Country Fair Gives New Meaning to Oregon Original… And Other Tales From Eugene

by REED NELSON, edited by SIOBHAN CAVAN

One of the many woodland features at the fair.

The Oregon Country Fair is not news. It can’t be. It’s not a singular event, but rather a conglomeration of completely different entities, making it hundreds of stories packed into a Keebler Elf-like venue, with the apparent order of a queen-less anthill. But if you are a Eugene transplant coming from the politically conservative and radically religious western Mecca of sorts, somewhere like Salt Lake City, than the sheer presence of an event the like the Country Fair is like a fission bomb of news in the most obtuse of mediums.

Sunday was the final act of the show and the participants of the finale did not disappoint. There was nearly as much body paint as there was clothing, ornate parades with costumed participants, giant grotesquely twisted faces, and a man who wore nothing but bells around his ankles and a sock on his privates.

The first time I saw a human donning horns was startling. The second time was slightly frightening. But the most subtly unsettling moment came when I didn’t notice a herd of people with horns glued to their heads. They walked right by no more than 200 feet past the entrance, and I was immune to strange and was already wondering what a little boy was doing in a dress near the barbecue chicken stand.

The complimentary shuttle was the site of the first horn sighting, and it was calm enough. Mostly just people who had painted their faces prior to showing up to the fair— which to an outsider was an act on par with putting the milk in the bowl before the cereal, but that is why I was an outsider— a loud lady discussing some interesting fair ambitions and a few other kids who looked about as blissfully naïve as I was.

Some fair-goers enjoy the scenery.

The entrance was a counterculture runway show, with one head-turning outfit after another. It was clearly clothing optional, but clothing optional may do it an injustice. The motto “Clothing? Why?” may be slightly more appropriate, and it easy to see why. The Country Fair is a rare place that embraces the inner weird, throws it upon a pedestal, and then worships it at the Alter of Odd. It is a place that even the weirdest can get weirder, and it paints a beautiful picture eclectic energy, bordered by a fusion with nature that can’t come from elsewhere. The trees become the booths and the roots create the walkways.

The aroma of the Country Fair is a smorgasbord of cooking food, pungent body odor, what some call medicine, the woods, the river, the dirt, the mud and a sprinkling of human waste. I’m sure there were unpleasant factors, but nothing was noted on specific odor besides, ‘Naked man waving incense like a gymnast… Smells like Christmas mated with chicken curry…’ Which may sound like an interesting combo anywhere but the Country Fair. It may have even been Christmas and curry.

“It was my first time,” said David White, a student in the Law School. “And it was a trip for a while, but once I embraced the place, then it got great.”

No wonder it is one of Oregon’s dirty little pleasures.

On the Hard News Front:

The Eugene Emeralds standout second baseman Cory Spangenberg went 1-3 with a run scored in his final game for the Ems. The slugging middle infielder is getting a call-up just 18 games into his career after raking his way to a .384 batting average with a home run and 18 RBIs. Spangenberg, the Padre’s first and the draft’s 10th overall pick this past June, has helped lead the Ems to their record setting start. In keeping with his tradition, his last game with the Ems was a 6-2 win over the Yakima Bears.

Four Seven-Eleven’s had given away so many free Slurpees on Seven-Eleven Day that four of the stores had run out of their 7.11 ounce giveaway cups by 5 p.m. on Monday with over 14 hours left on the promotion. The stores did not give a comment.

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About Reed Nelson

I am a graduate student in the J-School at the University of Oregon. I worked as a prep sports stringer and a clerk at the Salt Lake Tribune in 2008, and from 2009-2010 worked in various sections at the Daily Utah Chronicle. I am currently in my first term in grad school and I am cursed with a gross obsession for sports. But not bicycle racing. No one can make me care about that.
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