Music community rallies around Utah’s Heavy Metal Shop after its matriarch dies

Angie Kirk, who died March 5, was ‘everything good in the world’ — and now her husband, Kevin, is getting support from all over.

“It’s pretty safe to assume that there’s two things that Salt Lake is known for — that, of course, is the church and The Heavy Metal Shop,” said Patrick Carnahan, who’s worked at the second of those since 1991.

The store and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Carnahan said, are “similar and they’re very different. They’re similar in the way that it’s a place people congregate, a place people find sanctuary.”

For the music community, both in Utah and across the country, The Heavy Metal Shop (at 63 Exchange Place in downtown Salt Lake City) has become a go-to record store, concert venue and gathering place for 35 years — largely because of its owners, Kevin and Angie Kirk.

“They treat everybody like family,” Carnahan, a burly man with intimidating facial hair, said as he teared up several times. “Doesn’t matter who you are or where you came from of what your background was.”

That community, that family, is mourning for Angie Kirk, who died from a sudden illness on March 5. She was 59.

The family was on a trip to the Disneyland resort in California in February, when Angie fell ill and went to the hospital. A blood test found a rare and aggressive form of leukemia. She died three weeks after she first felt sick.

Kevin Kirk is now left to take care of their two young grandchildren, ages 9 and 12, for whom he and Angie had custody from their son, Kelly. And the community the Kirks have created through the shop is rallying around him, a chance to give back to a family who has been a “port in the storm” for many in the heavy metal music scene — and, more generally, as a place for all types of music lovers to visit.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake City's famous Heavy Metal Shop, shown closed due to the pandemic in April 2020.

Angie’s legacy

“It’s pretty cliché when they say behind every great man is a greater woman,” Carnahan said. “But that was definitely Angie.”

Kirk said he met Angie when he was working for her stepdad, and learned about his future wife from her mother, who shared photos and talked about her daughter. Both families took trips together, but Kevin would always miss Angie by a day.

He described Angie as “a natural beauty” — but the fact that she was somewhat of a mystery was what immediately intrigued him.

They went to different high schools, and Kirk had a girlfriend, so it was probably “best we didn’t meet back then,” he said via email. It wasn’t until they were out of high school, in 1982, that Angie and Kirk finally met. “[We] connected right away,” he said.

Angie’s death isn’t the only tragedy the family has faced in recent years. In 2017, the Kirks’ son Joey, 26, was killed when he was struck and killed by a Trax train in Murray. Joey was wearing headphones and didn’t hear or see the train coming. Joey, nicknamed “Most,” has been immortalized with a large mural on the shop’s outside west wall.

(Sean P. Means | The Salt Lake Tribune) A mural paying tribute to Joey Kirk, aka "Most," covers the west wall outside The Heavy Metal Shop in Exchange Place in downtown Salt Lake City. Kirk, 26, died in 2017, when he was struck by a Trax train.

Inside, The Heavy Metal Shop is filled with fan memorabilia of famous bands, rock and metal alike. There’s a wall of band shirts — some custom-designed by the grandkids and Joey — over a collection of records, many of which reflect Kevin’s own taste in music.

The walls are plastered in photos of the Kirks with friends, family and bands who have stopped by or performed at the shop. Their iconic skull logo, seen around the world, is around the shop on every surface imaginable.

Among all the grunge and skulls, there are also toys, hand-drawn paintings by kids, photos of Angie playing with them in the shop. A doll of Woody from “Toy Story” is propped against a guitar signed by Ogden-raised alternative folk artist Sammy Brue, a plushie of Bing Bong (the imaginary friend character from Pixar’s “Inside Out”) by the shop’s skull icon.

Behind the checkout counter, there are photos of Angie playing with the grandchildren. Those photos, Carnahan said, perfectly capture who she was.

“She was everything good in the world,” he said. “Always smiling, always the brightest in the room.”

(Heavy Metal Shop) A photo of Angie Kirk with one of her grandchildren. The photo is taped to the register at The Heavy Metal Shop in downtown Salt Lake City.

