I was a virgin at the 2013 Oregon Country Fair. It felt good to be a virgin, and my cherry status seemed to please a lot of fairgoers as well. I received innumerable high-fives, endless sweaty hugs and was told repeatedly, and in no uncertain terms, that being a Fair virgin was a blessing and a miracle on a par with earthly nirvana or winning the lottery. This proved true, sort of.
And, being a so-called Fair virgin, I was offered all kinds of advice before I ever entered “the dragon,” which is the structure adorning the Fair’s main admissions gate. In fact, I don’t believe a single Fair devotee, upon learning of my impending deflowering, failed to give at least one hint about what to expect, what to watch out for, what to try and what to do and categorically not do at Oregon Country Fair.
Most of this advice proved useful, if only by default. It’s difficult to know, for instance, if the advice to “never eat or drink anything you haven’t purchased or been given by someone you know” actually prevented me from being ushered into White Bird’s downer tent, where the Rock Medicine squad deals with crises of, among other things, the Woodstock/bad-acid variety. Perhaps. One thing I know for sure is that, save for a minor delusional flare up after hanging too long on the top steps of The Ritz sauna, I remained stone-cold sober for last year’s Fair.
I think they call what I experienced post-sauna — objects with a neon intricacy of detail normally not found in the real world — a flashback.
Anyhow, among the tidbits of advice I received pre-Fair:
Wear sandals in the community showers.
Don’t eat bananas; you’ll more readily attract mosquitoes.
Be prepared for an affliction called “Fair feet,” the symptoms of which include Hobbit toes, blisters the size of a silver dollar, strata of grime and dust around the ankles and a general appearance of trench foot.
Don’t make plans, but rather just tell everyone you will “stop by later,” i.e., never.
Be aware of “Fair time,” which approximates Mexico time and runs only slightly more efficiently than a broken clock.
Bring a flashlight.
Beware of black boogers.
Avoid the Saturday night Fair-family variety show at Main Stage.
Get coffee at Dana’s.
Get coffee at Liberty Coffee.
Get coffee at Get Fried Rice.
Don’t have sex with a girl named Phoenix.
Don’t dance with a guy named Wavy Wilbur.
Here I have a confession to make: I am pathologically judgmental of hippie-dippy bullshit, and so prior to the Fair what I anticipated on experiencing was a spectacle that fell somewhere between tragedy and farce. I expected OCF to reveal that fault line where ’60s idealism caved in to clownish consumerism, as cultural carpetbaggers and corn-pone punks made a hash of the vaunted Age of Aquarius.
Boy, was I wrong. Contrary to what cynical old-timers warned — that Fair has lost its spirit, that you can’t party anymore, it’s been sold-out and commercialized — I found OCF to be quite a blast, like walking through the looking-glass into some childlike alternate reality, part latter-day carnival and part elfin fantasy realm, all of it conjured by a dream team of kooky idiot savants and sly sprites.
Better to bloom late than never. What most impressed this first-time fairgoer was the abiding sense of wonder and fun that presides over OCF, the result of a long-standing and hard-won vision that goes utterly against the grain of our grinding everyday reality. For me, there was something sort of primitive and romantic about being at Fair and wandering ceaseless with the colorful crowds under the thatched vault of trees. It was like discovering a portal into another world that, like a firefly, burns bright and then disappears.