some high temperatures during the day, but the evenings are cool and
comfortable. The Fair is shaded by riparian trees and often cooled by a soft
summer breeze. There are pockets of activities all over the grounds, and it
is easy to get lost in one area of the Fair for an entire day. The only real
complaint I have about the Country Fair is that they haven't figured out how
to get the mosquitoes to take a vacation. With 15,000 sweaty bodies rushing
here and there each day, those bugs call in re-enforcements to make sure there's
enough blood suckers to cover us all. And yes, there can be DUST, lots of it.
Oh well. Well worth it for the magic you will find. The Fair is accessible to
people of all ages and abilities, and offers quiet activities as well as wild
ones depending on your mood.
One of the greatest elements of the OCF is the variety of music that is brought
together. There is a sizeable folk/folk-rock contingency among the artists the
Fair attracts (artists like Jim
Page, Shelley Doty,
and many more). AND, the Fair invites a great mosaic of musicians in the non-folk
genres. Hamsa Lila,
Wake the Dead (Celtic-Grateful
Dead music), the Laura
Love Band, Jambay
(re-united for a special appearance Saturday on the Main Stage), Taarka,
Higher Ground, Hot
Club Sandwich and dozens of other non-folk bands to rock us out, funk us up,
and take us on a magical mysterious tour through their library of hand-picked
songs. There's also an entire stage dedicated to the Gypsy music and dance contingency,
as well as the Shady Grove stage that is primarily set up for acoustic solo artists
and small groups to "wow" their audiences one act after another. Fair
favorites like Baby Gramps
and Artis the Spoonman
were of course on the scene to impress new and seasoned fans throughout the weekend.
Main Stage Music Meadow
Music at the Fair is EVERYWHERE: on stages, inside vendors' booths, in front of
vendors' booths, along the trails as people walk by, in the camps, in front of
the Fair, backstage in the Entertainment and Staff Camps, inside the Ritz next
to the fire pit
everywhere. The Country Fair is where I first met Joules
Graves singing her magic along the trails in 1995, and now she has become
one of the premier female singers in her genre. It's a place, not "Where
Everybody Knows Your Name," like at Cheers, but rather, "Where Everybody
Wants to Hear You Play!" There's a special kind of support for the professional
and amateur artist alike, where masters are teaching newcomers, and audiences
of all kinds will stop, listen and encourage folks to keep on doing their thing.
Jambay reunion concert on the main stage
ART AND CRAFT VENDORS
All in all, I have to say that the Country Fair brings together the best collection
of vendors of any other festival I've ever attended. I would guess that there
were at least 700 vendors in all; each offering something equally or even more
amazing and unique as the last vendor you saw. The artists represented use a multitude
of different media, including: canvas, clay, wood, metal, fabric, paper, clothing,
and more to bring the creative ideas from their mind into the physical world for
all of us to appreciate. Many of the folks I spoke with put off buying art, clothes,
furniture, or anything for their home all year, so they can buy the best of the
best from their friendly OCF vendors. Anything from pottery to paintings, fun
wears to formal-wear
the vendors at the Country Fair are ready and waiting
for you to beautify your home, your self, or your friend's home. It is a real
treat to wander the Country Fair trails looking for treats to buy for yourself
or your friends
or even just to look and appreciate the fine work of the
many vendors. All vendors at the Country Fair are required to make their goods
themselves, and rarely (if ever) are there duplicate products. I tip my hat to
the team in charge of coordinating the amazing vendors at the OCF. Save your money
before you go to the Fair, cuz you'll want to buy more than you ever imagined
by the time you get there!
One of the 700 exceptional craft vendors
All I can say about the Fair Food is that I waited with intense enthusiasm from
the moment I finished each meal until the time I was hungry again, because the
options for Indian, Mexican, Mediterranean, Italian, Greek, Thai, Desserts, Organic
fruit, American, and more were extraordinary. Breakfast foods were vast and voluminous.
Lunches and Dinners were served around the clock. Desserts could be found around
every turn. The people working at the 70 food booths were always fun and friendly,
and ready to serve up another plate of their yummy-ness. There was never a short
line (when I walked by) at Dana's Cheesecake, where they refused to tell
me how many cheesecakes they sold each year at the Fair (because I don't think
I could count that high)! I brought my own food to cook back at camp, but ate
at camp ZERO times over the course of the three-day Fair. Need I say more?
