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Closing out Summer in Style at the Salem Jazz and Soul Festival

Salem, Massachusetts, is steeped in history from being a leading Pre-colonial port to the famous witch trials. Combine this history with the city's great attractions and activities and you have the ideal location for your next summer getaway.


The city's storied history, unique attractions, and fun events are all what attract travelers, and a local economic rejuvenation has brought many new shops and restaurants to the city as well.

The historical sites and museums in Salem are numerous, and a few to check out include Salem Maritime National Historic Site, Pioneer Village and The Witch House. With so many attractions, your best bet is to see multiple historic locations in one trip. You can either follow the Salem Heritage Trail or join one of the local tours, where a guide takes you around the city. As you venture through Salem you’ll encounter great restaurants and shops. You won't go hungry or leave disappointed when you have dining choices such as Turner’s Seafood, Firenze Trattoria and Finz Seafood & Grill. The shopping here provides you with ample opportunities to buy a variety of different items. You’ll find fashion, souvenirs, goods and the list goes on. Make sure to stop by unique stores such as New England Magic, Pyramid Books and Trolley Depot. While visiting the sites and shops are a great way to start, to get the full Salem experience you need to participate in one of the local events, like the Salem Jazz and Soul Festival.


The Salem Jazz and Soul Festival has been one of the leading Jazz and Soul music experiences on the East Coast for the past decade. From May to July, the festival puts on a series of concerts featuring live music acts from around the country. The event wraps up with a two-day music festival in August. Perfect for the entire family, the two-day event is loaded with great live music, scenic surroundings, food, refreshments, vendors and more. Not only does the festival provide its patrons with great music and activities, but it also serves a charitable cause. Since 2007, the organizers have been raising money and support to improve music education causes throughout North of Boston. Make your next Salem experience one for the ages and attend the Salem Jazz and Soul Festival. We got the chance to interview Judy Parisella, Public Relations Director for the Festival, to talk about this fun and unique event.


RAL: Tell me a little bit about the event.

JP: The Salem Jazz and Soul Festival concludes its 10th year celebration with their free annual, two-day outdoor music festival held August 20 and 21. Established as a fun, safe, reliable and ‘family friendly’ summer event, the main festival has become an anchor and excursion for many a group. The festival makes its home at the historic Salem Willows, a public park established in 1858. A place where a rich jazz history was firmly cemented when a young Duke Ellington played in 1923; Count Basie and Louis Armstrong performed at what was accredited as the old Charleshurst Ballroom, now known as the Willows Casino. This beautiful wooded and hilly peninsula jutting out into Salem Harbor is an amazing backdrop for the splendor that is Salem’s pride. Graced with majestic, 200-year-old white willow trees, Salem Willows, has a special place in amusement park history. Since the festival’s inception, family reunions, company picnics and for many, an annual weekend of joy, love and community has become the greatness that is the festival’s amazing audience.


RAL: How many people do you expect to attend?

JP: The festival has enjoyed an audience of upwards to 8,000 between the two days, and anticipates record attendance this year. The Salem Jazz and Soul Festival’s main event, as well as its Summer Berklee Series is offered to the public free of charge, and we have something for everyone.


RAL: Take me through a day at the event.

JP: The main festival starts at 11:00 am and goes nonstop until 7:15 pm on both days. The adventure starts earlier for some as parking can be an adventure unto itself. We ask that you consider walking, biking or spearhead a carpool to the festival, or use alternate transportation offered by The Salem Trolley Co. Please note that the Willows and the Salem Police Department will be ticketing and towing illegally parked cars.


The free festival will feature 10 bands, a 21-plus Notch Brewing pavilion, a MusicKidz tent, Salem Five Community Foundation Music-Education classes, artisan fair, merchant tent and more.


The festival offers all styles of music over two days: Big band jazz, Latin, funk, soul, blues, zydeco and more. Bands hail from the North Shore, Boston, New York and Louisiana.


The SJSF rarely repeat groups but made two exceptions this 10th year: Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers, who were such a hit at the 2015 festival; and Jen Kearney, who performed at the first Salem Jazz and Soul Festival, in 2007.


Saturday’s line-up consists of Salem High School Jazz Band; What Time is it, Mr. Fox; Austin Torpedoes; Brian Thomas / Alex Lee Clark Big Band; and The Nth Power, a powerful soul band from New York, led by drummer Nikki Glaspie, who has toured with Maceo Parker and Beyoncé.


Sunday will feature the North Shore Jazz Project All Stars; Edmar Colón; Jen Kearney; Tim Gearan and Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers.


RAL: What can an attendee expect to find for local lodging?

JP: Historic Salem and surrounding areas play host to some fabulous regional lodging that ranges from economy to high end. Favorites of the festival are the Hawthorne Hotel, Salem Waterfront Hotel and Marina and the Wylie Inn and Conference Center.


RAL: What does the event mean to the community?

For the Salem Jazz and Soul Festival, its tag line ‘Great Music for a Greater Cause’ are more than words, It’s the motivation, drive, passion and MISSION.


RAL: Does the festival support any special causes in the community?

JP: Since 2007, we have raised $57,000 for music-education causes north of Boston.



  • Disbursed scholarships for students to attend regional music camps

  • Made grants to area group homes and after-school music programs

  • Donated money and new equipment to North Shore high school jazz bands

  • Created a monthly music series for grade-schoolers at Salem Public Library and   homeless families at a North Shore hotel

  • Produced more than 60 free concerts

  • Run an annual music-related art contest for children in elementary school

  • Funded an 8-week interactive workshop for children in the autism spectrum

  • Developed an intern program in which local high school students can learn audio production

  • Won Massachusetts Cultural Council’s “Gold Star Award” In 2013


RAL: Why should people come to your event?

JP: Frankly, it’s a kick ass good time and supports a phenomenal cause. Come for the music but stay for the dancing, singing and laughing. It’s where friends are found and new ones are made.  Bring your lawn chairs, picnics and blankets. Coolers are welcome, glass containers are NOT. Strollers, doggies, hula-hoopers and even a beach towel are encouraged. The Willows has a fabulous public beach, and extols an arcade of ole’ as well as ‘eats’ found on any New England carnival boardwalk.

For more information about the Salem Jazz and Soul Festival, please visit their website.