Every Summer in the woods outside of the little town of Veneta, Oregon – hordes of hippies, puppeteers, musicians, acrobats, nudists, herbalists, and assorted other oddballs assemble for a spectacular show unlike any other – The Oregon Country Fair. For three days there are concerts, dance, homemade soap vendors, and the heavy smell of patchouli and marijuana in the air. Part Burning Man, part Woodstock, part backwoods Oregon country life – the event brings upwards of 50,000 people making it, by some estimations, Oregon’s 13th largest city for three days each year. The rest of the year, it doesn’t exist except as some trails in the woods.
The OCF starts on the 2nd Friday of July each year. The fair has been going in the same location since 1970 (back in the 70s it was called the Oregon Renaissance Fair). While bands such as the Grateful Dead have played the OCF, it is more about the community of creative people than the concerts – there are costumes, busking, outdoor demonstrations, and even an Eco Village where energy and environment saving practices are demonstrated and encouraged. There is a lot of nudity at the fair – though technically, only toplessness is permitted. Much like the marijuana use – it is a part of the fair that is not discouraged while not being encouraged either.
To get into the fair, you need tickets and they must be purchased in advance. There are no ticket sales on site to discourage beggars and scalpers. Costumes are encouraged and you can bring your own snacks but part of the fun comes from the many exotic food choices available – everything from Pakistani kebab to gluten free donuts with a wide array in between.
We’ve been to the Oregon Country Fair twice – the last time, I admit that I was bothered by the aggressive tip collection by several of the performances we watched…a ticket to the OCF gets you into every performance in the fairgrounds…so the acts are working free or for tips – I’m fine with the tipping, but felt a bit overwhelmed and cornered this last time around…and it may keep me from going again. Time will tell. When you go in, the greeters always say ‘Welcome Home’ and it does feel like home – it’s a welcoming, loving, and nurturing environment for creativity (aggressive tip collectors aside).
I’ve been told that the Oregon Country Fair is best when you are one of those performing, vending, or helping to set up or take down the fair. The fair is open to the public only during daylight hours – before it opens and after it closes is when the real community takes place. I can only imagine and hope that maybe one day, I’ll get the chance to experience what the OCF is like ‘backstage’.
Like Burning Man, it isn’t for everyone – but I do think it is something that everyone should experience at least once. Tickets for the Oregon Country Fair will go on sale in April…I’ll probably see you at the fair.