Kilby Court, Utah’s weird-yet-welcoming all-ages music venue, turns 20 with a big block party

(Ryan Galbraith | Tribune file photo) Kids hang out in the open air at Kilby Court in 2004. The venue turns 20 this year.

It’s unusual for an all-ages music venue to survive long enough to be older than the teens rocking out inside it — but Kilby Court has been unusual for a long time.

“Taking that drive down that eerie one-way street to play the somewhat unassuming garage in Salt Lake has been a necessary rite of passage for both local and touring bands in the area,” said Spencer Petersen, frontman for the Utah-via-L.A. indie-pop band Sego (which performs at Kilby on May 22). “Getting pictures of the band playing in front of that old backlit glowing corrugated green fiberglass was a must for your Myspace profile pic.”

Kilby Court, the scruffy yet friendly all-ages venue at 741 S. Kilby Court (330 West) in Salt Lake City, is celebrating its 20th anniversary this weekend. The celebration kicks off Friday at 8 p.m. with a concert headlined by Joshua James. The big event is a block party starting at 3 p.m. Saturday, headlined by the popular alt-rock band Death Cab for Cutie — a band that first played Kilby in 2001.

(Tribune file photo) In this undated photo, Colin Meloy of The Decemberists performs at Kilby Court in Salt Lake City.

Death Cab for Cutie isn’t the only band that performed at Kilby Court on the upward trajectory of their careers. Such acts as Dashboard Confessional, Rilo Kiley, My Chemical Romance and The Shins all performed there in the early ’00s.

The venue was a garage, rented by artist Phil Shelburne for use as an artists’ space, except that the artists Shelburne knew didn’t want to use it — in part because it had only one electrical outlet. So Shelburne started letting bands play there, for “private parties” that happened often enough that the Salt Lake City police shut the place down one night and cited Shelburne for running a business without a license.

Eventually, Shelburne got a business license, and ran the place until he started feeling burned out in 2007. Along the way, Shelburne met and married artist Leia Bell, whom he met at Kilby Court. Her eclectic posters for Kilby shows made her nationally famous.

(Ryan Galbraith | Tribune file photo) Former Kilby Court owner Phil Sherburne and employees Will Sartain — who owns the venue now — and Mike Snider in 2004.

Shelburne sold the venue to musician Will Sartain, who had founded a concert-booking firm, S&S Presents, with his business partner Lance Saunders. Sartain and Saunders have run Kilby Court ever since.

Kilby Court “has a super garage, punky vibe that we love,” said Jared Gooch, of the punk-influenced Provo-based duo The Band Gooch. “You can really get close with the people that come out to watch.”

Petersen, of Sego, said the venue is “quite intimidating-looking on approach, but strangely inviting once you get inside.”

(Courtesy photo) A poster by Leia Bell promoting a show at Kilby Court.

Kilby Court has a long tradition of giving Utah bands a shot on stage, opening for national touring acts.

Petersen recalled a night when his former band, Elizabethan Report, opened for an up-and-coming national act at Kilby.

“We were so excited for the big-league opportunity that, much to the confusion of the not-so-known headliner, we packed the place with friends/fans who had been researching their music in preparation for the show,” Petersen said. “We just figured that is how it worked. It was a rowdy night, punctuated with late-night Mexican food.”

And Kilby Court’s longevity, in a business where venues die like mayflies, is part of its mystique.

“You don’t see many venues like Kilby sticking around for very long,” Gooch said. “It has a classic underground feel to it, yet has a reputation that is bigger than the venue.”

And like anything that last a while, Petersen said, Kilby Court has become part of Utah music lovers’ lives. “It is where a lot of people see their first shows, and becomes part of their personal story,” Petersen said.


Kilby Court turns 20

The all-ages music venue Kilby Court celebrates its 20th anniversary with two shows this weekend.

Where • Kilby Court, 741 S. Kilby Court (330 West), Salt Lake City.

Friday’s show • Headlined by singer-songwriter Joshua James; also on the bill: Uncle Reno, Marny Proudfit. Show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15, at Ticketfly.com.

Saturday’s show • A “block party” headlined by alt-rock band Death Cab for Cutie; also on the bill: The National Parks, Joshua James, Ritt Momney, Picture This, Palace of Buddies, Breakfast in Silence, The Backseat Lovers and Drew Danburry. Show starts at 3 p.m. Tickets are $40 for general admission (all ages); $100 for VIP status (21 or older), at Ticketfly.com.