Tyson Motsenbocker, Staff Writer
Issue date: 10/21/08
All the signs in front of the hotels between Colville and Republic in
Washington state read something along the lines of "Welcome Hunters,
No Vacancy." While the deer season opens in some of the wildest land
in Washington, over 10,000 people are migrating through to find their
way to the 34th annual Okanogan Family Faire. In Republic, a group of
individuals wearing orange vests and camoflauged ballcaps sit to
cheer on the hordes of unique vehicles making their way to the valley
in the Okanogan highlands that the Faire calls home.
In 1973, a group of like-minded individuals created the Faire in
order to gather together during the fall and trade tools, foodstuffs
and other items for the winter. At the time, the Faire was a simple
way for many of the nomadic and stationary people of the Hippie
generation to gather and trade unneeded items for needed ones – it
was a simple act of nesessity.
The Faire quickly gathered cultural traditions and values, such as
antiestablishmentarianism, world peace and brotherly love. In its
origin, the Faire was an event created out of nessesity. Today, the
ideals upon which the Faire was based stand, but the nessesity has long gone.
Marking the way up the steep, dusty road to the flat where the Faire
is held are a series of multicolored signs. The signs read "Peace,"
"Take care of one another" and "Welcome, you're family now."
The vehicles climbing up the hill next to them are no less colorful.
Many look to be from another generation entirely. A multicolored
school bus with a drum kit nailed to the roof for instance.
Soon after follows a small army of Volkswagen buses, an ancient,
unrecognizable station wagon riddled with political bumper stickers
and a 1970s double decker tourbus converted to a café. License plates
on the slow moving vehicles range from the Alaska's Yukon to
California, Virginia to Mexico.
Farther up the road is the burned out carcass of an old car. A group
of young people surround it, singing Bob Dylan songs and smoking
cigarettes. At the entrance is a man with a white beard and a kilt
selling tickets for ten dollars a piece.
From the hill overlooking the Faire the plain circular plan of the
booths is visible. The layout resembles a target with a circular
clearing in the center, working it's way out into the campsites at
In the day-parking lot a mass of people lounge around their
respective cars, gathering barter goods or putting the finishing
touches on the wares they hope to trade. During the day these
campless traders will walk from booth to booth to trade goods.
Any number of goods for any size price or barter can be found lining
the narrow walkways. Alumnus and Barter Faire veteran AJ Hanenburg
has visited the Okanogan Faire three times.
"I've seen everything up for sale there. Lots of organic perishables,
bicycles, tools, antiques, garbage," Hanenburg said. "I've seen
people walking around with fish tanks full of buds of [marijuana] for
barter. You can find just about anything."
Indeed, as Hanenburg points out, the drug culture is quite prevalent.
It would be unusual to go over an hour without being propositioned to
buy or sell drugs. It would be even more unusual to go an entire day
at the Faire without someone putting a burning joint in your face, he said.
Just because the Okanogan Family Faire has the word "family" in its
title doesn't mean it's rated G. Despite the clear rules and
regulations barring drug use and encouraging a family atomosphere,
the free love and mental expansion movement of the late '60s
continues to play a big role in the culture of the Faire. Considering
the virtual nonexistance of any form of security, one has to wonder
if these rules are more like suggestions.
Once the sun goes down, the Faire changes form. Instead of the
peaceful, albiet slightly smoky farmers market it represents during
the day, it becomes a wild celebration. Marking the various
intersections of the Faire stand small "hospitality fires." These
fires offer refuge to the roaming nightlife of the Faire.
Often there will be a large pot of community stew or soup which the
caretakers of the fire provide to the wandering public. Other
hospitality fires will host live music or storytelling.
The wilder side of the Faire can be found in the center of the
circle. A large pile of wood which is gathered during the day,
becomes a flaming inferno of a fire upon sundown. Surrounding the
fire is a layer of dancers, a layer of drummers and a large group of
onlookers. The drumming and dancing is known to continue through the night.
The Okanogan Family Faire, although notably rough around the edges,
is a one-of-a-kind event. Because the Faire is located on private
land and run by a private organization, many unique things happen
there. The hippie movement has long been rendered dead by most. Even
many of those who sympathized with the movement in its prime have now
grown apart from the revolutionary ideals that made it historic.
The Okanogan Faire and others like it stand as signposts to a bygone
era. Upon a little searching, it is possible to stumble upon some
true gems of American culture, and rarely are such dramatic examples
of alternative culture availible in such near proximity to Spokane as
the Okanogan Family Faire is.
Contact Tyson Motsenbocker at firstname.lastname@example.org.