Music in the Dust

Buskers go off the beaten path at the Fair

Real Oregon Country Fair-goers remember “Field Trips” with the Dead: the magical times when Kesey and his Merry Pranksters pranced around the grounds, ensuring every last face was stolen off Owsley’s freshest batch, coaxing you to slip into the oblivion of one of Jerry’s jams. Sounds molten just thinking about it.

 Shook Twins. Photo by Josh Latham.
Brokedown in Bakersfield. Photo by Andrew Quist.

OK, so maybe the memories are a little fuzzy for Fair family, but regardless, those times created the enchantment, funk and mystical energy that the Oregon County Fair holds to this day.

This year’s music stage lineup features offerings in the genres of folk, vaudeville, string band, jam band, jug band and rock from around the Northwest and the rest of the country. Names familiar to Eugeneans (Shook Twins, March Fourth Marching Band, Elephant Revival, Fruition, JGB) as well as newer faces (Brokedown in Bakersfield, Bear Feet, BrownChicken BrownCow, Hot Milk) are set to take the stage.

However, the many brilliant performers not acknowledged on formal stage lineups remain a Country Fair staple.

“We’ll always have buskers and what ends up happening is, say, I get over 200 applications for Ambiance, so I can’t hire everyone,” Fair Ambiance coordinator Ruth Pomplin says.

“I like to bring folks in that I like every two or three years,” Pomplin continues, “so what they’ll tend to do is if they can get a ticket to the Fair, they’ll come in and they’ll busk anyway.”

A beloved Fair band that wasn’t in rotation for a slot this year is Eugene and Portland’s own Bad Mitten Orchestre. This folksy vaudeville quintet — whose new record, Baby Gone Broke On Through, gets its CD release show July 21 at WOW Hall — has had quite the success at Fairs past, whether on stage, busking or otherwise.

“A lot of our true-blue fans, the number one thing they say is, ‘We saw you guys at Country Fair years ago and we just love the band and we’ve been following you guys around ever since,’” drummer Ian Haight says.

This year Bad Mitten will be sticking to the path, hard cases open and waiting for your rapt attention. You’ll have to seek out their mobile hoedown on your own, but word is they’ll be starting out at Darling.

Longtime busking and street-performance advocate and Seattle-based folk legend Jim Page will be, as usual, both taking the stage and roaming the path this year.

“The magic that happens when you’re [street singing] is that people who have no intention of seeing you, see you,” Page says. “If you’re lucky and play your cards right, if you know your trade, if everything is right, then they like what they see and they’re delighted by what they see.”

Page’s ability to captivate an audience with his songs of empowerment and revolution is well established, yet at times it’s his connection to an audience of one that proves just as, perhaps even more, powerful.

Recalling busking at Fairs past, Page tells the story of the time he was singing a song called “Oregon Landslide,” about the 1996 Roseburg landslide caused by a clearcut. Four people were killed.

“While I was playing,” Page says, “I noticed this guy 20 feet away or so, just standing there listening. And when I was done, he walked up to me and he said, ‘I knew those people. They were my neighbors, and I had not been able to cry until now.’

“He had no idea who I was,” Page recalls. “He would not have come to see me perform. He would never have known. But he simply stumbled across it.”

It is exactly these sorts of serendipitous encounters that reaffirm the magic that makes the Oregon Country Fair what it is.

“It’s a very important thing for people to do, to find their mode of expression and how to hone it, to flesh it out,” Page says. “And you can’t do that without practice. You can’t read it. There are no college courses. You have to do it. The Country Fair is great in that respect. It’s very accepting; it can be whatever you want.”

Mambo, Down and Dirty 

Sergio Mendoza Y La Orkesta has mastered the creation of flawless Latin and big-band sounds. The Tucson-based group thrives on kinetic energy, fast beats, a foundation in mambo and a knack for improvisation.

With keyboards, cowbells, maracas, trumpets, saxophone, accordion, timbales and drums, there’s a lot happening on stage. The energy is fierce and the music will have you grabbing a margarita and someone tall-dark-and-handsome to bust a move with.

“We are mainly a Latin big band,” Sergio Mendoza says. “We play mambo and cumbia, but with a bit of a psychedelic quality. There’s more usage of the pedals and different sound effects like extortion.”

The group’s sound possesses conventional elements that showcase each musician’s talent, but it does so with a twist of creativity that turns the music a little rugged.

“We will take the traditional mambo and just speed it up, play everything a little faster,” Mendoza says. “Almost with a punk-like attitude. It’s a little dirtier.”

Mendoza is currently touring solo with Devotchka, the band behind Little Miss Sunshine’s soundtrack.

If you are a fan of Latin music, or even if you’re not, the energy of Sergio Mendoza Y La Orkesta’s sound is sure to entice you, evoking smiles and maybe some dancing. “If people have fun along with us, there’s nothing better than that,” Mendoza says.

Sergio Mendoza Y La Orkesta plays 5:45 pm Saturday, July 14, at the Oregon Country Fair Main Stage. — Ali Enright

Dosio’s Dance Trance

Anyone accustomed to cruising the national festival circuit will tell you that Papadosio is the perfect band to set off a Friday evening crowd at the Oregon Country Fair. Wakarusa, Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza are just a few of Papadosio’s high-profile stomping grounds, where the band has made a name for itself as well as the trance-fusion livetronica style it commands. Sweat, dance and dust are elements these guys are more than accustomed to — that’s where they thrive.

Papadosio’s live show is a thumping dance party that inspires screams and undulation like no other. Take the psychedelic sound-layering of a band like PnumaTrio and mix it with the neo-jam-band quality of Sound Tribe Sector 9, and you might come close to pinpointing Papadosio’s musical aesthetic. Analog synthesizers mix with Hammond organs and ethereal guitar riffs to create a sound that some fans refer to, oxymoronically, as “earthy electronica.” No lie: The music is killer and contagiously danceable.

Anthony Thogmartin (guitar), Billy Brouse (vocals, keys), Rob McConnell (bass, vocals), Sam Brouse (vocals, keys) and Mike Healy (drums) don’t just pump out infectious groove sorcery when they play live; they also record clean-sounding albums that are well-worth picking up. Check out Observations (2009), By the Light of Stars (2008) or the group’s debut masterpiece, Magreenery (2007), if you need convincing — but you probably don’t. Chances are you know someone who went to a festi and danced her ass off to Papadosio — if not, catch this band on the main stage and you will be the one dancing.

Papadosio plays 5:15 pm Friday, July 13, at the OCF Main Stage. — Dante Zuñiga-West