It was the beginning of Matt Keenan’s sophomore year at the University of Oregon when he was invited to jam with guitar and vocalist Marty Chilla, whose music group was in need of a bass player. When Keenan mentioned that his girlfriend, Megan Bassett, could also sing and she hopped on, the Sugar Beets were born. 

Thirty-five years later, Matt and Megan are married, and the Sugar Beets are a powerful eight-piece ensemble who have consistently rocked the West Coast since their college days. They have played everything from the Willamette Valley Folk Festival and Secretary of State Bill Bradbury’s inauguration to the Dalai Lama’s visit to Eugene in 2013, as well as many, many weddings. While they are grateful for every musical opportunity they’ve been presented, performing at Oregon Country Fair will always be their very favorite.

The Sugar Beets have played OCF for so long that they can’t even agree on how many times they’ve played. All they can confirm is that they’ve performed “over 20” years worth of shows, and that on July 14, they will be returning to close out OCF once again.     

However, this go-round is particularly special for them, because although they have taken practically every OCF stage scattered through the last few decades, in a “full-circle moment” as both Keenan and Bassett describe, they will be returning to Kesey Stage, where they performed at their first OCF in 1992.

“The fair is our vibe,” Keenan says. Bassett agrees. “Being in the woods, being in the sunshine and being with our community sharing art is the most free we ever feel,” she says. “We play our best at the Oregon Country Fair.” 

Community and creativity is very important to the Sugar Beets, and that’s why they’ve stayed planted in Eugene for so long despite having opportunities to move their music elsewhere.

“Eugene is just a unique place. It’s not about appearances or anything superficial. It’s about really making a connection and being creative and bringing your best self to something,” Bassett says. The couple affirms that all of this shows itself to the fullest when performing at OCF. 

“For us, the Fair is a place to run into people that we love who are really our fans and family,” Keenan says. “It’s a multigenerational thing happening now,” Bassett says. “People who are having their own kids grew up listening to us when their parents were coming to our shows.” Since they’ve cemented their residency as a Eugene band, they still regularly see people at OCF who travel from other places just to see them. “It’s really special,” Keenan says. 

The couple says they love playing on a stage through a PA system in a standard concert hall, but it is “tenfold” to playing at OCF. “You look out there and people are getting naked. They have their body painted, they’re smiling with you and they’re beaming,” Keenan says. The Sugar Beets love getting in on the fun and “playing along” with the audience. “We have had shows where we have a green alligator getting carried in on a chariot by a bunch of guys with red dresses on, and we come up with belly dancers and all kinds of things to really have that synergy with the audience. We’re creating something in the woods.”

The group features violins, fiddles, mandolins, a sitar and a sarod —  a Hindustani string instrument similar to a lute — and the list goes on. Because of this eclectic lineup, they used to refer to their music as “psychedelic bluegrass” until they realized that it sounded nothing like that description. Instead, they’ve named their particular mix of rock, pop and folk “acoustic dance music.” After 35 years, they continue to play new and old original music with “a positive vibe” as described by Bassett.

The Sugar Beets believe that they resonate so well with OCF because of how much they have in common with it. “We’re heart-centered, community-oriented, free-spirited, all-ages,” Keenan says. At the fair, “We express our love for eachother and we celebrate our connections,” Bassett says, “and a lot of our music is about that.” 

The Oregon Country Fair’s music lineup features a huge list of returning Eugene favorites and newcomers alike, including The California Honeydrops, Reggie Watts, Tolliver, Moonbear and Glitterfox. Find them all at OregonCountryFair.com.