Monday, July 11, 2011

Faeries, Hobbits and Gnomes...Oh My! A Day at the Oregon Country Fair

One of the items on my bucket list was to experience the Oregon Country Fair.  Lest ye think that I am speaking about farm animals, carnival rides and baking contests...think again.  This is a slice of Oregon culture that occurs every year on the second weekend in July, near the town of Veneta, about 15 miles west of Eugene.  Started in 1969 by Ken Kesey and the Grateful Dead at a location in Eugene, it has grown to an event that plays host to more than 40,000 people over the Friday, Saturday and Sunday it is held.  I could wax on about this, but I will let you read for yourself at a couple of websites: and

Remember what I said about Oregon's "culture"?  Perhaps counter-culture is a more accurate term, and so it was as we entered through the gate...and into another world.

At the original fair held 42 years ago, fairgoers were asked to wear costumes (remember, this was the tail end of the "Sixties", the era of Woodstock, Oregon's own Vortex...and of course, the Vietnam War and associated protests).  The costume tradition has continued, and perhaps even blossomed into something truly you will see in the following images. 
Upon walking into this new world, our first encounter was with this...tall wolf. Apparently a friendly one who seemed unthreatening to the youngsters.

Children are very much a part of this fair experience and there was no shortage of things to do for them.  Everything from crafts to games and even strategically placed sanctuaries where one can nap. 

Of course, what little girl doesn't secretly want to be a fairy? 

...and don't many of us have a child within, wanting to express that same desire we had when we were little?

Perhaps the idea that one can become something different than what one is during the rest of the year is one of the appealing aspects of the fair?  When one considers what the "real world" seems to offer at times, why not?

Man has always been fascinated by fantasies and mythical creatures.  Look at the popularity of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings...and yes, we saw a few Frodos.

Aside from the visual treats one enjoys just watching other people, there were many venues offering entertainment.  Here is a juggling act (with knives) over four men forming a table by interlocking themselves in a square. 

The visual treats never ceased.  Butterflys and fairies were the most popular for women (like the one on the right, in black), and men seemed to favor leather kilts (on the left, walking behind the butterfly)

Hairstyles was yet another form of expression.  Green hair (or hairpiece) as is on the right seemed the norm for the weekend, but I did find the stacked "do's" like the one on the right pretty amazing.
Another venue offered pirate skits...and yes, somehow pirates did not seem incongruent at all.  We sat in on various speakers, some serious and some comical, and I especially enjoyed some of the poetry readings.
This couple would dance to music, only to suddenly stop in a frozen pose, until...yep, you guessed it.  Someone put some money in the basket and the music magically started again.  I thought these two were pretty cute.
Here is a hula dancer accompanied by a banjo...sort of the antithesis of dueling banjos.

This fair maiden somewhat epitomized so much of the fair...the flowers, the dress, the cape or robe..a carefree attitude.

This one fascinated us...and I'm not sure why??  (wink)  Perhaps it was the leather chaps missing the seat, or the sequined panties?  Maybe it was the purple hair topped with a sailor's cap.  We stood for a long time trying to decide if she was really a he (yes, there was definitely some gender bending going on)

What fair isn't complete without some body paint?  While most went with designs on their faces, there were some who chose paint as a covering rather than those pesky fabrics...clothes can be so confining!  Joking aside, it was pure delight at the lengths people went to express themselves.  I think the freedom to decorate, to dress and to "be" to their heart's desire is both exhilerating and refreshing.

 ne of the biggest draws are the hundreds of craft booths throughout the fair, with everything from pottery to jewelry to musical instruments, such as the hand-carved guitar above.  The artwork was amazing.

A recurring theme is to dress as one wants, limited only by one's imagination.  Even some of the men that guided us to our parking spot when we arrived were dressed in...dresses. 

Yet underneath this playfulness is a deep commitment to being green, which was a hallmark of the fair from the very beginning 42 years ago.  Preparations for the fair begin a week before with cleanup from the previous winter's floods of the nearby Long Tom River (as it does every year), and much of the work is done by volunteers.  Much of the food is local and organic (and yes, meat was available...I was happy!), and the plates, cups and silverware are all washed and reused.  There is very little waste that enters the landfill.

Scattered throughout the fair are signs, with quotes or sayings...some pithy, some funny, and then some that seem at first to be somewhat non-sensical...until one ponders it a little more.  The one above took a little bit to sink in for me, especially in light of what seems like general wackiness and play...and much of that certainly is, but there is a touch of truth as well.  Despite what we look like, or how we try to portray ourselves and make each of us distinct from one another, we are basically related. 

We went into this experience without any pre-conceived notions and certainly without prejudices (or as much as we possibly can, given our human nature).  I came away with a new appreciation for not taking ourselves very seriously.  This was indeed pure delight...and a little magical. 

1 comment:

Aloha Lucy said...

Very enlightening, Paul! I just came back from a visit with John. We saw Toronto Island and went onto Montreal! We had a great time! Love Lucy