Oregon’s offbeat events

A summer of festivals awaits Oregon travelers

Next week: A cattle ranch getaway near Lakeview

FOREST GROVE — Holy Moly Triple Cornholy!

My first experience as a tournament cornholer would not be considered a success by most standards. I was defeated in both of my games last weekend at the Oregon State Championships of Cornhole by scores of 21-2 and 21-11.

But I was encouraged by my improvement at a game that I had never before attempted — and the fact that on one of my turns, I tossed three of my four corn-filled bags into the 6-inch-diameter hole (in a 2-foot-by-4-foot board) from 30 feet away. In the vocabulary of dedicated cornholers, that’s known as a “holy moly triple cornholy”!

The Oregon State Championships of Cornhole, held last weekend at Pacific University in Forest Grove, even had their own T-shirts with the inscription, "We are cornhole." Projected to become an annual event, their first big winners were Brianna Malcolm and Ryan Christensen, of Warrenton.

John Gottberg Anderson / For The Bulletin

Cornhole is a simple lawn game, popular at college tailgate parties, that has recently grown to tournament status with its own national association. It made its first official appearance in Oregon on June 7, atop artificial turf and beneath the soaring roof of the Stoller Center at Pacific University.

One of many quirky events scheduled this summer in Washington County — and all over the state of Oregon — the cornhole tournament wasn’t so much as a gleam in its creators’ eyes until six months ago. That was when Corey Kearsley, sports sales manager for the Washington County Visitor Association, met with officials of the Ohio-based American Cornhole Organization at a January conference.

“We confirmed the event in March,” Kearsley said. “We promoted it through social media and networking around the state, and even brought a half-dozen players from Bend thanks to a blitz during April’s Governor’s Conference on Tourism in Sunriver.”

Amateur sports are a huge attraction in Washington County, which includes Beaverton, Hillsboro and several other good-sized towns west of Portland. More than 200 softball teams will take part in a tournament in a couple of weeks, and 600 soccer teams from across the West will descend upon the county for two weeks in August.

And Kearsley said he’d be delighted to bring the cornhole tournament back next year, perhaps with an expanded format. “Officially, we haven’t made a decision yet,” he said. “But I don’t see why we wouldn’t.”

Toss-up tourney

This summer in Washington County, travelers in search of offbeat events will find a Robin Hood festival, a crawfish festival, an elephant garlic festival, and — over six consecutive weekends — the Oregon Renaissance Festival. But it took the inaugural cornhole tournament to kick the season off.

I had my introduction to the sport during a Friday afternoon pre-function at McMenamins’ Grand Lodge in Forest Grove. Dozens of soon-to-be competitors practiced their tosses and their trash talking on the lawn outside the former Masonic home, a part of the McMenamins group since 2000. Nearby, the lodge’s open-air Pat’s Corner sold food and drink to all in need.

The following day, we were at Stoller Center on the nearby university campus. The event drew nearly 80 competitive cornholers, men and women ranging in age from 13 into their 60s.

A husband-and-wife team from Warrenton, near Astoria, dominated the contest and won the lion’s share of $1,275 in prize money, along with a ticket to the world championships in Charleston, W.Va., next month. Brianna Malcolm edged her husband, Ryan Christensen, in the singles final, then teamed with him to take the evening doubles title. A pair of Bend cornholers, Steve Smith and Gary DeBernardi, placed third in the doubles competition.

Ron "Kickstand" Miller, of Bend, at left, awaits his turn in a preliminary round of the Oregon State Championships of Cornhole, in Forest Grove. Competitors attempt to place 6-inch-square bags through a 6-inch-diameter hole from a distance of about 30 feet.

John Gottberg Anderson / For The Bulletin

Left on the outside after the quarterfinals was another Bend man, Ron “Kickstand” Miller, an Air Force veteran who had been considered one of the pre-event favorites. Miller and his doubles partner, Doug Case, were sponsored by the Riverside Market, where they play, to participate in the championship tourney.

“Riverside Market has a cornhole setup,” said Miller, 51, an electrician. “Due to my competitive nature down there, I guess I’ve become ‘the man’ to beat.”

Describing his throwing style as a “pancake toss,” Miller said his game is “all strategy.” “The guys that are constantly winning have a consistent toss, always landing it the same way,” he said. “It’s not just about the loft in our throw; we also use a low slider, depending upon the game situation. And we also work on our body position and our foot placement.”

Clearly, I have a lot to learn about cornhole. It would appear that my triple bagger was mere beginner’s luck.

June events

Long before I return to cornholing, however, there are many more unusual events around Oregon that might catch my eye in the coming months. I’ve put together a list of possibilities for every weekend of summer, right on through the autumn equinox:

Sand castles: On June 21, the coastal arts community of Cannon Beach will host its yearly Sandcastle Contest — the 50th annual, making it one of the oldest such events in the country. This Cannon Beach tradition features dozens of teams competing for cash prizes, medals and ribbons, beginning at 11 a.m. There are large group, small group and children’s divisions.

