Hyrum Summerhays coordinates live local music at the Vertical Diner. Photo: Bethany Fischer of Patiri Photography
It’s Saturday night and you’re hungry. You’re in the mood to see some live music while you eat, but the only place you can think of is the bar and your hot date happens to be under 21. You drive by a steak house, sushi joint and McD’s and remember she digs being a vegetarian. She hints that the Vertical Diner is a delicious choice. It’s rated second-best vegetarian restaurant in Utah by City Weekly’s annual Best of Utah competition, and to top it off, they’ve added live music every Friday and Saturday night. That’s right, you’ve scored: burger, fries and a shake–without the meat breath when it’s makeout time.
Vertical Diner, owned by Ian Brandt, is hidden in South Salt Lake at 2280 S. West Temple. Adding live music seemed like a great way to support local music and bring in some extra business. Brandt, busy running two other fine vegan-friendly joints, (Sages Cafe and Cali’s Natural Foods) brought in Hyrum Summerhays of Eden Watchtower Recordings to handle the music.
The DJ sets were started by Brandt and began the Vinyl Roots Lounge on Monday nights. By February the live music sets had claimed Saturday nights. Both nights worked as a time for friends to share their music in a comfortable environment. “It’s somewhere you can sit in a comfortable chair, have something to eat and maybe drink beer or wine, but it’s also a nice atmosphere for those who want to play music and show off their art and not have to play at one in the morning at a smoky bar or in a shack,” says Summerhays.
If you have been to Vertical Diner, you know the space is limited, so creating a stage that took up as little space as possible was crucial. “At first, Ian was like, ‘I don’t know, can we just have it on the ground’, then my friend Jack [Arnott] did a 3D rendering of what the stage would look like, and Ian says, ‘Okay, you guys are serious, we’ll do it,’” says Summerhays. “We were crawling around the ceiling hooking up wires, and we specially built [the speakers mounted on the ceiling] with one side for the audience and one for the bands.” The sound system isn’t the only simple-yet-ingenious aspect of the setup––the stage actually doubles as a storage space. “We didn’t want to take up any extra space, so there are subwoofers and mini amps built under the stage and a little trap door where you can pull out the mics and the stands.” There are also speakers set up on the back patio so people can enjoy the music while sitting outside during the summer months. “I also thought about setting up a small camera above the stage and a monitor towards the back for those who can’t quite see the stage, but it’s all a work in progress,” says Summerhays.
Though there’s limited space, most styles of music are welcome to perform as long as they’re okay with playing at acoustic levels. “There’s a three person maximum with minimum gear,” says Summerhays. “We don’t want parents or older people walking in to blaring music and leaving. That being said we’ve had a drum set on [the stage]. The bands just need to be able to keep it mellow.”
Even more important to know is that “it’s free, and it’s cool ‘cause the artists get free food and drinks and they can play for tips, sell merch and there’s a decent sound system if they wanted to get a recording of it,” says Summerhays “Most people are pretty stoked about it—even if they aren’t vegetarian, the food is good.”
The main goal is to bring the community together to support one another. One of the great things about this is people get to see new music and try something new. “About half the people that come in to see their friends play didn’t even know [Vertical Diner] existed,” says Summerhays, “and with local music, the support that used to be there six, maybe ten years ago, isn’t a given anymore. The Dead Goat and DV8––all the clubs used to be packed Friday and Saturday. Now there are little spots filled here and there if you’re lucky and get one or two popular bands, but most bands have to work really hard to get any kind of crowd. So we want people to come out instead of staying home and downloading stuff.”
In April, the live music has expanded into two acts per night on both Friday and Saturday. “We want to build it up slowly so as not to be overwhelmed, though Ian has talked about having later hours,” says Summerhays. Some recent bands that have played include: Highway 6, Patsy Ohio, Emily and the Ukulele and The Platte.
For event listings and more information, befriend Vertical Diner on Facebook.