The Fair is back — the Oregon Country Fair, that is. One of the most iconic annual cultural events in the Northwest for the past half century, the Fair has been shut down as an actual physical event for the past two gatherings — and three years of yearlong preparation — due to COVID.
But now, following careful health guidelines, the Fair is planning to bring people back to its nearly 500-acre site west of Eugene near Elmira when it opens for a three-day run on Friday, July 8.
Re-opening after a two-year break hasn’t been entirely easy. “It’s been quite a challenge,” says Vanessa Roy, marketing manager for OCF. “And the biggest challenge has been the weather. You know, we were not expecting it to rain this far into June.”
An unusually wet spring in the Willamette Valley has made it difficult to open trails through the Fairgrounds, and the fields used for parking cars have been turned into mud holes. “The issue is, they were full of water longer than expected. At this point, right now, they’re not full of water anymore. We don’t want to act too hasty because, you know, if it’s still squishy, let’s not put a car on it.”
Mud aside, Roy expects this year’s Fair to offer a familiar experience to long-time Fairgoers and one that shares the traditional magic with new guests. A line-up of scores of musicians and other acts playing on the Fair’s 17 stages includes such names as California singer and guitarist Emily Kokal and Rob Tobias, playing music inspired by folk, reggae and spiritual styles.
Food will be offered by more than 60 vendors, and hand-crafted work will be sold by 300 artisans.
The biggest difference from the last in-person Fair will be considerably fewer people attending, Roy says.
2019 was the Fair’s 50th anniversary. The Fair that year drew somewhere between 40,000 and 50,000 people, Roy says; she expects closer to 30,000 to attend this year.
The number of attendees could also be influenced by vaccine requirements implemented by the Fair. To get in, Fairgoers must either show proof of vaccination, along with ID, or negative results from a PCR test within the past 24 hours.
To reduce traffic congestion around the Fair’s rural site, visitors are asked to take free LTD shuttle buses that run to and from the Fairgrounds between 10 am and 7:30 pm from the LTD Downtown Station on 10th and Willamette, or Valley River Center northwest parking lot next to the bike bridge. You must show proof of vaccination or a negative test to board the bus.
Numbers aside, Roy says, she expects the Fair experience to be better than ever. “Yes, the numbers might be smaller, but just the feeling of coming back out here, I think, is going to make people feel elated. They’re going to feel energized, and they’re gonna bring their A game because their A game has been sitting on a shelf for three years.”
Advance one-day tickets for the Fair are $40 plus fees for Friday and Saturday and $35 for Sunday; day-of tickets are $50. Masks recommended; proof of vaccination or negative PCR test required. Buy tickets and see more details at OregonCountryFair.org.