Since 1969, the Oregon Country Fair has historically taken place in Veneta, just 30 minutes outside of Eugene. It’s an Oregon staple, with people coming from all over for the three-day summer event.
This year, things are going to look different. Due to COVID-19, the OCF staff had to make the tough decision of cancelling the Fair for the first time since its inception 51 years ago. However, that isn’t stopping the community from coming together to make it happen — virtually. And no, it’s not on Zoom.
Instead of hosting the festival at the Fairgrounds, it’ll be all online, a 3D version of the annual Fair — OCF without all the dust, and with free entry for everyone.
Typically, Fair attracts more than 45,000 people each year, with tickets about $30 per person per day, and brings in a lot of revenue for local crafters, vendors and artists. However, with a limited budget from lost ticket sales, the staff had to get creative.
One way to “attend” Fair this year is the “m8trix,” a 3D interactive platform created primarily by game developer Chris Calef and several other volunteers.
Calef took on the task of creating an online version with only weeks to go. He spends a lot of time working with virtual worlds at his day-job, using terrain data from the real world to craft digital models. He decided to make a 3D model of the Fairgrounds, an interactive platform where people could actually “walk” around. Calef started designing the landscape on his own, but a few other volunteers jumped on board quickly. Soon after, dozens of people came in to add things to the virtual space.
Logging on, you’ll notice a familiar setting. You can see the grass, the trees, the iconic river, the wooden booths and even the giant peach tree at the center. But things feel different. It’s a Minecraft-esque version of the beloved Fair, and instead of running around in the hot sun, you’ll be using the left, right, up and down arrows on your computer.
Fairgoers will be able to visit OCFInTheClouds.Net July 10-12 to explore, and perhaps even get lost, in the terrain. Calef says anyone can access the site from a phone or computer, but it’ll likely work only with newer devices and browsers. “We tried to make it as accessible as possible,” he says.
To log on, users must create a free account on Discord, an online app used for chatting with voice and by text. Then, they will join the Fair in the Clouds’ Discord server and click on the OCF Peach Portal before roaming around freely in the virtual world. Because it’s run through Discord, participants will actually get to speak to each other in real time in a virtual chat room. “What I really wanted to reproduce was the Fair magic of bumping into people accidentally on the trail,” Calef says. “And that’s impossible in any kind of format other than this.”
“Hopefully it’ll result in people feeling like they saw people they wouldn’t have seen except at the Fair,” Calef adds. “That’s a big deal for me because for a lot of my friends, it’s the only time I see them.” Calef has been coming to OCF and volunteering for the past nine years. Since then it’s become an integral part of his life.
“We realize for crafters and entertainers, the pandemic hit them really hard,” says operations manager Crystalyn Frank. There will be multiple ways to support these creators from July 10-12 and beyond, like links on the OCF website to the crafters’ Etsy accounts and websites, where participants can buy from them directly.
“All of this is being done with very minimal cost,” Frank says. “And then a whole lot of work and love from our incredible volunteers who are teaming together to create a way for the community to connect with each other.”
Though the Oregon Country Fair won’t feel the same as it has in the past, the staff and volunteers have come together to bring a hint of what it’s always been about: community. “It’s an attempt to salvage something out of Fair other than bodies, sweat, smells, food, all the things that usually make up the fair,” Calef says. “It’ll never be anything like the real Fair, but if we can salvage little bits of it, at least people can have some fun and make some money for the crafters.”
For more information on the Oregon Country Fair’s virtual platform, visit OregonCountryFair.Org.