Enough preamble, what? Let's talk about the Fair experience this year.
The Fair is always full of great music, whether it is a name band on Main Stage (this year's ensemble included The Gourds and Portland's own Tap Water) or a roving minstrel playing along the path in the Magic 8. This year, I saw very little music, but there are two performances that stand out in my memories.
The first of these, was an impromptu rap performed by three young men in the area just off Main Stage. One of them laid down a fantastic rhythm while the other two traded raps. The performance was as live as it gets, totally unrehearsed, made up as they went along, and they never lost beat nor faltered as they commented on the Fair, on passers-by, on the weather, on societal issues, and hippie-dippy love.
Eventually, they attracted the attention of a stunning young woman with clear, mocha skin, and an unruly blonde-brown afro in a revealing skintight dress. She boldly stood directly in front of them, one hip slung to the side, admiring their skill.
Thought I, "This will cause them to hiccup." But they kept rolling. They even incorporated their new admirer into their rap:
"I like the way that you wear your dress, and, and, and,
I like the way it makes my head a mess, and, and, and..."
The woman smiled, an honest, closed-lip smile. I got the feeling that, while she was definitely impressed, the lads were going to have to work harder than that.
|Plea to the Four Winds|
The other musical performance that stuck with me was the Native American prayer dance I witnessed on Sunday, as I was leaving. A Native American shaman blessed the Fair with a peace and harmony dance. His face was painted black and white; he waved an eagle feather to the Four Winds. The drum circle behind him cried out their haunting prayers in warbling coyote voices, while the dead, relentless beat pushed on. It was a stirring experience.
|"Man, why can't it just be this way all the time, man? 'Cause, ya know, man, it's love, man. Ya know, if people would just love each other, man..."|
Saturday evening, I ventured out of camp and into the Fair. In an astonishing display of initiative (all things considered) I managed to time my entry at the top of the "Magic Eight" such that I arrived in the wake of the Sweep. Very dusty, it was, but the crowd was as thin as it would ever be.
My objective was to grab a bowl of Stir Fried chicken yakisoba, take a look around, then head back to camp and relax. I got my heaping bowl of yakisoba with the tender, slow-cooked chicken (delicious!) and looked around for a place to eat.
At a nearby table, sat two men. One appeared to be what one imagines when one thinks of the South Valley country hippie: a weather-worn fellow, with long iron-gray hair pulled back in a ponytail underneath a mangled straw hat. He wore khaki shorts, sandals, and a bright tie-dyed tee-shirt, splotched with red, blue, yellow and green. His face was well-wrinkled and tan, making it difficult to estimate his age. He could have been 45 or he could have been 65.
Seated across from him was another man. This fellow was perhaps in his late 40s or early 50s. His sole vestment was a pair of cut-off shorts. He was in excellent physical condition, as I could plainly see. His skin, from the top of his bald pate to the tops of his feet, was evenly browned in a healthy tan. He was barefoot, with one foot tucked up under his rump. His hands were folded on his knee.
"You fellas mind if I join you?" I asked, with a smile.
"Well, I'd mind if you didn't!" responded the country hippie, with a broad, sincere grin.
"I'm Dade," I said, extending my hand.
"I'm Charley," replied the country hippie.
Charley's companion looked my way and smiled a beatific smile. His pupils were as wide as saucers. Aha! thought I. This fellow has recently embarked on the Long Solemn Dream.
Charley saw my yakisoba and excused himself to go get a bowl of his own, leaving me and the dream voyager alone at the table.
"You know," says he, "as a first-time Fair-goer, it feels good to be home."
Here we go, thought I. I said, "What do you mean?"
"When you see love like this, you just know it is true and right," he said. He was wrapped up tight in the hippie-dippy love cocoon. "Why can't people see it? Why can't it be like this everywhere?" He winced gently, thinking of all the unenlightened souls who are screwing up the world.
"First-time Fair-goer, right?" I asked.
"Well, I'm not trying to bring you down or anything, but I've been coming to this party for twenty years now. One thing I've learned is that behind this veneer of social responsibility and all the peace, love, dope window-dressing, people are still people. The good and the bad."
He looked at me with serene befuddlement, as if I were a speckled toad hopping across his picnic blanket. But only for a moment. I saw his eyes grow wider and more solemn as he sank even further into the Long Solemn Dream. He blessed me with a tolerant smile. "I choose to hang on to the love, brother," he said.
"Fair enough," I said, only vaguely aware of my own pun. I finished my yakisoba and stood up to go wander. I gave him a smile. "Anyway, have a good Fair. What was your name again?"
"My name is--" He thought for a moment, then in a surge of enlightenment answered "--Servant of Love." His passive, love-bombed, fully-dilated eyes met my own in peaceful defiance. He rested his chin on his folded hands which, in turn, rested on his drawn up knee.
"Is that what you want me to call you?" I asked.
"We'll talk again in 10 years," I said. I gave him a wave, and set off to find some music.
I'm not smirking, you understand. I've been there. When one is in the grip of the Long Solemn Dream anything seems possible: our most cherished hopes about God and humanity and the benevolence of existence. That feeling, the one that comes with belief in a Universal Good, might even linger for a while, afterward. But the human spirit is a sieve. Eventually, it all leaks out and leaves you tired and dusty.
|An ent at the Country Fair|
Starry night on the Far Side
There is no surer sign of the passage of time than that on Saturday night, in lieu of attending the Midnight Show, in which all performers in the Fair take the stage for brief encore performances, the Watergate crew chose to pull lawn chairs out into the grass of Far Side field and admire the stars.
A dozen or so of us sat and star-gazed and relearned our constellations: Big and Little Dippers, the North Star. Myk Walker pointed out Scorpio. Talk was subdued, but meaningful. Kids were running all around us with glow-sticks. Mark Greinke was tossing a glowing Frisbee around. Someone nearby was projecting a laser light show onto the trees at the edge of the field.
There was a time, not so long ago, when our camp would have been empty, everyone having gone in to the Fair to see the Midnight Show, and would remain empty until nearly dawn, when straggling, loaded hippies would creep back to their tents to catch a few minutes of sleep before Sunday morning shift began.
And I guess maybe it means I'm settling in to middle age, but I didn't miss the heavy drinking and partying and staying up all night. I found that I much preferred the stars.
To be continued...