Giving back to the Kirks

Michael Damron, a family friend of the Kirks, said Angie was someone who “took on anybody’s burden” and “helped in any way she could.”

Michael and Angel Damrons met the Kirks when Michael, a musician, was on tour. When the Kirks lived in Sugar House, before the grandchildren came along, they used to let touring musicians “crash on their living room floor,” Carnahan said.

“When you first start traveling in a band, you feel really alone,” Michael Damron said. “It’s kind of scary, going to new places where you don’t know anybody. It’s kind of hard, being away from your loved ones. … Every time I come to Salt Lake, from the very first time, Kevin would like [to] take care of people. He definitely took care of me. Him and Angie both.”

When Angel Damron joined Michael on tour, she said, performing at The Heavy Metal Shop also meant the Kirks inviting them over for dinner. Their house, like the store, was filled with music memorabilia. “I just really enjoyed walking around the house and having Angie tell me stories about how they acquired each and every piece of it,” Angel said.

According to Michael Damron, Kevin Kirk has “helped people all over the world, so we’re trying to come together and do whatever we can to ease the burden.”

That’s why Angel Damron launched a GoFundMe campaign. Initially, the plan was to put the funds would go to Angie’s medical bills. Bion Kirk, Kevin’s brother, said the GoFundMe has transformed into an effort to help the family buy a house in which to help raise the grandchildren. As of Monday, the campaign had raised more than $24,000 in pledges.

Kevin Kirk has been away from the shop in recent weeks, first tending to Angie and now watching the grandchildren solo.

Carnahan said, “I’ve become one of the two faces that’s here just to disappoint people that come from all over the country to see Kevin.” The other belongs to co-worker Jeremy Johnson; the two have stepped in to cover the shop while Kirk juggles his two jobs with his family responsibilities.

Many musicians got their start in the Salt Lake City music scene on the shop’s tiny, but electric and cozy, stage. For example, Tulsa-based singer-songwriter John Moreland released a “bootleg” live album, recorded at The Heavy Metal Shop, in 2014. And Drive-by Truckers, which has made frequent appearances at Red Butte Garden, contributed a banner — now pinned near the store’s entryway — by Wes Freed, who does the band’s artwork.

Carnahan noted that other venues in Salt Lake City don’t book a lot of the artists who play at the shop because of their genres — but Kirk gives them a chance. “There’s so much magic that happens on this little stage,” he said.

(Palak Jayswal | The Salt Lake Tribune) Items on display at The Heavy Metal Shop in Salt Lake City, Tuesday, March 8, 2022.

The Damrons have put together a virtual benefit, featuring videos submissions and messages from more than 40 artists around the world, famous and not so famous. Each artist recorded a video or two with a message for the Kirks; the Damrons are working on compiling the videos in an effort to raise money for the GoFundMe.

Artists who have submitted testimonials so far include Drive-by Truckers’ vocalist/guitarist Patterson Hood, Lydia Loveless, Sammy Brue, and Michah Schnabel and Shane Sweeney of Two Cow Garage — and Kevin’s favorite: Alice Cooper, whom he met when they first opened The Heavy Metal Shop.

Kevin Kirk said Angie leaves a legacy of kindness, compassion and empathy.

He talked about the last concert they saw together: The ‘80s pop-rock duo Sparks — who are having a late-career comeback, and were playing back-to-back shows in Los Angeles in early February.

Sparks was one of Kevin Kirk’s favorite bands in high school, and he joked that seeing them in concert would be a perfect 60th birthday present. When he mentioned they were playing in Los Angeles, Angie suggested taking the grandkids on a trip. They even hired a limo service. It was a “dream vacation,” Kirk said.

“Her joy for life, especially around children, was contagious,” Kirk said. “Angie’s light shined bright.”

Carnahan said, “she completed Kevin and allowed him to be who he was. I know she would do anything for him, and in return, he always did everything for her.”

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(Palak Jayswal | The Salt Lake Tribune) Records for sale at The Heavy Metal Shop in Salt Lake City, Tuesday, March 8, 2022.