Salem’s Make Music Day returns June 21 with live music all over town

About a decade ago, a small group of Salem business owners, city leaders and other volunteers began deliberating about how they could make downtown a more desirable place to be.

One idea born out of those meetings, Make Music Day, has become something of a holiday for the city. The annual event celebrated in cities around the world on June 21 will return in Salem next Wednesday, with dozens of local artists stationed throughout the city all day to perform live music.

Around 250 artists are slated to perform at over 50 locations around Salem between 10 a.m. and 10:30 p.m.. 

Last year’s event had performances at about 30 locations. Mark Green, co-founder of Make Music Day Salem, said the upcoming venue lineup will mark a return to their numbers before the pandemic.

“This is kind of our big coming out party,” Green said.

Venues will include Riverfront Park, the Willamette Heritage Center and the YMCA, and there will be musicians on street corners and in bars and restaurants such as Taproot Lounge & Cafe, Noble Wave, and Epilogue Kitchen and Cocktails.

Green said the event will feature live music from every genre imaginable, including pop, folk, country, rock, orchestra, rap, experimental and religious music.

“If you like any kind of music, we pretty much have something for you,” he said.

Those who make a day of the event can watch performances by the Oregon Symphony and Sprague High School Orchestra, as well as local artists like Wild Ire, Boundless Joy, Rondalla Sentimiento Latino, John Fro and Lords of Blackwood.

There will also be performances by the Portland Samba Ensemble, The Beat Goes On Marching Band, and an appearance by the Unipiper, a Portland street performer who cycles while wearing a Darth Vader mask and playing flaming bagpipes.

An event schedule is available online. Most performances will be in the evening, with venues all around the city but most concentrated around downtown.

This eighth annual Make Music Day will feature some events intended for anyone to participate, including bucket drumming, a ukulele jam, harmonica and kazoo giveaways, steel pan drum jams and “Found Sound Alley,” where people play household items as instruments.

The event originated in France in 1982, held on the longest day of the year, and debuted in Salem in 2016. 

“People need to get outside, musicians need to go and play and share their art, and it needs to be free,” Green said, describing the idea behind the event.

He said Salem was the 22nd U.S. city to join. There are now over 100 in the country. 

Green described Make Music Salem as “a big party.” He said among attendees, the event has sparked the creation of new bands and even romantic relationships.

There is an unwritten rule, he said, that everyone is a star. “We get kids up there and do bucket drumming, or maybe you’re not very good and you go out and perform. The whole idea is to get out there and perform,” he said.

Green said the backdrop of local businesses surrounding performers and attendees also brings economic value to the city.

“It just makes you feel good and it makes you proud of your community,” he said of the event.

The deadline for performers to apply was June 7. But Green said in previous years, bands from Portland, Eugene and Corvallis have learned of the event while it was happening, showed up and asked if they could perform.

“If you’re here and you want to be a part of it, we’re gonna make it work,” he said.

And some local teens in recent years have also gotten smart. “They figured out, ‘Hey, get a couple of my friends, hang out in the corner, I can make a few bucks singing or performing,’” he said. “So we’ll have people just kind of pop up and busk like that, and it’s always good to see the kids do that.”

Green said this year’s event still needs donors and volunteers to help with things like giving people information and cleanup after the event.

People can sign up to volunteer or donate on the Make Music Salem website.

Contact reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian: [email protected] or 503-929-3053.

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Ardeshir Tabrizian has covered criminal justice and housing for Salem Reporter since September 2021. As an Oregon native, his award-winning watchdog journalism has traversed the state. He has done reporting for The Oregonian, Eugene Weekly and Malheur Enterprise.