Nupurum Folk Dance showcased dances from the different states of India in brightly colored saris during the 2019 World Beat Festival. (Saphara Harrell/ Salem Reporter)

At Salem’s last World Beat Festival in 2019, Kathleen Fish overheard a conversation where a Polish couple thanked a Mexican couple because their country took in so many Polish refugees during World War II.

Fish, the executive director of the festival, said she’d never learned about that piece of the war. But organic connections like that are one of her favorite parts of the multicultural festival which has been a Salem staple for over two decades.

“Really cool things like that pop up,” she said.

After a two-year pandemic hiatus, World Beat is back this weekend at Riverfront Park, with dance and music performances, dragon boat races, crafts for kids, and food and vendors from around the world.

The festival runs June 24-26. Gates open at 5 p.m. Friday, with a lineup of performances at the uncovered park amphitheater until 10 p.m. The festival is open 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday.

In past years, the festival has had themes focused on specific countries or cultures. But Fish said after two years away, organizers wanted to focus on coming back together.

“We just figured ‘Let’s Dance’ is the theme because we should all be happy to be able to move about a bit more freely,” she said.

In line with celebrating dance, the Friday night lineup includes DJ Prashant and the Jai Ho! Dance Troupe, a high-energy Bollywood performance.

“Even if you cannot dance, and I cannot dance, he’ll have you moving,” Fish said.

Dragon boat races will also return, with 20 teams competing. Those include regular racers, many of whom are traveling to Salem for the event, as well as five community teams: two from Salem Health, and one each from Salem Clinic, Taproot and Momiji.

This year, racers will load into boats at 7:30 a.m. Saturday for a Kalapuya welcome and blessing ceremony conducted by representatives from the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde. Races begin at 9 a.m., with a final at 4 p.m.

Fish said planning the festival after two years away has been a challenge, especially as World Beat, like many nonprofits, shed staff during the early days of the pandemic. Some vendors haven’t returned, and she’s been organizing the event with one other part-time employee, down from a usual crew of three full-time workers.

“It’s almost as hard as the first festival because there’s so much to remember,” she said.

But the 2022 event also includes some new additions, including a Ukrainian cultural booth and the Japanese Consulate on Saturday.

Fish said the festival’s intention remains the same as it was at the first World Beat in 1998.

“We were looking for a really positive tangible way for people to get to know each other and get to know about the many different cultures that exist here in the Willamette Valley. The best way to do that is through art, dance, culture and food,” she said. “It gives people a chance to be up close and personal with people they might never have met before.”

If you go: Tickets to the World Beat Festival are $5 daily or $10 for a weekend pass, and kids 14 and under are free. Tickets can be bought online in advance or at the gate. A full schedule of events for the weekend and vendor list is on the festival website.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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