Oregon Country Fair – Eugene, Oregon Travel Guide

Oregon Country Fair


A long, long time ago (well, 1969), on some privately-owned Oregon land that was far, far out, a bunch of hippies decided to have a party.

And not just any party, a fair. And the land wasn’t just any land – it was Fairyland. And it has been ever since. Well, more or less. The original fair was held out in west Eugene, but after a few years moved to its permanent location, in the woods along the Long Tom River, in Veneta, just outside Eugene.

For one lucky Friday, Saturday and Sunday in the second week of July, the children of the 60s and the new-age, neuvo, and newfangled hippies of the 80s, 90s and 00s come from all over Oregon, the U.S. and the world for the Oregon Country Fair. What’s it all about? As self-described in their all-things-Fair newsletter, the Peach Pit, "The Country Fair is fertile ground in which to incubate an exploration of this cultural shift, of what it means to cultivate a life of the imagination, to be cultural creatives, Merry Pranksters, holy fools in all we do."

I can go with that.

Along with many others, one of the merriest of the Merry Pranksters, the late activist, writer, and community member Ken Kesey, helped establish and sustain the Fair. Today, driving in from Eugene to the Veneta site (or busing in, as I did, taking advantage of the free local bus shuttle that runs between OCF and downtown Eugene), you can even see the restored "FURTHR" bus that Kesey and his band of Merry Pranksters drove around the U.S. during the 60s.

Today, Fair is a 3-day city, a community where everyone can be involved: in booths, in entertainment; people come costumed, and yes, if you’ve heard stories about women walking around bare-chested save for some interesting paintjobs, there is some of that too. But there’s also music, from all sorts of genres, as well as presentations, such as a talk from spiritual leader Ram Dass. On the unseen side of things, though, it’s not all fun, and like any city, Fair also tackles its share of "urban" problems. This year, for example, the OCF strove to reduce waste as much as possible, through an emphasis on recycling, biofuels, and composting. Their goal: despite over 50,000 visitors coming through in 3 days, to have at max one dumpster of waste.

It’s a great place for crafts, especially as selection criteria are strict, mandating quality hand-made goods. With over 60 food booths, you won’t go hungry. Between the people-watching, the path-walking, the booth-browsing, the music-playing, and all the performances happening both on and off the stage, if you can’t find something fun to do, well, maybe you’d have a better time hanging around places where wet paint is drying.

I’m the Last F$@%ing One!
A friend of mind volunteered at Fair, and after she returned to Eugene filled me in on some of the goss and happenings. One example: a bunch of people were sitting in front of a stage, and one gentleman, who’d apparently been dropping a little too much acid, was sitting amongst the crowd, tweaking and twitching and looking very intently at things that most other people probably didn’t think were there. Around him, people chatted, sat on the grass and enjoyed the day.

Suddenly, my friend said, this person stood up and shouted, "I’m the last one! I’m the last fucking one!"

Then he sat back down, and didn’t say another word.

Do Not Jump on the Glowsticks
My friend didn’t know if our man had been indulging in his chemicals before he arrived at Fair, or if he had been staying over. No one would be surprised if he had been staying the night at Fair, because, see, what goes on during the day – officially a drug and alcohol free event, by the way – is but second to what goes on at night.

There are 2 ways to go to fair: as a "tourist", someone who buys a ticket and is there for the daytime, official festivities, or as part of the "fair family": volunteers, performers, booth workers, etc. There is also an unofficial "third way": as a "tourist who has really good connections with the fair family and who gets smuggled in for the after-dark parties."

And oh my, there are some serious parties.

From what I hear-tell, anyway. I wouldn’t know first-hand. I was just a tourist, with a one-day ticket. When Fair closes around 7pm, the staff sweeps over the dirt paths of the fair city, shoo’ing out daypassers and people who lack the much-coveted wristbands that say "yes, I am partying, er, camping here tonight". Once the grounds are emptied, the fun begins. And I’ll just leave it to your imagination to define "fun".

One funny part, however, is what my friend called "the glowstick trap." Fairyland is back in the woods, so at night of course, it gets really dark. People are partying, wandering around, and nighttime is also a lovely time to stumble, er, have a walk around the paths in the woods. This is where, as my friend described it, the whole thing turns into Vietnam meets a rave.

Wanna play a good nighttime joke? Here’s what ya’ do: get a glowstick (one of those neonish green ones). Tie a long piece of string to one end. Set the glowstick in the middle of the path, remembering that it will be one of the brightest things out there. With the other end of the string in your hand, hide in the bushes. Wait.

One of my other friends, he admitted with a head bowed in shame, was caught by a glowstick trap. After partaking in plenty of his own shares of partying, he went for a walk, saw a glowstick, and jumped for it – at which point the people hiding in the bush pulled the string, snapped the glowstick out of reach, and giggled immensely as my chemically bewildered friend wondered what the hell had just happened.

It makes me wish I’d started early enough on working some connections, to get myself smuggled in.

But there’s always next year, and I plan to come home with a few glowsticks.

For more information on the Oregon Country Fair, go to: www.oregoncountryfair.org. If you go to Fair, you need to purchase your tickets in advance. Tickets are not available at the Fair site, and don’t let anyone tell you different. As of this writing (in July 2002), if you would like to be smuggled into a future fair, start now. Good luck, and remember: do not jump on the glowsticks.

What else can you do in a Eugene July?

  • Art and the Vineyard
  • Oregon Bach Festival
  • Oregon Country Fair


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