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SALT LAKE CITY — Who would have imagined that a two-car garage in an industrial neighborhood would turn into Salt Lake City’s longest-running all-ages music venue?
On May 11, Kilby Court will celebrate its 20-year anniversary with a block party featuring art, music and some of the local bands the venue helped launch, including the National Parks, Joshua James and Drew Danburry.
The event’s headliner, Death Cab for Cutie, first played Kilby Court in 2001.
More than just music
Kilby Court is unlike any other music venue in the state, according to Kilby Court co-owner Will Sartain. Tucked away near 700 South and 400 West, a show at Kilby Court feels more like a party in a friend’s backyard than a concert in a club.
“The layout and setup is very different,” Sartain explained. “Having a courtyard before entering the venue changes things. It gives the venue a place for people to meet, converse and have a more social (experience). Without that, you just walk into a loud room. This way, it sort of sets the tone for the venue.”
Before he and Lance Saunders bought Kilby Court from original owner Phil Sherburne, Will Sartain was just a kid going to shows at the venue.
“Growing up, it was very important to me to have a place to go,” he says. “It was my life. I loved seeing music, and it was my exposure to the larger world. People were coming from around the country and from around the world to this little shack. It was, and is, so accessible. All-ages music is the bedrock of helping teens grow up to be well-rounded people.”
A unique stop for touring bands
Since opening its doors in the late 1990s, Sartain said Kilby Court has hosted more than 5,000 shows.
Though the space only holds 200 fans, the intimate setup has attracted a wide range of touring acts — The Head & The Heart, Foster the People, Diplo, Macklemore, Iron & Wine, Kishi Bashi, RX Bandits. The list goes on and on.
Just like the fans, the bands who play Kilby Court aren’t always sure what to make of the venue when they first show up. The reaction is either, “What is this?” or “This is so cool!” Sartain says.
“Kilby reminds me of something you would find in Europe,” he added. “It is out of place in a formerly industrial neighborhood. Sort of like a flower growing in the cracks of the pavement.”
A launchpad for local acts
There has never been a shortage of great touring bands at Kilby, but the local acts have always meant more to Sartain.
“My favorite shows were always the local bands that I could connect with over a longer period of time,” he said. “Seeing the growth, following the changes in music scenes. Form Of Rocket, Red Bennies, Tolchock Trio, and The New Transit Direction were my favorites growing up.”
Kilby Court has also meant a lot to the local bands, from Imagine Dragons to Neon Trees, and just about everything in between.
“We are really open to hosting any type of show, for the most part,” Sartain says. “We aren't really here to judge whether music is good or bad, just to provide a space for people to use. It gives bands a place to grow. We can also help local bands grow beyond Kilby, which is really rewarding for us.”
Drew Danburry is one of the many Utah artists who found a home at Kilby.
“When I first moved to Utah after high school, Kilby Court was a place where I could go and feel at home,” Danburry said. “I could meet strangers and leave as friends. I could be myself and not have to worry about anyone judging me or making assumptions about me, I could escape the societal pressures of Utah Valley.”
Over the years, Danburry estimates he’s played Kilby Court 20 to 30 times — and he wasn’t about to miss the upcoming block party.
“I was so honored to play the 10-year anniversary and I've been pestering the management to let me play the 20-year anniversary for the past few years,” Danburry said. “I had no idea it was gonna be such a big event and it took a few days for the shock to wear off (after I was asked to play). Kilby meant, and means, the world to me.”
20 years and counting
Though music venues tend to have a short lifespan, Sartain never thought of Kilby Court as a temporary thing.
“When I first started working here, it became a primary focus to make this thing survive no matter what,” Sartain says. “It is a labor of love. We love Kilby. Surely, you can't make much money doing all-ages shows with no alcohol. But it is important to me. We believe in it.”
The block party is both a look back at the past and a commitment to the future. “I am so happy we made it this far, and having the party pushes me to go on,” Sartain says. “We are really thankful that Phil Sherburne started doing shows at Kilby. It meant so much to me growing up, and I want to pass that on to the next generation.”