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Sean P. Means: Dan Nailen’s leaving town, with a head full of Utah culture

By Sean P. Means

| The Salt Lake Tribune

First Published Aug 21 2014 11:42 am • Last Updated Aug 21 2014 04:18 pm

There are three people who know what it’s like to write a pop-culture column for The Salt Lake Tribune.

After this week, only one of them — me — still will be living in Salt Lake City.

At a glance

Farewell to Dan Nailen

The State Room is throwing a farewell party for Dan Nailen, longtime arts and culture writer. Local band Bronco will perform.

Where » The State Room, 638 S. State St., Salt Lake City

When » Saturday, doors open at 8 p.m.; show starts at 9 p.m.

Tickets » Free, but register in advance at thestateroom.com

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My predecessor in this space, Dan Nailen, is leaving Utah for new adventures in Spokane, Wash. — the city where, as it happens, I grew up. With Dan goes a lot of Salt Lake City’s cultural memory.

A little history: I started writing The Cricket column on June 8, 2011 — but before that this was the Culture Vulture column, which I had inherited from its founder, Brandon Griggs.

Brandon’s first Culture Vulture column ran in The Salt Lake Tribune on Nov. 21, 1997. It was a new idea, for this paper, to have a weekly spot to write about the weird aspects of Utah pop culture that didn’t fit into a play review or concert write-up. It was also a place to opine about the ways pop culture intersects with politics, religion and the other aspects of living in Utah.

Brandon wrote the Culture Vulture for nearly two years before going off on a yearlong arts-journalism fellowship in 1999. Dan, who was then a Tribune features writer, took over Culture Vulture on Aug. 6, 1999 — and, even though Brandon came back in 2000, Dan kept the column through the summer of 2004.

In 2004, Dan moved elsewhere in The Tribune (and, in 2007, to Salt Lake magazine and, in 2009, City Weekly). Brandon reclaimed the Culture Vulture mantle, writing the column through May 2008 — when he left Utah for a job at CNN in Atlanta, where he continues to thrive today.

That’s where I came in.

Something all three of us shared — Dan, Brandon and me — was that we came here from somewhere else and carried a bit of the outsider view of Utah culture. Transplants know the feeling of being treated as a bit of a carpetbagger, even if you’ve lived here for decades.

Dan had more experience in Utah than I did. His family moved around a lot (he, like me, is an Air Force brat), and he spent his high-school years in Ogden.

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"I remember when Salt Lake City was a one-coffeeshop town — two, maybe," Dan, now 43, told me this week — appropriately, over coffee.

Dan left Utah for college, came back, left again, came back for a short-term job at The Tribune, moved to write at the paper in Moscow, Idaho (where, weirdly enough, I also once worked), then came back to The Tribune.

When he resettled in Salt Lake City, Dan quickly settled into the club scene, which was and is always changing.

"People still pine away for [clubs like] The Zephyr and The Dead Goat," Dan said. "But there are cities that we think of as cooler than us, like Seattle and Portland, they have clubs that close and go away all the time."

A wider variety of music venues have sprung up, and local promoters have grown and thrived. "So much music that would never come here before comes here now," he said. Even an event like the Twilight Concert Series has put Salt Lake City on the national map.

Dan became an expert in Salt Lake City’s music scene writing for The Tribune, but he says it took leaving The Tribune to develop his knowledge of the rest of Utah’s cultural scene.

"It allowed me to delve into all these areas beyond my beat," Dan said. "Leaving The Tribune got me more in tune with the food scene and the fine art scene."

He has shared that knowledge, and enthusiasm, in the pages of Salt Lake magazine and City Weekly, writing his slcene.com blog and recording weekly spots on KUER-FM.

"This is the first city I feel like I know intimately," he said. "In Salt Lake, I know where to find free parking. I know where I don’t have to be afraid walking down a dark alley to find the back door of some bar."

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