Monday, July 17, 2006

By Way of Explanation

Several people have pointed out that my entries about the Oregon Country Fair are missing more than a little back-story. I do apologize. I tend to forget that several different circles of friends read this blog, and not everyone is intimately familiar with all the details. M, R, and my old friend B know all too well what goes on at the fair, but for everyone else a small history lesson.

My parents moved from California to Oregon in the 1970s. They were fleeing the general ickiness of Los Angeles (I couldn't agree more!), and they thought that Oregon was a very refreshing kind of place. Having worked in silkscreen print shops in California (they met in one) printing seemed like a good business. I am not sure of the exact year they first went to the fair, but it must have been over thirty years ago. They took t-shirts in a number of different designs and sold them in a booth along the Long Tom River (I am not making that name up; you can check it on maps). In these first few years it was called the Oregon Renaissance Fair (or something like that) but it soon got sued by the California Renaissance Fair and had to change the name.

My parents' original booth fell into the river one winter, so we were relocated to a new section of the loop, and we have been in that same spot for more than twenty-five years. Booths consist of semi-permanent structures (the framework stays) made mostly from wood. There is a commercial portion out front and a hidden camping portion at the back. Vendors must try to avoid displaying "unnatural" looking things such as plastic. Virtually the entire fair is run by committee, so there are LOTS of exceedingly silly rules. One of my favorite overheard quotes ever was from one stoned hippie to another "dude, the fair used to be all about yes, yes, yes, but now it's just about no, no, no." Fortunately, the rules combine to make things work with such a huge group of people.

Fair family (staff, vendors, entertainers, etc) usually make up more than 5,000 people. Visitors are welcome during the day from 11am to 7pm, and the attendance is usually so good that they have to cap the number who can come. Most years 18,000 people PER DAY visit the fair. They come to eat as much as they can hold (there are more than 200 different food booths last time I checked) listen to music (there are more than ten different stages), look at the crafts, and just sort of soak up the, ahem, unusual atmosphere. Where else might you be accosted by giant chickens while looking at a topless woman painted blue?

Many people associate the fair with stoned hippies, and they do attend, but the bulk of people are just there to have fun. Allow me to just grab my goody-two-shoes from the closet. Ah, there we are now I've got them on, and they are just SO comfortable. I have never done drugs at the fair (or anywhere for that matter), and I really don't think I ever will. Drugs are bad m-kay. If you are not familiar with the fair this will seem like a digression but trust me it's not.

Moving on, the booths are all situated along a pedestrian-only path that is just barely wide enough for service vehicles. Only the very patient (or the very stupid) drive their goods in. Most people just park their cars outside the loop and haul stuff in by hand or by carts. This is a very heavy job, and it usually takes several people several hours to get everything unloaded. Once everything is in, we begin to set up the camp in the back and decorate the booth at the front. We use fabric (and this year a carpet) to decorate, and we hang t-shirts by size. When finished, the booth should look bright and welcoming with lots of fascinating merchandise. We can print just about anything on the t-shirts that is not under copy write. We've done dragons (very successful), medieval woodblocks (somewhat successful), and quotes from Ben Franklin (not very successful). Every year it is a challenge to think up something new.

Even with all the above, I think I can safely say that it is impossible to really describe the fair using words. Even pictures are only so helpful. It is a very unique experience to say the least. Some people love to visit, others can't stand it, and never want to go back. I am looking forward to my 27th visit next year.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


- The Drum Tower