For five years running, I’ve dedicated my summers in Portland to local music festivals. I’ve watched bands play under the night sky at Pickathon for four years in a row and camped out at Wildwood last summer. This summer was my first time at the infamous Oregon Country Fair and the smaller, decade-old Beloved Festival—two hippie festivals in a state known for attracting that tie-dye.
Oregon Country Fair
The Oregon Country Fair started in 1969, and thousands of people work on and volunteer for this event each year. Participant loyalties run deep, and there is a lot of white hippie pride behind this event. Over the 40-plus years that this fair has been around, it’s developed a history of philanthropy, land conservation, alternative arts programs, and even a relationship with the Grateful Dead. In addition to this do-good work, the Oregon Country Fair is also known for three days of bluegrass, country, and jam-band music, as well as weird costumes, dance, and other performances. Think circus, gypsy, fairy, drum circle, Deadhead vibes for adults and children.
Tickets to Oregon Country Fair are fairly cheap—weekend passes and camping for my boyfriend and I came out to just under $300; however, we were left with only one camping option, which was about a mile down a two-lane highway from the entrance. The fair spans three days each July, on a massive wooded property in the town of Veneta, about two hours south of Portland.
As soon as we arrived, a wave of panic washed over me, and I began looking for Black and brown people as we trudged our way through the sea of glitter-covered, costumed bodies—and this summer there were over 47,000 attendees. I wasn’t used to feeling this panic, but all of a sudden it was there. Up to that point, I’d only seen white faces. I began counting each person of color I could find. I was at about 30 before the first hour passed, and I calmed down. It brought me comfort to know people of color were there too—that we were there. We were at this weird shit together.
We checked out some vendors, tie-dye, jewelry, pottery, and good vegetarian food. We did a quick pass by some of the bigger, main stages and areas and caught different circus-themed acts, belly dancing, country music, and a massive drumming circle. We stopped at the main stage and caught the tail end of the Chris Robinson Brotherhood and watched the sun go down, soaking in the smells of weed smoke around us.
The festival ended at 7 p.m., and as we walked back to our camp, the other camps along the highway had morphed into a rough night scene. We stopped by some vendors that were set up off the highway. Suddenly, I heard the owner of the clothing tent I was shopping in bark at me, asking if I wanted to be in a photo with him and his wife. A random college kid was calling him “Nazi” and asking to take a snapshot of him with his iPhone.
“Does this dark-skinned woman want to be in the photo?” I heard the vendor say. I felt my face get red hot and froze. Everything inside me was telling me to drop the clothes and leave, but I couldn’t. I paid the man $80 as he continued, “I respect that you didn’t want your picture taken, you know, with all those ICE raids happening these days.”
When we got back to our camp, I sat outside our tent, chugged a beer, and started to cry. What the fuck had just happened? Did I just buy imported clothes from Thailand from a white supremacist?
I wasn’t used to feeling this panic, but all of a sudden it was there. Up to that point, I’d only seen white faces.
Later that night around the campfire and food carts, I watched a drunk white woman stumble over to the Hawaiian food cart we were at and refer loudly to the woman working inside as “Moana.” Then the next morning, as we were returning to the fair, a white man riding his bike toward us looked right at me and began chanting loudly “BUILD THAT WALL, BUILD THAT WALL,” while pumping his raised fist. People walking behind us laughed. They laughed.
Shame washed over me, and I felt helpless. I naively thought that I could put the rough first day behind us and begin a fresh new day.
I decided I hated this festival and that I felt unsafe at it. It was the first time I had experienced direct discrimination in Oregon after five years of festivals, road trips, and rural campouts.
On our way out, I could hear a man’s voice behind me saying that he didn’t understand the people out there who were going around talking about cultural appropriation, and that those people must have nothing better to do. He was white, and telling his other white-dude friend that cultural appropriation is what makes America great.
I had gone to the Oregon Country Fair expecting to feel embraced for loving the same weird stuff all these white hippies love. I recognized that we were in the thick of rural, southern Oregon, but I had never felt unsafe on that turf before. I’ve been around a lot of white people at a lot of festivals, and I had never felt unwelcome because of the color of my skin. This was a harsh reminder that I’m not an exception to the bold hatred that is stewing right now in this country—even at a festival that celebrates peace, love, and kindness.
We got back to our car and my boyfriend packed up our stuff as quickly as possible while I sat, crying hard. We abandoned the second night of camping and got back to Portland.
From what I had assumed, Beloved was a festival focused on yoga. I had friends who had gone, and it seemed like a festival centered on different types of spirituality with art, music, wellness, and dance. My New Age, woo-woo ass was sold on the spirituality and dance vibes. I went solo because I needed some me time and bought the cheapest ticket option at $330 dollars, which included a weekend pass for three nights with walk-in camping and parking.
Located two and a half hours southwest of Portland toward the Oregon Coast, Beloved is tucked away on another sprawling wooded property. As I sped down the highway going deeper into the woods, I silently prayed my car wouldn’t have any trouble out there. Feeling some residual trauma from my Oregon Country Fair experience, I did not want to get out of my car in this rural patch and need help.
I danced until I was out of breath and my bare feet hurt, embracing this spiritual yoga rave.
The music at Beloved is categorized as global, roots, conscious dance, devotional, and sound healing. Most of the headlining music is played at the main stage, but there are a few other tents where you can participate in meditation, sound baths, Kirtan (devotional chanting), conversation, and, of course, yoga. After setting up camp, I hustled to a Mayan Abdominal and Womb-Healing Massage Workshop in a yurt packed full with about 20 women. We learned an ancient technique of massaging our abdomens to release the old trauma, pain, and discomfort that accompanies menses. It felt amazing to both learn from and identify with the other women in the yurt who were trying to help themselves and their bodies out of physical trauma.
Later that night, I found some friends who were also attending and working the festival. I ate a delicious gluten-free meal and was impressed by all the food options I had that would be easy on my gut. There were herbal elixirs, drinking chocolates, green smoothies, kombucha, vegan ice cream—a plethora of “healthy” treats, but no alcohol. That was okay; I wouldn’t miss waiting in beer lines this weekend.
As much as I wanted to chant, learn, and talk to others (which I did some of), I had really gone there to dance my ass off sober. I danced until I was out of breath and my bare feet hurt, embracing this spiritual yoga rave. I embraced all the love and good energy that was pulsating at the festival that weekend, even if half of it was generated by the Ecstasy-high, wide-eyed crowd—it was all still love to me.
Beloved was the perfect festival to end my summer with. It allowed me to immerse myself in a diverse, safe space that embraced spirituality in all its forms and practices. I met kind people who helped me carry my bags and find a camp. I got to dance, meditate, practice yoga, eat nourishing food, and attend healing workshops. This festival reminded me why I love festivals and even go to them at all.
One bad experience at a hippie festival isn’t going to keep me from going to them each summer. The art of festival-going involves a bit of resiliency, letting go, and knowing that no matter how well you prepare, it will never be perfect, and that is the point.