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Eugene Weekly : Coverstory : 7.10.08

 

Oregon Country Fair 2008

Fairest of the Fair Seeing, buying and eating green

Threads on Stilts Costume planning from the Bay Area

Musical Fair The bold, the beautiful, the magic and the moon

Baby on Board Negotiating the Fair in child-friendly ways

Live and Let Learn Fair classes for everyone

 

Musical Fair

The bold, the beautiful, the magic and the moon

It’s A Beautiful Day
Taarka
The Mother Hips
Moonalice
The Bobs

Ah, it’s Country Fair time again. While the yummy food, handmade cool stuff and partying with old friends is definitely most of the fun, the music is a big draw, too. With entertainment of many varieties from plugged-in rock bands to solo acoustic performers, vaudevillians and circus troupes, puppets, parades, and belly dancers spread over 18 stages, it can be awfully hard to know what to check out. Here’s the down-low on Friday and Saturday’s main stage headliners (which features some big names playing rather incognito), and a smattering of other excitement.

Ashland is the home of a new jam band supergroup. I’m not clowning around: Craig Wright, recently of the bands Horsefeathers and Analog Kabin, has convened Friday’s main stage headliner, Cast of Clowns.

Wright’s musical assemblage includes Melvin Seals, former keyboard player with the Jerry Garcia Band. On drums is Greg Anton, of the Heart of Gold Band and Zero. Jeff Pevar lends lead guitar chops. Pevar, whose MySpace page shows him located in tiny Talent, Oregon, is a world-class musician, having played and recorded two albums with Ray Charles, various projects with David Crosby and Graham Nash, Carly Simon and James Taylor, among many others. Hutch Hutchinson, who played in Bonnie Raitt’s band, takes over the bass along with Wright playing guitar and dobro and singing. Whether they’re jamming a Garcia or Grateful Dead tune or one of Wright’s own, the result is a transformation of silver into dance jam gold.

Saturday’s headliner does a transformative act of its own, turning main stage into San Francisco during the Summer of Love. In the late ’60s, David LaFlamme and his group, It’s a Beautiful Day, rose to prominence on the wings of a timeless song called “White Bird” and had several other hits you’re sure to remember (if you’re of a certain age) and sure to enjoy (if they’re new to you), such as “Hot Summer Day,” “Bombay Calling” and “Girl With No Eyes.” LaFlamme is a former classical violinist who incorporates that transcendent instrument into folksy, jazzy and psychedelic rock selections from the band’s entire catalog, including some new material. LaFlamme doesn’t just play, though; he entertains with tales reminiscing about his San Francisco Summer of Love days and stories colored by more than 40 years of performing. The members he’s now playing with aren’t just newbies along for the coattail ride, either; four of the six have been with him from 25 to 40 years.

On Friday, Shady Grove Stage is the place to be, not just because the big tree generously block the sun’s rays, but because it’s got a stellar lineup all day long. Kicking things off is Tyler Spencer’s solo didgeridoo, which is always soul-stirring. Later, there’s Brian Cutean and David Jacobs-Strain followed by Taarka. Cutean, or QTN, as he often whimsically spells it, is Gandalf-ian in appearance, a wandering minstrel in practice and a playful prankster in philosophy. His delightful wordplay, thought-provoking messages and hearty — or better yet, Hearthearthearth-y (the name of his latest CD) — sense of fun and humor make him a delight. 

David Jacobs-Strain is a familiar name to many long-time Country Fair-goers, having first played his slide guitar at the Fair when he was 11 years old. He released his first solo album while in high school and has continued to explore Delta blues ever since. Much gets written about Jacobs-Strain’s youth, and while he is only 24, he sings with a soulful passion that’s beyond his years. He’s been playing so long now that he’s had time to figure out how he fits in with the old guard Delta bluesmen yet retain his own personality and vibrancy.

Taarka follows up nicely with a different take on roots music. Fans of David Grisman or Bela Fleck will love the acoustic jazzy, folky, spry, and blissful music from a fun-loving husband and wife couple. Bass and percussion often vary from one Taarka performance to the next, but fiddle and mandolin are ever-present. The two instruments could easily get bluegrass-y, yet they don’t. Played in more of a classical style, Taarka’s instrumentation doesn’t slip into any readily defined roles, which keeps them always fresh and interesting no matter how many times you may have seen them before. 

Of course, you could just as easily ignore this advice and park yourself in front of the Gypsy Caravan Stage all weekend long, enjoying live Middle Eastern and African dance and music traditions. Or maybe the Spirit Tower beckons for dance, hip hop and poetry. 

