Celebrating 25 Years of Kilby Court, The Heart of Salt Lake’s Music Scene
If you’re at all involved in the Utah music scene, you know that Kilby Court—an intimate, all-ages venue not much bigger than a two-car garage—has been at the heart of it for a long time. For me, Kilby has been a second home since 2017 where I‘ve seen over 100 shows. The shared enjoyment of raw, artistic expression at the intimate venue has made me—and many others—feel closer to the Salt Lake music community. It’s a place I can always rely on for happiness. As Lance Saunders, the co-founder of S&S Presents who owns Kilby and other local concert venues explains, “[Kilby] has been harboring a safe place for young locals to share their musical talents and art, along with national and international touring acts, and in turn, has created its own community and social network [over the past] 25 years.”
Kilby was first established in 1999 as a DIY art & music gallery that was accessible to everyone. It wasn’t until 2008 that S&S bought Kilby Court from Phil Sherburne. Since then, Kilby has largely remained the same over the years except for improvements here and there to their sound and ticketing system, says Will Sartain, co-owner of S&S. But it has grown in popularity for local and touring artists—so much so, that bands visiting Utah often ask to play it first in Salt Lake even if they’re able to perform at a bigger venue.
“We have been very apprehensive to change anything when it comes to Kilby,” Saunders says. “The aesthetic is classic and will always be a one-of-a-kind venue—the hidden and magical gem at the end of the alleyway.” S&S Talent Buyer Faye Barnhurst says that Kilby’s positive reputation in the music industry has only improved over time. “Kilby is kind of legendary in that way,” she says. “Like there are people in the industry, agents and stuff, who feel the same way and bands so that’s really special.”
Kilby’s DIY-style atmosphere, with a capacity of 200, fosters a unique connection between artists and the audience, providing an authentic live music experience and a safe space for nurturing community bonding. Kilby is renowned for hosting a mix of Utah-based artists and up-and-coming touring artists, and it currently hosts SLUG Localized each month. It’s not uncommon for someone to see their friend’s first live show one night and a popular artist the next. A staple of being a regular at Kilby is recalling the most popular artists you saw “before they were big” which might include names such as J.I.D., Vampire Weekend, Sylvan Esso, The War on Drugs, Doja Cat, Omar Apollo, Mac Miller and Mitski.
Going forward, Sartain says S&S hopes to keep Kilby a space where any kind of artist can get their start. Whatever changes—big or little—happen to Kilby in the next 25 years, S&S Ticketing Coordinator Riley Bode says local bands will always have a place at Kilby. “I think that Kilby Court wouldn’t be Kilby Court without the local bands … they help it keep that same energy and excitement it’s always had,” she says.
“The aesthetic is classic and will always be a one-of-a-kind venue—the hidden and magical gem at the end of the alleyway.”
Devin Summer, a member of the local hip-hop group CLUB MUNGO who played their first-ever show at Kilby in February 2023, says as an artist and a performer, it’s a “service and blessing” to have such a supportive spot in Salt Lake. “Kilby Court, to me, represents opportunities,” he says. “Kilby is like the base camp or flagship in the local music scene.” Ethan Smith, a Salt Lake resident with lots of friends in local bands, first went to a Kilby show in 2013. He says the venue energizes and gives a space to all Utah-based artists. “It’s a beacon of new music and provides a home that allows musicians the perfect introduction to Utah,” Smith says.
To many people, Kilby is more than just a live music venue—it’s a community and a place to call home. Cam Christensen, a local music enjoyer and aspiring artist who first went to Kilby just a year ago, says it’s important to have a place in the city where he feels safe. “Being gay in Utah, especially at concerts, can be hard sometimes,” he says. “At Kilby, I never fail to feel safe no matter what—everyone that goes there is always super nice and very friendly, including staff.” The homey and comfy atmosphere of Kilby is something that can’t be replicated anywhere else, says Robert Sagers, a local photographer who performed at Kilby with local band Strawberry Cough for their first show. “Kilby has given me a place to learn, grow, dance and have so much fun,” Sagers says. “It’s been home to so many of my favorite shows and favorite moments in my life over the last four years.”
“It’s been home to so many of my favorite shows and favorite moments in my life over the last four years.”
The biggest way S&S plans to celebrate Kilby’s 25th anniversary and fulfill their long-term goals as a music organization is through the 5th Annual Kilby Block Party happening May 10–12 at the Utah State Fairpark. Since 2019, the annual event has become a nationally recognized three-day music festival that showcases the best bands across the Beehive State as well as countless big-name artists such as Phoebe Bridgers, Mac Demarco, The Strokes, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Pixies. Saunders says the team learned a lot from last year’s festival, which was the biggest they’ve had to date with over 20,000 people attending each day. “With the growth of the Kilby Block Party, I think that a lot of bigger touring artists who would have otherwise skipped Salt Lake City aren’t doing that as often now,” says S&S Local Talent Buyer Moriah Glazier.
Considering the success of the last two festivals, S&S is well on its way to what Sartain says is their end goal: creating a large-scale music festival that is both financially stable and hugely important to Salt Lake. Looking to Kilby Block Party in 2024, the S&S team plans to announce their lineup on Dec. 5, which they note will offer bigger, on-site fan and artist experiences. “We executed a fun and safe festival [in 2023], and we learned a few things. We’re excited to put everything we learned into ’s fest,” Saunders says.
When people think back to their unforgettable experiences at the Kilby Block Party, when Utah finally established a true-to-form music festival, they’ll also think back to their first Kilby Court experience. “Tons of people went to their first show at Kilby, and it felt like they found their own little secret, hidden down this dark alley,” Barnhurst says. “It’s our venue. It feels like it belongs to everyone in Salt Lake.”