A couple of years ago, near a town called Veneta about 15 miles west of Eugene, I attended the Oregon Country Fair
. I was there presenting my book The Far Out Story of Vortex 1
I'll be blunt: the morning gig sucked and not because most of the audience seemed, well, a little "unprepared" to hear the tale of the only state-sponsored rock festival in American history, an event staged in 1970, a year after OCF began (it was called the Renaissance Fair back then).
No, my presentation didn't soar because 18,000 visitors and 18,000 fair volunteers/ vendors grooving in a glade on an Oregon summer day does not make for a great literary venue.
Who cares? It does make for something else much cooler and quintessential Oregon.
At the fair's gate, a woman clad in a pink boa barked out greetings to the steady stream of visitors who paid approximately $20 a head to park and attend the event. What that adds up to is an impressive $1 million annual gross for an official non-profit counterculture venture that has given away almost $350,000 through its charitable foundation in the last decade and pushed the science on how to hold a massive public gathering and tread lightly on the land.
When you consider the army of volunteers, vendors, and artists enlisted to stage OCF, and how expertly a core group is running this staggeringly complex logistical operation, it surely explains why I noticed a vehicle with Department of Defense license plates in the parking lot: the military must be considering new ways to improve the Occupation in Iraq.
There is simply nothing else like this in the country, and the brain trust at OCF do what they do so well, that a couple of years ago, the Oregon State Fair folks initiated an unprecedented partnership between the state and a counterculture entity to revive the state fair's dismal, perpetually money-losing, but taxpayer-subsidized, fortunes. If anyone can save the antiquated Oregon State Fair, it's a bunch of entrepreneurial hippies from the Willamette Valley who are also leading this state's organic food revolution.
Now if they could just elect a few of themselves to the legislature. They simply can't do any worse than the so-called Democrats who control both houses today. And we might actually come to our senses in this state, legalize marijuana, and forget about our budget woes for all time.
Inside the gates, the psychedelic magic unfolded, often with three generations of a family hanging out together, eating some coconut milk ice cream, checking out the freaks on stilts, and practicing what used to be called brotherhood. I would give my life to arrange a forced parachute drop of former Vice President Dick Cheney into OCF. A couple of hours in there might reconstitute his soul or induce a spontaneous self-combustion, and either development would be good for the world.
There were the crafts, clothes, hemp this, hemp that, food, puppet shows, paganism, alternative energy exhibits, costumes, the insane drum circle, music from around the world, storytelling, topless chicks learning how to hula-hoop, and the dude wearing nothing but a thong, which doubled as a means of storing his cell phone.
On the main stage, the Zen Tricksters channeled the Grateful Dead and closed their show with "Box of Rain" and "Sugar Magnolia," and I sure wish I could find a woman who "takes the wheel when I see double/ and pays my ticket when I speed."
Thousands danced in the sun on the grass and some spirit in the sky moved the dude to remove his thong. We were all stoned at the Oregon Country Fair, but not in a way that is currently and preposterously against the law.
Well, some of us weren't.
I sold one book that day.
This July 10th, 11th, and 12th marks the 40th anniversary of the Oregon Country Fair and according to their website, the Nowhere Band will "perform the whole Beatles' White Album in its entirety!!" Outside. In a meadow!
If you live in Oregon or anywhere near Oregon and haven't attended, then you simply have to go. There is nothing like this in the world.