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Take a trip to Salem's Elsinore Theater

Ned Martin

Contributing Writer

On Saturday the 11th there was a huge event for the Salem Art Association. Their goal was to provide Salem a unique show, something people hadn't seen before. The Elsinore theater is a local venue that has been working to create a place for local and larger acts to perform in Salem's downtown. Inside the theater, a new world emerges. Well dressed people watch a stage surrounded by columns and curtains, settling in to watch the acts of the night. These acts took on vastly different approaches and musical influences. It felt like traveling through the world with each new performance.

Mosley Wotta was the show's emcee, or master of ceremonies. Putting on his best NPR impersonation, he worked the crowd and solicited donations. The Salem Art Convention is a non-profit organization and—despite the venue’s upscale appearance—they do not operate with wide margins and they rely on donors. As Mosley said, “If you can give, give.”

Mosley Watta’s name includes a layered meaning. When spoken it sounds like “Mostly Water.” His message here is to remind all of us that we are all mostly water—no matter what skin color or body size we possess, we are all the same on the inside. In leading his show, he sought to reinvent the spaces that we normally associate with old money, spaces often dominated by fancy old folks. Despite the Elsinore being one such space, the event traveled from setting to setting across the world, something unimaginable when the theater was created. The experience of seeing these vastly different acts felt almost like traveling the world through music, on a Voyage led by Mossley Watta.

The journey started close to home, with a land acknowledgment and Kalapuya traditional music by Jan Michael Looking Wolf and Robin Gentlewolf. They performed flute and guitar songs and discussed an array of current social and political divides. One song called “we are all related.” commented on coming together in a divided country and world. The acknowledgment served to acknowledge the building’s history while also promoting the affected communities.

Next up to perform was an opera singer named Ellie Niver. Her vocal range was as breathtaking as the pianist's ability on the keys. Reminiscent of a ballroom in Rome, Italian opera filled the air.

Moments later, Pachaga came into the room and transported the audience to South America. The ten-person band lifted the crowd from their seats—at first just a few—but soon after the host began to engage the crowd and got everyone up to dance in the aisles. There was a mix of salsa dancing and the cha cha slide as the band provided a stellar atmosphere. It was very difficult not to move once they got on stage and when they finished it was clear the crowd could have used another few songs.

Amythyst Kiah concluded the night and blew it away, steeping the audience in a southern city with warm air and cowboy boots. Songs like “Black Myself” and “Natural Blues” shook the crowd. It was clear after just a couple minutes why she was nominated for the best roots song at the 62nd Grammy awards in 2020. Her lyrics blended the insightful political commentary she wanted to promote while not sacrificing any artistic liberties. With her on stage were two great guitarists that stole the show on occasion by just shredding their solos. One of the best perks of seeing a live show, Amythyst even performed new songs that have not yet reached Spotify.

Overall the experience here was invigorating. Not only was the art displayed unexpectedly and constantly changing but it challenged the norms of physical spaces. By staging this concert in such a fancy, old money environment at first did not produce feelings of diversity, but as the show moved forward and after speaking with the Salem Art Association director Mathew Boulay, it became clear the goal of this show was not only to provide art locally for Salemites but also to battle with Oregon’s negative past through performance art, something that can bring everyone together.

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