And then there are the “masters,” who typically use construction form like those used to pour concrete. Upon designated building plots, beside water sources dug by a backhoe, they shovel and pack sand into elaborate sculptures engineered to stand up to everything but the next high tide. Judging (and the best viewing) takes place around 4 p.m.

A masters team applies the finishing touches to an elaborate sand sculpture during the 2013 Sandcastle Contest at Cannon Beach. This years event, scheduled on Saturday (June 21), will be the 50th annual, making it one of the oldest such events in the country.

Gary Hayes, courtesy Cannon Beach Chamber of Commerce / Submitted photo

Reggae riffs: On June 27-28, southern Oregon’s Reggae in the Trees Music Festival has been moved from Selma to tiny Provolt, in the Applegate Valley, to accommodate more fans of the Caribbean beat. Two dozen bands, including Jah Sun and the Luminaries, will perform between noon and midnight both days on a site just off state Highway 238 north of Williams.

All ages are invited to set up camp near the stage, where they can take advantage of numerous food and beverage booths and visit a variety of arts and crafts vendors. No doubt, there will be a overabundance of dreadlocks and fragrant herb: In nearby Williams, more than 20 percent of the population of around 2,500 is licensed to grow medical marijuana.

July festivals

Well, la de dah: On July 4, start your day with a pancake breakfast at the Lions Club, then spread your blankets or set up your lawn chairs at Yachats State Park to watch the always entertaining La De Dah Parade, beginning at noon. “We’re marching to a different drummer,” parade organizers insist, while encouraging “bizarre, outrageous or funny themes.” The 2013 parade included hot-dog and umbrella brigades, Zumba and belly dancers, family pets, a 60th birthday party, even a group from a laundromat.

The parade is followed at 2 p.m. by a Duck Race, a favorite of children, at the mouth of the Yachats River. There’s live music and entertainment all over the seaside town throughout the afternoon and evening. And at sundown, fireworks explode over Yachats Bay.

Country Fair: July 11 to 13 are the dates for the 45th annual Oregon Country Fair, which retains the vibe of the tie-dye hippie era during which it was launched. For three days, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., wandering minstrels, jugglers and clowns, dancers and stilt walkers share wooded trails near the banks of the Long Tom River, 14 miles west of Eugene near Veneta, with celebrants of all ages.

A crowd of music lovers gathers outside the entrance to the Main Stage at last year's Oregon Country Fair, west of Eugene. This year's three-day event, July 11-13, features music, food and artisan crafts, and retains the vibe of the tie-dye hippie era during which it was launched.

R. Dennis Wiancko, courtesy Oregon Country Fair / Submitted photo

Musicians of all genres share multiple stages with spoken-word performers. Gourmet foods and artisan crafts purveyors are located throughout the grounds, as are various educational displays. On their website, organizers say the fair “creates events and experiences that nourish the spirit, explore living artfully and authentically on Earth, and transform culture in magical, joyous and healthy ways.”

A young fairy extends her wings at the 2013 Oregon Country Fair near Veneta. Wandering minstrels, jugglers and clowns, dancers and stilt walkers share the wooded trails along the banks of the Long Tom River with celebrants of all ages.

R. Dennis Wiancko, courtesy Oregon Country Fair / Submitted photo

Robin Hood: The medieval English outlaw is alive and well July 18-19 at the 61st annual Robin Hood Festival in Sherwood, southwest of Portland between Tualatin and Newberg. Highlights include appearances by Robin Hood and his Merry Men, the crowning of Maid Marian and her court, medieval reenactments, swordplay and a traditional knighting ceremony.

A highlight is the archery competition with the city of Nottingham, England, represented by the notorious sheriff from Robin Hood lore. Children especially enjoy the castle-building contest. Popular Portland-area bands appear on the main stage, while a variety of musical and dance performances are presented on the family stage. About 100 booths will sell arts, crafts and food items in the Vendor Village.

Stand by Me: It’s mid-week, a Wednesday, but the July 23 Stand by Me Day celebration in Brownsville, south of Albany, is worth acknowledgment on any list of quirky Oregon events. Back in 1985, Hollywood director Rob Reiner turned this little town into Castle Rock, and made it the set for a classic movie, “Stand by Me,” based upon a novella by Stephen King. A blueberry pancake breakfast, film location tours and other events are now part of the annual observance.

