Oregon Country Fair turns 40
Jul 7, 2009
By Tom Adams
VENETA, Ore. - Norma Sax pilots the golf cart down a narrow forested
lane, wooden structures rising from the grass like a forest village
amidst the din of hammers and saws.
"Anybody near the kayak guy?" she calls into her radio.
Sax isn't looking for a tee time: The Oregon Country Fair volunteer
has lent her energy to the "party with a purpose" for over three decades.
"This is the most creative, artistic, intelligent, loving, open group
of people I've ever known," Sax says, "and I want to be more like that."
All that sawing, hammering and setting up going on near the Long Tom
River west of Eugene can mean only one thing: Time for the Oregon
Country Fair, which celebrates 40 years of art, music and community this year.
"We are basically reflecting on the past," said Marcus Hinz, the
fair's new executive director. "Reflecting and revisiting the
original values of the fair, how it all started."
The fair started in 1969, the year of Woodstock, the Age of Aquarius
and men walking on the moon.
What began as a barter and craft fair to raise money for an
alternative school has grown, four decades later, into a medley of
crafts, food, dance and music.
"It's the creation of community, the giving of permission to be
creative," said Doug Green, the fair's assistant manager.
The fair is also the result of hard work by about 4,000 volunteers
who make it happen, Green said.
The three-day party opens Friday. All tickets must be purchased
off-site. [See URL for link.]
Attendance is capped at 18,000 people for the fair each day.
People headed to the fair are encouraged to take Lane Transit
District shuttles to beat the traffic jams.
An enchanting family affair
The Oregon Country Fair has become a magical experience for multiple
by Emily Gillespie
PUBLISHED ON 7/6/09
It started out like most things: with an idea. In 1969, Bill and
Cindy Wooten started the Oregon Country Fair as a way to make money
for an alternative school. Today, the fair has grown to accommodate
nearly 45,000 people, maturing to cater to an audience beyond the
hippie counterculture of the '60s that began it - locals looking
for some summer fun and tourists from all over the country.
There from its inception, Mary Wagner has been involved with the fair
in one way or another every year, tallying more than half her life as
the fair celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. "I first got
involved from knowing Bill and Cindy," Wagner said. "The fair started
as idealism. The idea of coming together and supporting each other in
celebration, supporting some of the more positive ideals of the
hippie counterculture of the '60s."
Wagner is an elder, an honored title that signifies she has worked at
the fair for at least 20 years and is older than 55. Wagner wrote the
bylaws for the fair, helping it become a nonprofit corporation.
As it celebrates this important milestone in its history, many look
back on the growth the fair has experienced over the years. Roxanne
Wergeland was only a month old when her mother first took her to the
country fair. She described the experience of being a child at the
fair as a kind of utopia.
"It was such a magical, awesome place," she said. "We'd make new
friends. It was an escape from our real life and from normal people.
It was really kind of cool."
Growing up, her mother made money selling crafts at festivals. She
was a seamstress, among other things, and had a booth at the fair
where she sold her handmade treasures.
"When I was about 13, she asked us how we could be a part of the
fair." Wergeland said. "We had to find something to do." Joining the
teen crew, Wergeland began her more active leadership role in the
fair and is now the registration co-coordinator.
This year, her decision to participate didn't come as easily as it
used to. "This year I had some hesitations," she said. "It's not the
same fair it used to be. It's such a big place and a big creation;
it's not always the safe wonderful utopia it was when I was a kid."
Her decision to remain a part of the fair's production came from her
proactive attitude. "I can't complain about something if I'm not
going to be a part of the change," she said.
Louise Lumen echoed Wergeland's thoughts about the growth in the
number of fair-goers. "It takes a little bit of the magic away, in
other ways it makes the magic bigger," she said. Living on the East
Coast, Lumen started going to the fair when she would visit her dad
in Oregon for the summers. "I didn't understand really anything of
it, for me it was just a fun vacation," she said.
"My first real and solid memory as a kid is that it was the one place
that I could disappear for the day," she said. "I remember a sense of
freedom at the fair that I didn't get elsewhere."
Now, having joined the production side of the fair and with a
two-year-old daughter, she embraces the new perspective she has of
the annual Veneta-based event. "It's definitely a bigger scene now,"
she said. "My family's growing while the fair is growing."
At the same time, she understands that change is inevitable. "It
seems unusual to stay the same as it was 40 years ago," she said. "I
feel really blessed to be a part of the magic."
Wergeland admits that the feel of the fair comes partly from her
coming of age. She still plans to pass along the Fair to her
four-year-old son Zack. Although the crowd control has become a
daunting task, she reiterates that the fair will remain a part of her
life. "I really love the fair so much," she said. "It's a uniquely
Although the fair has changed in many ways, Wagner draws attention to
the fact that the fair has remained true to its original goal. "It
(still) has a large fundraising endeavor every year," she said. The
fundraising benefits projects associated with arts, environmental and
social justice, and this year is geared more toward youth. "For me,
every year it's kind of the rejuvenation of the idealism and
spiritual satisfaction," she said.
Oregon Country Fair
Where:24550 Chickadee Lane, Veneta, Oregon
When:July 10-12, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
How much:$18-$21 in advance, $26 at the gate (one-day) $48 for three-day pass
How to get there:The Lane Transit District is offering free rides to
the fair with your ticket. For more information, visit the fair's Web
site at oregoncountryfair.org.