“When people come to Salem from out of town, they think it’s a musical wasteland,” said Jared Sheridan, owner of Wasteland, the all-ages venue, on 730 Front Street NE. “I chose that name specifically because of the lack of music in Salem.”
Being a live music desert not only inspired the name, but it was the precise reason why Sheridan decided to open the venue in Salem. “There’s no competition. Portland has a couple of clubs in every neighborhood, and it’s expensive to live [and rent a venue] there. It would’ve been impossible to break even.”
The location has been well-received since opening in February. “We’re doing fair … after people find out that we’re there,” said Sheridan. The shows are mostly metal and punk rock, although some indie, dance pop, psychedelic, and even rap acts have been featured.
“This town has been devoid of an all-ages place for metal and punk rock,” he said. “Kids don’t even know that they’re supposed to go to shows, but once they go, it’s gonna change their lives. I have no idea what my life would have been like if I hadn’t been going to shows.”
Sheridan, who plays bass for the band Neversleep, started hosting local and touring bands in his father’s shop in the ’90s and then moved on to renting other spaces in Salem. “Some places were charging $1,000 for a night! That’s when I realized I wanted my own place.”
He added that there used to be many more music venues in town, and when they began to shut down in the late 90s, a lot of people moved away searching for bigger music scenes, like Portland, Austin or Chicago. Sheridan dreams of opening a second venue in Salem, one with a bar option, but just maintaining the Wasteland has been a challenge. The 1,800 square foot place is entirely run by volunteers.
“It takes a great deal of time. I do most of the booking, work the door, do sound, clean, and my friends who are martial-arts instructors take care of the security for free.” There have only been two fight attempts, and they were quickly controlled by staff.
“I can’t pay anyone. I can’t even pay myself,” said the married 31-year-old and father of two, who relies on his wife’s support in order to improve Salem’s live music scene. “Getting into music to make money is one of the worst ideas ever,” he said. “But work is fun. I like working while listening to the music.”
The cover charge ranges from $3 to $11 and it’s used to cover the space’s rent. Most local bands don’t charge, but traveling groups have to meet expenses. Sheridan usually works out a deal with them, but advises them to bring merchandise: “CDs and t-shirts will help them get to the next town.”
Sheridan also rents the space’s upper level to musicians in need of a place to practice and be as loud as they wish, because noise hasn’t been a problem at the Wasteland.
“Nothing is too loud for us. That was one of the main reasons I chose my location. The train passes through there and there’s only one house that can possibly hear us, and they like us. They came over and said they enjoy having people in their neighborhood doing a positive thing.”
According to Sheridan, a lot of the kids who go to the Wasteland are networking with musicians and starting their own bands.
He said an all-ages, alcohol-free venue is good for the community. “People who have had DUI’s are pretty happy they can still go out and see some music. You don’t need alcohol to have a good time, and music doesn’t give you a hangover.”
“And all-ages shows are super fun!” he added. “They have a bigger turnout than bars, and sober kids have more energy to jump around.”
He said the crowd really encompasses all ages. “I’ve gone to other all-ages places and there were only kids. I felt kind of strange. Thankfully, it hasn’t been that way here. We have a more mixed kind of crowd. It’s a whole culture. You can meet all sorts of different people.”
“Music is important, and at the Wasteland we hope to help people find a sense of community. I still hear people complaining about Salem being ‘so lame,’ but if people would come out and see the shows, they might just find their favorite band playing in their own town for five dollars.”
Wasteland offers at least five shows every week during the summertime. Hours are 7 p.m.-midnight.