“This is a labor of love, but we continue to do it because it is something we really believe in,” Wren Arrington says about White Bird Clinic’s Rock Medicine program — RockMed for short — which is the principal medical facility and health provider at Oregon Country Fair.
Arrington is White Bird’s event coordinator, a role that includes supervising, organizing and doing a chaotic logistical dance for the RockMed program, which is a fundraising project for the low-income, nonprofit health care provider.
White Bird uses the proceeds raised by RockMed’s medical and crisis services to support the year-round efforts of the organization in the Eugene and Springfield areas. RockMed can be found at concerts and festivals around the state, most recently having a presence at Garth Brook’s Autzen Stadium show June 29.
The majority of us, however, will recognize White Bird’s RockMed program from Fair, where its existence is ever-growing, and also where the roots of the program began.
Arrington has 25 years of service with White Bird and has been involved with the Rock Medicine program for that duration; this is certainly not his first Fair. The preparation for an event the size of OCF is lengthy, with Arrington himself living onsite (officially) since June 1.
The work began even earlier than that, though, back in April of this year. With the snowstorm and early spring flooding, the damage to the grounds was extensive. And when the volunteers arrived to start grounds cleanup and repairs, so did White Bird.
A decade ago, there was not an official pre-Fair period, and Arrington sought out ways to return “home” earlier — hence a need for pre-Fair medicine was found. With crews coming on site to do a variety of preparations and construction, people get hurt, and the Fair needs to be prepared for that.
Rock Med’s presence pre-Fair “creates a safety net for when it’s needed,” Arrington says. The majority of the treatment provided before the event is typical first aid, though Arrington said there have been a couple ambulance runs this year.
Every service rendered by White Bird, including simple first aid, follows a unique compassionate care model.
Arrington speaks with pride when discussing the care he is involved in bringing to Fair-goers. The model centers on the human connection.
“We want those in our care to feel the warmth,” he says, “and that rare person-to-person connection — a connection which is often lost in the rush of traditional medicine. We want people to feel loved.”
The RockMed booths are staffed with a team of highly dedicated and trained volunteers. They follow a blended model and staff both crisis and medical workers.
This year, White Bird has an extra project to work on before the Fair opens.
For 50 years, White Bird has had its home in Fair right next to the Main Stage meadow. For the past couple years, in addition to the seasoned “meadow” location, White Bird has staffed a second booth in the newer Xavanadu area of the Fair-grounds. This booth is aptly named “Little Wing,” after the Jimi Hendrix song, and mirrors the original booth in services and care.
Rock Medicine is expected to raise an astounding $150,000 to $200,000 this year to support current White Bird services, and their expansion plans include a new walk-in clinic for the unhoused, un/underinsured and low-income individuals in the area.
Arrington says that RockMed is one of those rare instances where you really get two things for the price of one: providing compassionate human-centered care that supports OCF, and raising money to support a wide range of services for the most vulnerable members of our broader community.
RockMed’s existence at Fair allows the creation of space where people can really let loose, and be safe in doing so.
For Arrington, the overall involvement is very fulfilling and personal. People seek him out a year after he has provided care to thank him, and sometimes tell him how he changed their lives.
“I’m an old hippie and, for me, this is the closest thing I have to a spiritual path. It just feels right,” Arrington says.
When asked if he was ready for another 50 years, he chuckled, then gave an enthusiastic laugh, but also made a mention of passing the torch to his 35-year-old son and young grandson.
Eugene Weekly will be catching up with Wren Arrington again during the fair to catch a glimpse of the weekend shenanigans. Stay tuned. For more on RockMed go to whitebirdclinic.org/rockmed.