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Friday, August 22, 2008

In Praise Of Salem

posted by on August 22 at 13:51 PM

Why YOU should play Salem, Oregon, ASAP:

On the few occasions my band has been able to scrounge together the time and money to tour, we’ve taken care to book Salem as our final gig before heading home. The local bands are fantastic, the audiences are hungry, and the scene is tight. If you’re genuine, you’ll fit right in.


Our first gig was back in late 2006, in the basement of a now-defunct cafe called The Sip. The crowd was ablaze despite its modest size—two dozen kids and a few parents eager to hear some homegrown maestros: Root Villa, Sad Panda, and Easterly. Until then, I’d never seen so few people exude so much roiling enthusiasm. It carried through from the first band to the last, diminishing only between sets during bathroom breaks and smoothie refills. Nobody knew who we were, but it felt like playing in a practice space with all our best friends. When we were loading out at the end of the night one kid tapped our singer on the shoulder and blessed us with strange praise: “If you guys don’t come back soon, I’m gonna drink poison and vomit blood all over this wall to spell your band’s name.” For the sake of that young man, we returned.

In small towns with active music scenes there’s a thinner membrane than usual between artists their audiences. If you’re local, the people at your shows have already seen your face a thousand times before—at one of the coffee joints, maybe, or the record store, or standing around the central bus terminal eating a bowl of bad Chinese noodles, just hanging out—so you’re no big deal. But the audience craves your efforts because you provide their one good reason to stay out on a school night. They don’t much care about your ambitions, your dreams of getting huge, getting press, getting on. They just want somewhere to go and something to see when everything else in town has gone dark. So show up and give good gig. They’ll be kind to you.


Our first ally in the war to win Salem’s love was Jason Stringer, the beatsmith behind the disbanded electro-dance duo, Sad Panda. Jason is the epitome of this laid-back, small town Do It Or Die attitude. At 25 (or so), he’s already a veteran of Salem’s bubbling music scene. He used to book shows, but now he doesn’t, unless he does. It’s complicated. Meanwhile, he’s playing out as often as possible—sometimes as Omegatone, currently as Massive Moth. It was Jason who set the tone for all our gigs to come—warm, welcoming, enthusiastic, dedicated. All the show’s we’ve played with him have been some of our best, simply because the company was so good.

Kevin Rafn, the other half of Massive Moth, is also one of Root Villa’s wizards. I’ve seen the Villa boys four times now and they just keep getting better. They keep breaking up too, but I think the sheer gravity of their awesomeness keeps pulling them back together. Jangly pop-rock tunes with epic turns and smart arrangements. Sadly their Myspace page has few representative examples of their recent greatness. But if you intend to play Salem, call these guys and beg to open for them.

Or perhaps one of these fine Salem bands better suits your taste:

Mill Race … Lo-fi, Sci-fi, experimental pop. Space-western themed.

Sister Ray … Super-sonic pop rock.

The Falcon … Gritty rock n’ roll mainstays.

The Plants … A smart, husband-and-wife folk duo.

The Worrynauts … No Wavey Minimalist rock.

Jewelia Owens … Effortless singer-songwriter charm.

The Funhouse Strippers … New York Dolls garage punk through an X filter.

Leech … Black metal.

Kid Espi … Kinetic hip hop.

For an even bigger list, visit the Salem Musicpedia (discovered by yours truly over 10 minutes ago, thank you, thank you.)


So now it’s an established fact: if you love music and the people who listen to it, your band will have to play Salem at some point. It’s too close to Portland to skip, and has too many hungry music fanatics to ignore. So where do you book? As far as past experience (and Jason) tells me, these are the best places to score a solid gig:

The Ike Box
… all ages coffee joint with a huge stage. Dodgy sound (the room is big, and wider than it is deep) but wonderful crowds.

Copper John’s … 21+ rock show every Thursday.

Triangle … 21+ hard rock/metal on weekends.

Saphire … Rock, metal, and hip hop shows.

Blue Pepper … Alternative, indie pop and more mainstream on weekends.

The Space … Jason runs this place with a few other guys. A small venue with soul. 21+ shows, 4 nights a week.

That just about covers the basics. Best of luck if you go. Remember to keep your instruments in tune, your chops sharp, and if possible, invest in a band uniform or basic “look” that lets the good people of Oregon know that you mean business.

RSS icon Comments


Can I just say THANK YOU for loving Salem!
I live here and it is nice to hear that someone else likes our music scene!

Hope you bring so amazing music here

Much love,
Grace Ross

Posted by Grace Ross | August 22, 2008 3:17 PM

Shazam! Thanks for proving my thesis, Grace. Salem peoples are tuned-in.

Posted by Darby McDevitt | August 22, 2008 3:41 PM

i have to agree. my last band made a point to do all-ages at the sip (when it was there) or ike box whenever we could. it's not that far from portland if you head down to do a show and the scene is hungry and willing. good post!

Posted by chris | August 22, 2008 9:28 PM

Very nice press for Salem. Much Thanks Darby!
We live here and love our in-town audience and music community.

I also book a new venue by the name of
Brown's Towne Lounge, for sing/writers and semi-electric music. Tuesday evenings. Free
21+ or 503-391-9977 for more info

Lisa Nunes

Posted by LeNUNES | August 25, 2008 6:41 PM

Yea for the Salem music scene! Thank you for your post and kind words for our state capital that rocks.

Posted by Melissa | August 25, 2008 10:22 PM

Hey! Thanks for linking to the Salem Music Pedia! I own it and I pay the hosting bills to make sure as Metallica would say, the memory remains...

Posted by Jesse | August 28, 2008 5:59 PM

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