Paisley is a-buzz: You can always count on the last full weekend of July (this year, the 25th to 27th) to be the dates of the Paisley Mosquito Festival. The Outback village, about 150 miles southeast of Bend, has hosted the event for many years to raise funds for ongoing vector control — in other words, to limit the number of those pesky mosquitoes. Annual events include a parade, a ranch rodeo, a pit barbecue and a new Artisans Alley to showcase the work of crafts persons of the region.

August activities

Claws for celebration: The Tualatin Crawfish Festival, Aug. 1-3, is now in its 64th year — but its first under new ownership. Featured events include a parade, crawfish and watermelon eating contests, three days of live music at Tualatin Commons, a crawfish boil and fun runs. A Friday evening highlight is the Chefs Mystery Box Cook-Off, during which professional chefs will be tested to concoct their best crawfish recipe using a surprise ingredient. And on Saturday, the “Atsa My Dog” show will honor canine creativity in tricks and costumes.

A crawfish boil is one of many food-inspired events that will take place during the 64th annual Tualatin Crawfish Festival, Aug. 1-3. Also scheduled is a Friday night Mystery Box Cook-off, during which professional chefs will be tested to concoct their best crawfish recipe.

Barb Gonzalez / For The Bulletin

Fun stinks: A week later, Aug. 8-10, the North Plains Elephant Garlic Festival will be held at Jessie Mays Community Park off U.S. Highway 26, on the northwest outskirts of the Portland metro area. A Saturday morning parade, presided over by the newly crowned Garlic King and Queen, is a highlight. Crafts and food vendors — who will focus on such garlic-inspired foods as garlic ice cream — will welcome visitors for three days, as a variety of musical acts, from country to rock, Christian to jazz and blues, perform on stage.

Wooden boats: Tiny Toledo, 10 miles east of Newport on the Yaquina River, is home to the annual Port of Toledo Wooden Boat Show on Aug. 16 and 17. In its Waterfront Park, it celebrates the tradition of working boats and pleasure craft, kayaks and canoes, representing many years and styles. Activities include family boat building, children’s toy boat building, canoe jousting, live music, food and historical exhibits.

All about the jam: Down the coast, Coos Bay’s Blackberry Arts Festival is set for Aug. 23 and 24. It features plenty of blackberry-themed foods and drinks, as well as a street fair rich in various arts and crafts: jewelry, photography, paintings, weaving and spinning, woodworking and more. The highlight of the 32nd annual affair is the Blackberry Jam concert series, featuring Bend’s own Bobby Lindstrom — a Coos Bay native who will take the stage at 1 p.m. Sunday.

Wagon ruts: Labor Day weekend (Aug. 30-31) brings the Oregon Trail Wagon Encampment to the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center on Flagstaff Hill east of Baker City. Covered wagons will circle above the ruts of the mid-19th-century emigrant trail, as living-history performers demonstrate what life was like for the travelers. Scheduled events include lectures, Dutch oven cooking demonstrations, and a variety of interactive exhibits.

September events

Hee haw: Hells Canyon Mule Days will celebrate the heritage of mules and mule skinners, and their role in the development of the American West, Sept. 5-7 in the Wallowa Mountain town of Enterprise. It was established in 1981 to recognize a long-eared equine that festival organizes call “tough, intelligent, individualistic, often maligned, but the mainstay of many packers and outfitters working in Wallowa County.” Events include a 20-block, Saturday morning parade through Enterprise; an entertaining, family-oriented mule and horse show, a quilt show, a Dutch oven cook-off and more.

A pair of mules pull a wagon through the streets of Enterprise during last years Hells Canyon Mule Days celebration. The event (Sept. 5-7 this year) honors a "tough, intelligent, individualistic" equine that organizers call "the mainstay of packers and outfitters."

Courtesy Hells Canyon Mule Days / Submitted photo

Red fruit: How many cranberries can you eat? The 68th annual Bandon Cranberry Festival (Sept. 12-14) features a cranberry-eating contest, along with a downtown parade presided over by the five-member Cranberry Court. Other attractions include live music, the Queen of the Kitchen food fair, the Washed Ashore art exhibit of sea life sculpted from marine trash, and the Cranberry City food and crafts market.

Festival princess Ariel Elstad bursts into laughter during a cranberry-eating contest at the 2013 Bandon Cranberry Festival. A five-member court annually presides over a downtown parade, one of numerous highlights of the 68th annual festival.

Medieval moments: If you haven’t yet found time for the Oregon Renaissance Festival of Hillsboro, Sept. 20-21 is your last opportunity. The event will be held at the Washington County Fair complex every weekend beginning Aug. 16 — six Saturdays and Sundays, plus Labor Day.

In a re-created 16th-century English village, knights will face one another in a live jousting tournament. Visitors will be surrounded by improvisational theater, as jesters and minstrels, magicians and maidens, village merchants and the royal court bring the Renaissance era back to life.

Reporter: janderson@bendbulletin.com