The mid-oughts proved a crucial time for culture and nightlife in downtown Salem. Traditional groups like Salem Downtown Association and Salem Convention and Visitors Association were defunded by the City and reconstituted in different forms. It would take years to re-establish those networks and the normal cultural programming stopped during the transition.
Events like Summer in the City, where downtown streets were closed and bands played, ceased to exist without leadership or funding. Of course, the event itself was on its last legs anyway. It peaked around 1996, when Curtis Salgado played on Chemeketa next to Salem Center. The pavement was starting to cool when Salgado took the stage, around 9:30. The beer garden kept busy and there were hundreds of people dancing in the streets. We were having too much fun enjoying public space. No more beer garden after that year. Attendance dwindled. When they ended the annual sidewalk sale a few years later, the event’s fate was sealed.
The lack of annual downtown events opened the door for Mix-n-Mash in 2007. The idea was hatched in Coffee House Cafe in May 2007. Lari DeLapp, the new owner, agreed to host a fundraiser with bands, art and poetry. Organizing the event was no small feat. Many different players needed satisfaction, which sometimes led to conflict. Commitment from bands to play a free show was difficult. There was no network for artists. After much wrangling and just plain stubbornness, bands and artists were booked and the show was on. According to the press, Nodding Tree Remedies, The Seditionists, Sad Panda and Gingerbread Patriots were scheduled to play on Friday, May 11.
What actually happened was totally different. Mixing multiple art forms during a single event resulted in unexpected stress and an even more spectacular experience for attendees. When one band dropped, more bands jumped on the bill. Some artists were no-shows. No house PA proved challenging. Despite the learning curve, pop, punk, hip hop and psychedelic bands came together to celebrate a new community downtown. A vacuum was filled, if only for a few hours in one location.
The crowds that came to see one band stuck around for the following. People stood on the sidewalk during the event and downtown shook with music, youth and culture. New connections were made. Visual artists met musicians. Boundaries were challenged and crossed. Egos were assuaged. Everyone smiled. A speaker was blown. Noise complaints brought the police at midnight. More than $400 was raised. It was a success on many levels. And a failure on others.
One very positive aspect of the event was the visual art exhibition in the green room. Offbeat crafts, mysterious acrylics and a black and white photo zine drew people in from the music and offered an oasis of creativity to chat with new friends.
Another surprise was the amount of kids/families coming to the show. Since there was no alcohol, all ages were coming in and staying late.
By the time Nodding Tree Remedies and the crowd stopped shaking the building, the cops had arrived and declared the event a success.
After assessing the event, the next few months were spent drumming up support for a multiple venue, multiple artist event of some kind, which was scheduled for sometime in the fall…
Do you support live music in Salem? Hundreds of bands and thousands of fans gathered at the Cherry City Music Festival over the past 10 years. Your donation helps make this year extra special and keep concerts free. Please chip in for a grassroots event that is still exists after a decade.
Visit Shotski’s every Saturday until the Festival for the Cherry City Music Preview Series. Eight weeks of free concerts are performed on the newest stage in Salem.
Mix-n-Mash returns to Salem February 25-27 at Shotski’s.
Sign up for the Music Festival and we’ll try to get you a stage.