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Earthdance or North Country Fair? 

click to enlarge Michael Franti of Spearhead
  • Michael Franti of Spearhead

Got into a conversation late Friday night on Arcata's bar row. After partying hard, my friend was leaving the next day for S.F. to see Michael Franti at the Fillmore, a show that followed his big Power to the Peaceful Fest in Golden Gate Park. She's a serious Spearhead fan and it didn't matter that she was going to hear Michael play again this weekend at Earthdance. She was adamant that I should go to Earthdance too. I've never been, in part because it's always the same weekend as The North Country Fair, an event I've been attending for decades. We ended up weighing the pros and cons.

I'll admit, Earthdance sounds tempting. For one thing this is the last "Dance for Peace" at Black Oak Ranch. The Hog Farm folks are concerned with the impact on their Laytonville neighbors and are looking at doing their own smaller event next year, something they call The Gaia Festival (which sounds a lot like Earthdance). So Earthdance founder Chris Deckker is bidding a bittersweet goodbye to the ranch and moving to a new location, the Solano County Fairground (by Marine World Africa USA), unfortunately a longer distance for Humboldters.

The North Country Fair has had its own problems in recent years, but those seem to be in the past, ironed out by the Same Old People. (That's a relief.)

The last Earthdance blast brings back some old faves, Spearhead, Zap Mama and Kinky being prime examples, along with an extremely eclectic collection of music for hippies and ravers, from kosher reggae by Matisyahu to electrojams by BLVD, world music by Delhi 2 Dublin (among others) electronica all night long with Gaudi among others, plus a double dose of New Orleans funk from Ivan Neville and Dumpstaphunk and Trombone Shorty with Orleans Avenue. There are jugglers and bellydancers in the Yard Dogs Road Show, "Activist Alley," with tabling for many causes and elders to learn from, but you know what?North Country Fair has its own bellydancers and jugglers along with activists and elders of many stripes -- and they're all local.

Music and dancing? The NC Fair has three stages going both days with its own version of eclectic, everything from Quebecois folk by Mon Petit Chou (10:30 a.m.) to the Arcata Interfaith Gospel Choir (11:30 a.m.), world fusion by WoMama (2 p.m.) and my faves from SoHum, Lost Coast Marimbas (4:30 p.m.). And that's just Saturday. Sunday you have Bandemonium and Children of the Sun starting the day (at 11:45 and noon respectively) with jazz by Miles Ahead (3:15), groovin' by Kulica (3:30), UKEsperience's ukulele madness (4:30) and jams by The Fickle Hillbillies (4:45), and that's just a few of more than a score of acts.

Earthdance has its annual "Prayer for Peace" on Saturday at 4 p.m. synchronized with prayers in 150 other cities where Earthdancers will gather. NC Fair counters with the Samba Da Allegria circling the Plaza, pulling in revelers and stopping to dance on a couple of corners (Saturday at 1) and Sunday's All Species Parade with folks costumed as their favorite beasts and wild marching music (also at 1 p.m.). 

The prelude to Sunday's parade in honor of the late Tim McKay (longtime North Coast Environmental Center leader) is the All Species Ball, an animal costumed affair Saturday, Sept. 18 at the Arcata Community Center. It starts post-Fair at 6:30 p.m. and runs till 11 with a locavore dinner, silent auction, book sale and music by Bandemonium, The Bucky Walters and Absynth Quintet. (Call the NEC office at 822-6918 or check for more information.)

The number one advantage of the NC Fair for me is proximity: I can walk to the Arcata Plaza, stay as long as I like, walk home, then over to the Community Center, then home again to sleep in my own bed. Admittedly the Earthdance getaway factor is an attraction for many. And from what I hear, no one sleeps -- the party rages all weekend.

Hmmm. There's one more possibility: Earthdance offers Sunday-only tickets ($80) and Trombone Shorty, Matisyahu and Spearhead all play that evening, so it's conceivable to do both. Hmmm. Temptation...

Earthdance Global Dance Festival for Peace runs Friday, Sept. 17 through Sunday, Sept. 19 at the Black Oak Ranch, just north of Laytonville. Go to for full schedule and ticket info.

The North Country Fair goes from 10 a.m.- 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday on the Arcata Plaza. A full schedule is available at

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About The Author

Bob Doran

Bob Doran

Freelance photographer and writer, Arts and Entertainment editor from 1997 to 2013.

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