The Linn County Fair returned in all its rustic glory this year after COVID cancelled all but the 4-H livestock auction last year. Vendors and visitors alike described how the event signaled a return to normalcy.
“It’s just nice being able to be back out without masks,” said Chelsea Robinson, a Jefferson resident who was attending the fair with her child and significant other. “People are getting back to their routine.”
Part of that return to normalcy has been due to the vaccination campaign, which allowed Oregon on June 30 to drop its mask mandates and lift the freeze on large gatherings like these county fairs. In Linn County, which has lagged behind other counties in terms of getting the population vaccinated, there was a booth set up right at the entrance of the fairgrounds for anyone to drop by and get a shot.
By about 2 p.m. Thursday, four people had come by to receive a Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccine, according to county workers at the Linn County Public Health booth.
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Vendors were also happy to be getting back into the fair circuit, which makes up a big part of their annual income and the ways they are able to move their products every year.
Tim Bakke, of Bakke Brothers Brand Jerky, said that the financial hit from not being able to go to secure a booth at fairs in Oregon last year was hard. But this year, he expects people will be out in droves.
“This year is gonna be a good year because everyone’s been locked up so dang long,” Bakke said. He had some positive things to say about the way the fair is organized and maintained, too, calling it “the cleanest fair you can go to.”
Another nearby vendor, Jensen Taueu of Dezines by Tau, said that he missed the chance to come out and showcase his art. He and his wife make gorgeous acrylic paintings, along with banners and bracelets and jewelry, all inspired by Hawaiian culture.
“Everything with these tribal lines has a meaning,” Taueu, who was born on the island of Maui, said. He showed off one piece with two sea turtles circling one another, each with unique designs.
The male carried on his back a traditional fishhook, called a makau, which signifies tribal leadership. The hook had shark teeth laid into it, a symbol of bravery and protection. The female carried tidal patterns that symbolize the ocean and the changes that one must overcome in life.
Taueu says he chose the sea turtles, or honu, because they are a key cultural symbol for Hawaiians. He drew a male and female to show how, “through all life’s trials and journeys, he’s got her back.” It was a fitting piece to highlight given that he makes all the designs with his wife. He draws the lines while his wife, Nicky, does the coloring.
Some young boys came up and complimented Taueu on his art. Taueu asked them if either of them were painters themselves, to which one boy said he likes to draw mountain landscapes. The youngsters rushed off to the next exciting thing, but Taueu smiled and said how much it means to him to share his love of art with people, especially young ones.
“You can work all your life but if you’re not doing what you love, what are you really doing?” he said.
The other people who were excited for the return to their usual routine were the 4-H kids who got to come out and show off their animals or support their fellow kids who were competing. Some members of the Diamondback Clover 4-H group out of Mill City were enjoying some ice cream, which melted quickly in the afternoon sun.
Two of them were getting ready for showings at the livestock competitions. Colten Crofoot, 7, showed off a chicken named sugar, while 6-year-old Addie Breen had a bunny named Spots. Lily Debord, 10, didn’t have an animal to show this year but says she’d love to raise a baby goat for next year’s fair.
“The livestock shows are always our favorite,” said Amber Tinney, who was chaperoning this group of kids.
Of course, COVID wasn’t the only thing that struck the Linn County community in the past year. These residents of Mill City all had the Labor Day fires fresh on their minds, too. Tinney said her family even had to evacuate and stay with family members. While they didn’t have to house their livestock at the Linn County Fairgrounds like dozens of other affected residents did last year, she described an arduous process to find a place for all their livestock from their Mill City farm.
“We found spaces for a couple of our horses and things in Canby, then Canby was under an evacuation order, too, and we had to move them to Scio,” she said. “We had to just cut our fences and let the cattle roam. We found them roaming around in the hills after we came back.”
These hardships didn’t break the sense of community at the Linn County Fair, even though there was concern over whether the loss of revenue and momentum last with last year’s cancellation would put a damper on things.
“The fair had improved incrementally on like a 10-year run and not being able to hold the fair was difficult take unto itself but also the fear that we would lose momentum in future years,” said Linn County Commissioner and fair board member Roger Nyquist. “We’re relieved that it appears that’s not the case.”
The Linn County Fair runs through Saturday in Albany and will feature different musical acts on the main stage each night. Thursday’s headliner was the psychedelic rock group Blue Oyster Cult, Friday’s is country artist Matt Stell and Saturday ends with country musician Tyler Farr. The Linn County Youth Livestock Auction kicks off at 1 p.m. on Saturday.
Troy Shinn covers healthcare, natural resources and the Linn County government. He can be reached at 541-812-6114 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be found on Twitter at @troydshinn.