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Nothing like local UFO Fest to nourish the mind and soul

Little, if anything, embraces both the playful and the serious like McMinville’s annual UFO Festival. 

It started in 2000, when McMenamins historian Tim Hills became interested in the famous Trent UFO photos, and organized a party and small convention around the 50th anniversary of the day farmers Paul and Evelyn Trent captured on camera a mysterious object in the sky. 

In the festival’s third year, the McMinnville Downtown Association and several of its merchant members embraced the celebration. In the process, they decided to launch a UFO parade that has become wildly successful. 

Now, on the eve of the event’s 20th anniversary, the UFO Festival captures the imagination of many thousands, congregating each May. Many kudos to the MDA, participants in the parade and other events, and, especially, the McMenamins’ team.

“They knocked it out of the park,” Jeremy Corbell, one of this year’s featured speakers, said of McMenamins.

Like most speakers at the annual festival, he attends UFO events around the country. McMinnville’s version is “absolutely, by far, the most festive,” he said. “It was really special to see how everyone got together.”

A majority attend the UFO Fest for the zany floats, costumes, parties and antics. But the lineup of speakers and presentations — the serious side of the festival — was equally engaging and well-attended. 

“As a speaker, the audience was really well informed and had great questions,” Corbell said. He also revelled in the opportunity to discuss his upcoming film, “Extraordinary Beliefs,” and other UFO related matters, with keynote speaker George Knapp. 

“The presentations that they had, this is a coup for a UFO festival,” he said. “They had some incredible speakers.

“I wanted to watch every one. (Organizers) were really thoughtful in how they orchestrated it and balanced the discussions with the festivities.”

While many similar events are planned as business opportunities, Corbell said it was refreshing to attend a UFO-centric festival with a culture all its own, grown organically over 19 years and embraced so widely.

That engagement included local colleges entering floats weeks or months in the making; Del Smith’s original helicopter, carrying blow-up alien dolls; on-street alien autopsies; troupes of favorite science fiction characters; and so very much more. It’s a celebration affirming how it’s OK to be different.

Both believers and skeptics attended, but the event included one belief everyone could embrace. As local psychic medium and paranormal radio show host Cheri Pang put it, “It’s good to be open-minded.”

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