Kilby Court, still rockin' at 15
Kilby Court doesn't look like much, but looks can be deceiving.
On the outside, the Salt Lake City live-music venue is marked by a weathered sign outside a rundown patio gate at the end of an industrial cul-de-sac. Inside, the concrete patio leads to an old garage that's dark except for the small stage in the corner.
"The stage isn't that much higher than ground level," said Alex Gilvarry, bassist/keyboardist for the Salt Lake City band L'Anarchiste. "You're not towering over people when you're playing."
Kilby Court, at 741 S. Kilby Court (330 West) in Salt Lake City's central district, marks its 15th anniversary this weekend and for a music venue, especially one that caters to concertgoers of all ages, 15 years is an eternity.
Kilby Court started rather modestly in 1999. Phil Sherburne had a small woodshed, and he rented a garage nearby, intending that an artists group to which he belonged could use it. His fellow artists didn't want to use the garage for one thing, it had only one electrical outlet so he started letting bands play there.
"It was kind of a way of being involved [in the music scene], and to kind of pay for the place," Sherburne said. It also happened that another club, The Moroccan, had recently closed, and bands who had been booked there needed someplace to play.
At first, Kilby Court was used for what Sherburne called "private parties," though "the shows were becoming so regular, it was hard to justify it as a private party anymore," he said.
One night, Salt Lake City police agreed and shut down a full show and cited Sherburne for running a business without a license. It took a few months, and some work on the venue (like making the bathrooms compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act), before he got a business license and made Kilby Court fully legit.
Kilby Court never made money, Sherburne said, in part because the venue couldn't serve alcohol. (The reasons are many, including the fact that the property abuts a Buddhist temple.) On his best year, he said, he made $9,000 on the joint.
Sherburne gained in another way: He met his future wife, artist Leia Bell, at Kilby Court.
When they got together, Bell started making the posters for Kilby Court's concerts. Those posters sold widely and brought her national attention. They also kept the venue afloat for several years. "Her posters made way more than the shows did," Sherburne said.
By 2007, Sherburne was feeling burned out.
"It started as a labor of love, and I no longer loved it," he said.
He was particular about finding the right people to buy Kilby Court. He went to local musician Will Sartain, who had performed at Kilby Court. Sartain and his partner Lance Saunders had started S&S Presents, which represented bands and booked concerts.
"We didn't look at it as a moneymaking scheme," Saunders said. "We did not want it to die."
Saunders said he and Sartain did some renovations, but "we tried to keep the physical aesthetic the same." They found that Kilby's well-known stage backdrop, a piece of green corrugated roofing material, was trashed after years of use so they installed a fresh piece of white corrugated plastic, with a green floodlight.
Saunders said some bands prefer Kilby Court because it doesn't serve alcohol. The Boise rock band Built to Spill, for example, recently came through town and insisted on playing Kilby Court rather than the larger Urban Lounge. The show sold out in two days.
"It makes it so, for the people who come to the show, the focus is on the music, instead of being inebriated," Saunders said.
Over the past 15 years, Kilby Court has become ground zero for Salt Lake City's local music scene. Practically any rock band formed in Salt Lake City ends up playing there at one time or another.
"I don't think Salt Lake would have much of a music scene without it," said Gilvarry of L'Anarchiste. "They'll book anybody. They'll give pretty much anybody a shot."
Vernon, the SubRosa frontwoman, agreed. "There's just a really special energy there," she said. "The kids who come to Kilby are really into the local bands." She added that when a local band opens for a touring band, the fans "are usually just as into the local act as the national one."
Sherburne who with Bell now has three kids and runs the frame shop and gallery Signed & Numbered said he's glad to have been involved in a place that's become, against all odds, a Salt Lake City institution.
"That place has a little magic to it, down that little alley," he said.
Kilby Court turns 15
When • Friday, July 18, starting at 7 p.m.
Tickets • $7, at 24Tix or at the gate