May 9th, 2022

McMinnville’s UFO Festival owns weird for the weekend

Parade participants wearing green alien suits dance in the street.
After a long hiatus, the UFO Festival parade returns. Photo by Jim Fischer.

Oregon has plenty of weird to go around, from the “vortex” and the planet’s last Blockbuster Video store to virtually any day in Portland. But this weekend, McMinnville owns weird: It is time for the 22nd annual UFO Festival.

McMenamins Hotel Oregon is ground zero for this eclectic event, which marks the anniversary of one of the most intriguing and un-debunkable cases in American ufology: The May 1950 UFO sighting by Paul Trent, a local farmer who snapped a couple photographs of a flying silvery disc that appeared over his farm.

It is one of the most famous UFO photos ever taken.  

Nearly 75 years later, ufology is more visible than ever. A growing number of scientists, journalists, the aviation industry and government officials take Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAPs) seriously. There appears, after decades of denials and tinfoil hat accusations, to actually be a “there” there, and the McMinnville festival affords an opportunity to both hear from a range of experts and to celebrate the more exotic implications.

In other words, expect lectures and Powerpoint. But hang out on Third Street Saturday afternoon and you’ll also be treated to a sea of Wookies, Greys, probably lots of Baby Yodas and maybe even a Gorn. Culturally speaking, the festival is what one might call a … well, hybrid. 

“It’s a sea change, at least potentially,” says Bryan Bender, a national defense reporter for Politico who never gave UFOs much thought during his years of covering the Pentagon. Now, he’s writing stories about members of Congress haranguing the Pentagon for not being as forthcoming about UAPs as they’d like. “It’s not kryptonite anymore.” 

Bender is one of this year’s speakers, a lineup that includes author Whitley Strieber, whose Communion books in the 1990s unpacked his own history of weird encounters with an unknown intelligent other he calls “the Visitors,” and ufologist Kathleen Marden, who has been researching UFOs and related phenomena since the 1960s. 

“It is extraordinary and unsettling,” she says. “It is the greatest mystery of our time.”

Bender covered the military for two decades and doesn’t recall the topic ever coming up. A few years ago, after the government declassified some UFO files, he handed the story off to an intern at the Boston Globe. Now that the Pentagon has acknowledged that UFOs are “real,” (whatever that means) it’s now a topic that lands in his lap with some regularity.

“I don’t see it going away,” he said, then adding: “I think there are people in the Pentagon who would like it to go away.”

The fun begins Thursday evening with live music from Kirby Swatosh & the Moon Rock Patrol in Mattie’s room upstairs in McMenamins. On Friday morning Jeremy Scott will interview some of this year’s guests for his radio show Into the Parabnormal. The festival gets festive Saturday with a 5K Alien Abduction Dash, a kids’ fun run, a costume contest (one for people, another for pets!) plenty of vendors and of course, our legendarily weird parade at 3:30 p.m.

For a complete schedule, speaker bios, ticket info and more, visit the website

A cartoon of David Bates

About the author: David Bates is a McMinnville writer who covers the intersection of UFOs, culture and skepticism for Trail of the Saucers on Medium.