Women songwriters to take center stage in Salem performance

In the middle of lockdown in 2020, Kristen Grainger felt more isolated than a musician ought to. 

She was stuck at home in Salem, missing the way her friends would come together to put on gigs in their Oregon hometowns and support up-and-coming performers.

Then, in September, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died.

“When she passed away, it was right before the election, and we were just distraught and sad, and wanted to do something to commemorate her life,” Grainger said. “But of course we couldn’t even be in the same room, let alone put on a concert.”

So Grainger joined forces with Bre Gregg and Beth Wood to create a YouTube channel, called “She’s Speaking.” The channel curated over 60 songs from women artists, all asked to write and perform a piece about a woman who inspired them.

The musicians recorded with phones propped against books, singing about their families, friends, or inspiring scientists and artists like Jane Goodall and Maya Angelou. Grainger wrote a tribute to her friend and former boss, Gov. Kate Brown. 

It was the origin of a project, “She’s Speaking – LIVE,” that’s hitting the road for the first time this year, with a Salem concert scheduled for 2 p.m. Sunday, March 19 at the Loucks Auditorium at the Salem Public Library, 585 Liberty St. S.E.

The regional tour will have stops throughout Women’s History Month in Lincoln City, Salem, Portland and Ilwaco, Washington. 

The Salem concert will feature eight performers, from a variety of genres including funk, rock and jazz.

Grainger, a Salem resident who fronts the Americana string band “Kristen Grainger & True North,” is among those slated to perform. She’s doing one of her own called “Light by Light” about domestic violence and stalking, and a song by “The Pretenders” called “Middle of the Road.”

“It’ll be all over the map, and just beautiful voices, amazing singers, and a very upbeat, dynamic, sassy show,” she said. “This is not going to be a maudlin, dark, sad songs – though I love those, just saying – but this’ll be a very upbeat, fun show.”

The event, which had in-person concerts in 2021 and 2022, promotes women artists and hopes to raise awareness about underrepresentation and discrimination in the music industry. 

It’s a topic that grabbed the attention of the American Association of University Women’s Salem Branch, the presenting sponsor of the Salem performance. The association aims to empower women and girls in the community.

Group member Dolores Mlynarczyk was among the promoters and put up posters for the concert in Salem’s downtown area. 

“Hearing women’s voices, and this music – it just goes to my heart. I’m so looking forward to it,” she said, and added that she has a particular fondness for bluegrass. She joked that she’s the branch groupie for “Kristen Grainger & True North.”

“So often it’s male bands in bluegrass,” added Claudia Carmichael, another member of the association.

The other performers are Arietta Ward, Bre Gregg, LaRhonda Steele, Beth Wood, Liz Chibucos, Naomi LaViolette and Lisa Mann.

“It’s rare that you’re gonna get this much talent on one stage,” Grainger said. “(I) hope people will bring their sons and daughters, and their nieces and nephews and their friends, book clubs, their coffee klatches, their sisters-in-law, whatever. It’s a great show for everybody.”

Tickets for all shows are available online, for $20 each.

Contact reporter Abbey McDonald: [email protected] or 503-704-0355.

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Abbey McDonald joined the Salem Reporter in 2022. She previously worked as the business reporter at The Astorian, where she covered labor issues, health care and social services. A University of Oregon grad, she has also reported for the Malheur Enterprise, The News-Review and Willamette Week.