Wheeler County Courthouse Lawn, 701 Adams Street
Late June to early July
Wheeler County, they say, is the only county in Oregon with more horses than people, and in this case, “they” are no doubt correct. This expansive mountainous county sprawls across some 1,700 square miles but is home to only about 1,400 residents. Fossil, with a population of about 500, is the county seat and was named by Thomas B. Hoover, the town’s first postmaster. Fossil sits far from the state’s major thoroughfares—you have to want to go there.
Wheeler County Wheeler-Coukty-Bluecrass-Festlval Photo Gallery
And when you arrive, slow down; nothing really happens fast in this region—the residents, whether townsfolk or ranch people, always seem happy to chat, offer directions, or provide information. Emulate them and embrace the friendly rural atmosphere.
Annually over the first full weekend in July, Fossil hosts the Wheeler County Bluegrass Festival, which draws remarkably talented professional musicians from throughout the region.
Held at the courtyard of the beautiful and historic Wheeler County Courthouse, the festival is free of charge, sponsored by local businesses, agencies,
and organizations. Attendees can partake in impromptu jam sessions, enjoy the festival parade, and even gain valuable instruction from professional musicians who lead free instructional workshops on instruments they play, and with each instrument having a dedicated class, the courthouse lawn can literally host banjo instruction in one corner, a bass instruction across the courtyard, and so on. These instructional sessions vary from year to year, depending on the performing bands and the instruments they play—attendees are encouraged to bring their instruments regardless of skill level. Moreover, the festival holds a popular “Fossil Song Contest” in which contestants sing original, unpublished songs about some feature of the local area.
It’s a good idea to bring your own chair—fold-up beach/camp chairs are ideal; camping is available within easy walking distance at the fairgrounds and at the local high school. Fossil has one motel and a variety of B&B-type lodging options, as well as two restaurants and a coffee shop/deli. The John Day Fossil Beds National Monument is about an hour southeast via State Route 19.
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