It’s fair time — the Oregon Country Fair, that is, Lane County’s long-running annual celebration that transports its fans to an three-day alternate universe lying somewhere between a celebration of contemporary handcrafted music, art and crafts, an orgy of New Age mysticism and just plain ’60s hippie nostalgia.
This year’s Fair, which opens Friday, July 7, for a three-day run at OCF’s 400-acre campus in Veneta, is its second year as a live and in-person event after a two-year COVID shutdown for the live celebration — it was done virtually in those two years — in 2020 and 2021.
One lesson learned during the shutdown is that a little smaller can be a lot more beautiful, says Vanessa Roy, OCF’s marketing director. Before COVID, she says, the Fair had attendance of up to 22,000 people on Saturday, the biggest day of the weekend.
On its return last year from the COVID hiatus, the Fair set a limit of 10,000 tickets each day. “We did that so we could have a little more space for everybody,” Roy says. “This year we have a capacity limit of 15,000 tickets per day, because it was such a popular move. A lot of the Fair family and a lot of our ticket holders agreed that it was easier to navigate Fair with a lighter crowd.”
What that means, of course, is that you should buy tickets sooner than later if you want to make sure you can go.
The Fair got its start in 1969 as a simple crafts fair to raise money for an alternative school called Children’s House. It was modeled in those days on the renaissance fairs that started in the 1960s, and briefly called itself a Renaissance Faire before getting legal threats from people who owned that name. Hence, the “Oregon Country Fair.”
Half a century later, that initial renaissance/hippie vibe still permeates the Fair’s personality — a fact that isn’t always apparent to people who see the name Oregon Country Fair and expect something completely different, Roy says.
“People assume it’s a country music festival,” she laughs. “Though normally by the time they get to the point of buying tickets, they have figured it out. They’ve hopefully visited our website to see some of the pictures that do not include anything that would be enticing to the pickup-truck, flag-waving, Trump-stickers variety of people.”
One first at this year’s Fair is that all the acts on the Main Stage are fronted by women. “We have coordinators that handle the Main Stage, and it was their decision to give this a try,” Roy says. “They came through with wonderful success.”
The Fair has scores of musicians and other acts performing on more than a dozen stages and other venues, with headliners such as Shook Twins, Ratie D and Mothra. A searchable performance schedule is at OregonCountryFair.org/the-event/the-lineup.
As the Fair prepares to open its gates, it’s operating on a tighter budget. Besides paying the costs of its operation, the nonprofit group has regularly donated about $20,000 a year to local community groups. “The pandemic did hit our bottom line quite hard,” Roy says.
She declined to share specific numbers, but said a combination of recent inflation and the difficulties of fundraising during the pandemic have weighed heavily on the budget. “We are doing everything we can to keep the bottom line firmly in place, because the last thing we want to do is cut back on the amount of money we give to the community for environmental advancements, for education and for the arts. That’s an important part of Oregon Country Fair’s mission statement.”
Tickets to the Fair are sold online through the OCF website, OregonCountryFair.org. Tickets are not available at the Fair site. Advance tickets are $45 Friday and Saturday, $40 for Sunday; three-day passes are already sold out. Day-of tickets are $55 for all three days. Children 12 and under get in free with a ticketed adult, and alter-abled people and seniors 65 and older get $5 off.
Far and away the best way to get to the Fair from Eugene is to take the bus. That reduces traffic congestion on rural Hwy 126 to and from Veneta and saves you the trouble — and a $15 charge — for parking at the Fair. Lane Transit District runs shuttle buses throughout the weekend from Valley River Center and from the downtown LTD station at 11th and Olive. You can board free by showing your Fair tickets.
In the end, Roy suggest four things newcomers should keep in mind for attending the Fair:
- Bring your water bottles, especially considering how hot this summer’s weather has been.
- Pick up the Peach Pit, the free publication that acts as a program for the three-day festival. It’s available at The Kiva, Sundance and at the LTD bus stations downtown and at Valley River Center — and at Eugene Weekly.
- Wear comfy shoes. You’ll be doing a lot of walking.
Finally, she says: “Prepare to be dazzled!”
“When I came to the Fair the first time, I had expectations that it was going to be like something I had attended before,” Roy says. “I now tell people who are coming for the first time, prepare to have your mind blown. It’s going to be an experience that you’ve never had before — and you’ll never want to leave.”