Coming Together in the Clouds

The Oregon Country Fair’s second virtual event continues to create space for the Fair community

Best of Eugene winner High Step Society recording their Fair in the Clouds set at the Oregon Country Fair site.

2021 marks the second online Oregon Country Fair after COVID-19 forced the event to a virtual platform in 2020. This year’s Fair in the Clouds features another virtual interactive platform, live streams and an in-person Twilight Market in collaboration with the Eugene Saturday Market.

“Everybody knows we all want to get back together and give each other hugs and hang out in the land and camp,” says Chris Calef, who designed Fair’s interactive “m8trix.” “That’s what makes it really fun. This is just one more way to try to fill in part of that gap.”

The m8trix is a 3D, interactive computer version of the Fair in which participants can don an avatar, virtually walk the Fair’s famed “8”-shaped path and even virtually run into old friends. 

In the meantime, Fair has grown in new directions. With last year’s Fair in the Clouds coming out of only eight weeks of preparation, those involved with the event have more time to plan this time around. 

Sean Cummins is the station manager for KOCF 92.7 FM, the Fair’s community station. He says it’s “pretty cool” to watch community members work together to ensure that the Fair happens — whether in person or virtually.

“It’s all volunteer driven,” he says, “and it’s really a beautiful thing. Not even just for Fair stuff, but in general, when folks come together around a shared interest — or passion or hobby or whatever it is that’s bringing them together — and build something together, I think that’s a really cool thing.” 

Operations manager Crystalyn Frank says she feels fortunate that the community is willing to help put the Fair together, especially given that it only has seven paid staff members. “That is transferred into these incredible volunteers being able to put countless hours and time and energy and creativity into finding a way to make sure that that connection and that community can still happen,” she says.

Calef’s m8trix is one part of that community engagement. Fair attendees will also be able to join various live streams and workshops. 

The newest segment of these events is the Fair’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) workshops — featuring groups like the Lane East Asian Network and TransPonder. Diversity committee member Brooks McLain says the Fair has been working to make itself a more inclusive and welcoming space over the past five or six years, but those discussions have accelerated since George Floyd’s murder in 2020. In 2017, Native American groups protested the planned raising of a culturally appropriative “story pole.” 

“The Fair thought it would be a good idea,” McLain says of the workshops, “as we’re working to make our fair more inclusive — especially for BIPOC folks — that we give people some education and tools so that they know why it’s happening and what we’re trying to accomplish and also be a part of that change.” 

McLain says the DEI panels are part of a larger effort to increase representation among Fair artisans, performers and attendees. Although the workshops are largely targeted at the Fair community, they address larger systemic issues. “There’s something for everyone, really,” they continue. “So, I would encourage folks to tune in, for sure.”

Frank describes the Fair as “party with a purpose” — both in the community it brings together and in its philanthropic mission.

Diane McWhorter, an artist at both the Fair and Saturday Market, says the communal element has been more continuous for her than for most, since she still saw Saturday Market people on a regular basis. She sees the partnership between the two groups — as well as the new partnership between the Fair and Alluvium, a Eugene church and community space in the Whiteaker, which will serve as one of the Fair’s live streaming sites this year — as another instance of community-building.

“It’s just another way that the community grows from the interaction of the people together working on something new,” she says of the Alluvium partnership.

The Saturday Market will also project a live stream of the Fair so attendees can gather for a watch party.

Although 2021 will likely be the last year of Fair in the Clouds, as more and more people get vaccinated against COVID-19, Cummins and Frank say they hope to continue to use the Fair’s online platform to increase accessibility and open new doors for the Fair community going forward.

Fair in the Clouds will run from July 9 to July 11. For more information, visit OregonCountryFair.Org.