What Does “Country Fair” Mean To You?


As a born and raised Montanan, the words “country fair” mean livestock, 4-H, fried food, rides, rodeos, country concerts, and cowboy boots. Last month I learned that those words mean something entirely different to the small city of Veneta, OR and the thousands of people who attend the Oregon Country Fair every year.

The Oregon Country Fair is an annual three-day fair that is over forty years in the making. Today this annual event draws over 40,000 people to a large wooded area that runs along the Long Tom River, east of Eugene. As we drove closer to the event and were led to our parking spot by friendly parking attendants using flowers as guides, I knew this wasn’t going to be the same kind of “country fair” that I’m used to. If you’ve got the same “country fair” definition as me, you might notice the following differences:

          -Instead of pickup trucks and horse trailers >>> VW vans and bicycles
          -Instead of beer gardens and pop >>> sweet tea in recyclable glasses
          -Instead of deep-fried foot long corn dogs and mini donuts >>> organic dishes like red beans and rice
          -Instead of face paintings (there were those too) >>> breast paintings
          -Instead of loud vinyl signs >>> cloth or wooden signs
          -Instead of plastic silverware >>>  real silverware (with drop boxes around the area)
          -Instead of the smell of manure >>> the smell of patchouli
          -Instead of cowboy boots >>> Birkenstocks or no shoes
          -Instead of rodeo clowns >>> stilt walkers dressed as mythical creatures
          -Instead of a stage with a country band >>> a stage with world-famous belly dancers
          -Instead of plaid shirts and wranglers >>> tie-died attire and funky costumes
          -Instead of a fairground setting >>> a shaded setting in the trees  
          -Instead of ring toss or balloon darts >>> a man sitting behind a frame illustrating a video game

For most of the day I walked around in awe…hardly believing that this type of event existed. It takes some real effort and creativity to cultivate the kind of culture they have grown at the fair. Some may refer to it as a hippie fair but to others it is deeply rooted as the Oregon Country Fair – a truly unforgettable event.