Whatever path you choose, stay cool and keep listening. There’s bound to be something good wherever your ears end up. — Vanessa Salvia



People describe the Oregon Country Fair in a myriad of ways — eclectic, family-friendly, trippy, naked, granola-y, fairy-centric, out there, etc. — but boring is not one of them. If you’re bored at the Fair, then you better check your pulse. With nonstop performances, there is more music and entertainment than you can shake a devil stick at, and, honestly, the wealth of music and other events can have you spinning in circles. (People might think you’re on drugs, but you’re just trying to take it all in.) Here’s a few suggestions so you don’t get too dizzy and freak people out. 

If your idea of a cappella music is barbershop quartets or Boyz II Men breakdowns, then you should do yourself a favor and check out The Bobs. The Grammy-nominated group has been combining vocal acrobatics with irreverent, self-deprecating humor for more than 25 years, and they’ve done it with nothing more than their mouths, hands, feet and “other body parts.” The Bobs originally met as singing telegram deliverers in San Francisco, and they quickly garnered attention by covering pop songs like “Helter Skelter” and “Psycho Killer,” instead of the usual doo-wop standards. But it’s their original songs and quick wit that have won the four-piece a faithful following. From heart transplants to Oliver North to nicknames for genitalia, no subject is off limits for the vocal orchestra. If you think it’s hard singing with your tongue planted firmly in cheek, then The Bobs will show you how it’s done.

But if you’re pining for the days when Tom Petty, Neil Young and a slew of power pop groups ruled the FM dial, then The Mother Hips were made for you. These purveyors of California pop formed in 1991, and to say that they’ve had a long, strange trip since then would be a massive understatement. Moving up the ranks from college band to bar band to regional buzz band to signing with a major label, touring with Johnny Cash and Wilco and then breaking up in 2001 at the top of their game, The Mother Hips have experienced firsthand the fickleness of the music industry and seen their 15 minutes of fame come and go. After a five-year hiatus, the group reformed with a renewed sense of confidence and a new album. Kiss the Crystal Flake is a ’70s rock/pop tour de force, featuring spot-on harmonies, hard-charging rockers, blue-eyed ballads and a laid-back boogie that should make every Fairgoer smile and sway in the Oregon sun.

There’s a whole lot more to the Fair than just music, though. If you’re into magic and you’re ready to be “abracadazzled,” then don’t miss Jeff McBride and his magic show. The Las Vegas magician, whose magic just might be derived from his supernatural mullet, is known around the world for his sleight-of-hand tricks, card manipulation and magic with masks. Equal parts grand illusion and Kabuki theatre, McBride’s magic will leave you slack jawed and mystified, as the magician bounces playing cards off the ground like rubber balls and makes various objects float in midair. Even if you think most magic is cheesy and/or bunk, McBride will win you over with his showmanship and sweet spandex pants. 

  The Fair ends in style when the San Francisco supergroup Moonalice takes the stage. The band’s line-up reads like a who’s who of all-star musicians: G.E. Smith (SNL, Bob Dylan, Hall & Oates); Jack Casady (Jefferson Airplane, Hot Tuna); Pete Sears (Jefferson Starship); Barry Sless (Phil Lesh and Friends); Jimmy Sanchez (The Flying Other Brothers); Ann McNamee; and Roger McNamee. During performances, all of the members go by the surname Moonalice, and they all take turns on bass at some point in their performance. The band has created a mystique and a legend around itself, as members refer to themselves as nomads intent on spreading good vibes and specializing in low tones. Roger McNamee, a very successful venture capitalist who just happens to be living the dream of playing in a band filled with amazing musicians, says that more than anything else, Moonalice is all about “an attitude.” He says, “We’re all in our fifties, playing new music and starting all over again. Essentially, Moonalice is a recovery program for all of us. And the whole notion is music for fun.” 

When you listen to Moonalice, you can hear that fun. Whether they’re re-interpreting songs like “Somebody to Love” or jamming out on folk-and-blues­tinged originals, Moonalice sounds relaxed, playful and organic, yet reassuringly spontaneous. McNamee says, “The whole point with the Country Fair and Kesey and Garcia is you don’t know what to expect, and that’s what we want. The Fair is a legendary good time and above all else, our music is about showing people a good time.” — Jeremy Ohmes 

 

 

Oregon Country Fair 2008

Fairest of the Fair Seeing, buying and eating green

Threads on Stilts Costume planning from the Bay Area

Musical Fair The bold, the beautiful, the magic and the moon

Baby on Board Negotiating the Fair in child-friendly ways

Live and Let Learn Fair classes for everyone