One of the many favorite food vendors
SPOKEN WORD ARTIST FOCUS: LAURA "PIECE" KELLY
One of the extra treats added to the Fair this year was a dynamic group of spoken
words artists who performed throughout the weekend. The amazing talent of Laura
"Piece" Kelly, spoke lyrically, poetically, politically, and without
fear twisted words and syllables into tales that made her audiences both think
and cheer with equal fervor. She spoke of governmental injustices, problems
involving class issues, and stories from her experiences as a young multi-racial
woman artist making her way in a world that is largely dominated by patriarchal
white folks. She told her "Piece" in a way that dazzled and inspired
crowds again and again to applause and cheer her on to her next story.
MUSICIANS ON THE TRAILS ARE EVERYWHERE
Besides the many stage performances to be found at the OCF, there are a tremendous
amount of "trail" musicians and performers who entertain all day long.
In fact, some of the best performances were presented right out in front of
your best friends' booth. Baby Gramps, ALO,
Jeremy Fisher, David Kelly and other youth performers could often be found hour
after hour playing songs, juggling knives, telling jokes or whatever it is that
they're talented at for all of our ring-side enjoyment. My favorite "trail"
moment was David Kelly (I imagine he's about 16 or 17 years old by now) juggling
three machetes while holding a foot-long dowel in his mouth, which had a spinning
top spinning at the end of it, all while balancing on a three-tier tower of
planks. Wish I had my camera for that one!
|A few of the Trail shows:
Young entertainers along the river
ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVISM AT ENERGY PARK
Energy Park is an area of the Fair dedicated to raising environmental awareness.
There are solar cooking workshops, booths with information on bio-diesel fuel,
sustainable agriculture, waste reduction, eco-friendly building, and many types
of alternative energy including solar power, wind power, geo-thermal and other
Tibetian Monk ceremony consecrating the new OCF Bridge
A SPECIAL BRIDGE DEDICATION
This year, a new footbridge was built at the Fair to accommodate the many Fair-goers.
Friday morning, to commemorate the new bridge, there was a special Tibetan ceremony
with three distinguished monks. A prayer was spoken, a song was sung, and blessings
were chanted to welcome this new structure into the Fair Family. About a hundred
of us were on hand to witness this special ceremony as the main gates opened
and the Fair began.
One of the great qualities of the Country Fair is how well it caters to children.
The Fair offers play structures for kids, face painting, kid arts and crafts,
kids' theater, kid music, kid foods, and tons of kid fun to keep kids amused
all weekend long while the Big Kids run around and play themselves. The entire
weekend you will see kids of all ages running rampant throughout the Fair doing
what they do best: Playing!
Instruments from around the world were on display, being played, and for sale
throughout the Fair. Guitars, flutes, sitars, banjos, dulcimers, hand-drums,
bells, marimbas, and more, all hand crafted and beautifully designed, were available
for purchase at a variety of vendors' booths.
Another exceptional quality of the OCF is the Signage. Sign makers make great
efforts to paint and post fun signs all over the Fair. Some signs read "Yes!
Yes! Yes!" simply to affirm the positive. Some signs helped people remember
to recycle. Other signs simply point you in the right direction, but do so with
such fun and abandonment, you forget where you were headed on the first place.
Don't worry, just follow your nose and you'll end up in the right place!
IN THE END, IT'S ALL ABOUT COMMUNITY
These happy fair-goers worked and played all weekend long.
Perhaps the most special element of the Country Fair is the kind of people
that it gathers together. Coming from all over the world, the people who come
to the Fair come to share an experience that can be duplicated nowhere, and
by no one. The Fair brings over 40,000 people together over the course of its
three-day run, people of every age from many different walks of life, but with
one thing in common: a love for each other. There are no fights, no grave acts
of thievery or aggression (that I've heard of), and no drunken warriors that
go around harassing sweet fairy folk who are bounding around the Fair being
as free and natural as they can be. I'm sure there are isolated events that
scar the Fair's near perfect record, but for the most part, the shiny happy
people that show up for Fair each year get to gallivant around the fair, sometimes
naked, sometimes painted, usually smiling, and always full of spirit and sparkles
whether it be the glitter on their faces, or the shimmer in their eyes. It is
a beautiful quality of community spirit that is replicated in few other places
I've ever been to. When you get to the Fair, be prepared to meet incredible
people, and know that you'll only meet the ones you're supposed to meet, cuz
another amazing quality of the Country Fair is that there is only enough time
to meet so many people, and the Magical Spirits who watch over the Fair usually
put you in front of exactly who you need to meet at exactly the right time.
For me it was a vortex of synchronicity filled with fun and fantasy around every
|See you next year at the Fair!
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