Oregon Country Fair – Lane County

The Oregon Country Fair – Almost 50, but still rousing and all weekend fun!  The Oregon Country Fair had its start back in 1969, and was known as the “Oregon Renaissance FaIre” until about 1977.  Two years from now, the fair will celebrate it’s 50th anniversary.  Somehow despite all the years and people that have passed through the event the OCF has still retained its juice.  The original “Faire” was held in November 1969, and was billed as a “Craft Faire” to raise funds to assist a The Children’s Community School, an alternative school in the area.

Though the years, the original “Faire” has evolved and changed, morphed and grown to its current epic attendance of about 45,000 over the 3 day run in early July.  Big changes occurred in 1972 and also 1982 when the Country Faire hosted concerts by the legendary Bay area band, The Grateful Dead.

Amazingly, you can find a video disk of that long ago 1972 concert at the Eugene library, or even buy it from a collector.

Look here:

Sunshine daydream [sound recording] : Veneta, Oregon, August 27, 1972
by Grateful Dead (Musical group)
… Sunshine daydream [sound recording] : Veneta , Oregon, August 27, 1972 / Grateful Dead . …
Publisher, Date: Burbank, CA : manufactured by Rhino Entertainment Company, p2013.
Description: 3 sound discs : digital ; 4 3/4 in. + 1 videodisc (ca. 102 min. : sd., col. ; 4 3/4 in.)
Call Number: MM-CD MA GRAT

It’s a great buzz to look at the video from those long ago days, and marvel at the community effort needed to make a concert site out of a woody field in Veneta Oregon!

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The really unique thing about the OCF seems to be it’s huge cadre of volunteers, and the ability of the organizers and volunteers and paid staff to mobilize everyone to begin working early in the spring to repair and ready the site for the July event.   Then essentially reinvent themselves each year to address all of the opportunities to learn and grow and adjust for the next years event.

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As a visitor to the OCF for many years, I perceive it is a kind of freewheeling street party of the sort that your hear people bragging about, but rarely actually happens.   Mardi Gras – Perhaps.  From the time the free bus arrives from the downtown bus station accompanied by the cheers and shouts of the costumed greeters, you realize..”Whew..this is going to be GREAT.”  Once inside the gate it is like the worlds largest conga line with costumed visitors, painted ladies and men, dragons marching through the woods, acrobats and drummers and quiet musicians and an amazing cacophony of food and crafts and opportunities to while away your afternoon.

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Most everyone knows there are many layers to the fair.  Two obvious ones are the visitors and staff and volunteers.  Yes, Virginia, there is another whole OCF that begins after the last bus has left the meadow in the evening.  But that is another story.  I caught up with one of the volunteers who generously agreed to be interviewed for this story, and here are her answers to my stumping questions.

Lets just call our interviewee The Faithful One due to her many years with the fair..

1. How long have you been involved with OCF? My first fair was 1977 and I haven’t missed one since.

2. How did your role change through the years at OCF.  I started out as a volunteer with white bird, then joined community village, then joined the board, then an employee.  I’ve been on staff for years.

3. How is the modern OCF different than the first years?  I wasn’t actually there for the first years, but it’s certainly gotten bigger in many ways. more land that we now own, more volunteers, more booths, more performers, more visitors, and we have 7 paid staff.

4. What are the top 10 reasons people should come to OCF?

In no particular order:

  1. Unparalleled fun
  2. Delicious food
  3. Parades
  4. Vaudeville
  5. Rock and roll
  6. Thoughtful discussions
  7. Surprises at every turn
  8. Sweet acoustic music
  9. Beautiful, handmade crafts sold by local artisans support homegrown businesses!
  10. Color everywhere in all forms

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5. How many volunteers and others are needed to make OCF work every year.  We have about 3,000 volunteers, 1000 folks who work in booths, 7 full-time employees. many, many community partners and supportive neighbors.

6. Is this a family friendly event?  Absolutely. There are lots of things for kids to do and be awed by: parades, face painting, play areas, music, play structures.  It’s a children’s paradise.

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7. Whats the most difficult part of your role?

Being asked how to get a pass and knowing I can’t help in that department.  I guess it’s also a gift to know so many people want to participate in the fair.

8. Who has the toughest job at the Oregon country Fair?  Besides, the staff – I would guess the crew that cleans out the 6-packs (permanent bathrooms) and the recycling crew. oh, hell, they all work hard.

9 Whats the best memory you have from all the years?  I’m sorry this isn’t a satisfactory answer, but after 40 years, there are too many to mention.  Maybe dancing till dawn at the drum tower, but, really, the many, many relationships I’ve built with truly amazing, visionary people.

10. Any parting thoughts?  We’ll be celebrating our 50th anniversary in a couple of years and the plan is to keep going for at least another 50.

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A small note of caution.  there are some people at the fair who seem to have forgotten to bring some of their clothing, so you have to be prepared for that.

For example I love cookies, especially the delicious Oatmeal raison and peanut butter ones sold by vendors at the OCF.  I was surprised however when I bought a cooking to see that my waitress had forgotten some of her garments.  I will never forget that cookie – very tasty.  The OCF is a wondrous great fun weekend – and like life, you see and celebrate what you want to see and celebrate.

I find Fridays to be the best day of the 3 day weekend run as the crowds are less.  Be sure to save yourself a hassle, and take the bus from downtown Eugene.  I’ll see you at the fair!

5-HeyWillamettes

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