Heavy Metal Shop’s 35th anniversary party is a bittersweet celebration

Patrons and friends visit to honor owner Kevin Kirk, the “godfather” of the city’s music community.

(Michael Brandy | Special to The Tribune) Kevin Kirk, the owner of the Heavy Metal Shop, poses for a photo during the store’s 35th anniversary party in Salt Lake City, Sunday, July 17, 2022.

When Alex Koch was 5 years old, her parents brought her to The Heavy Metal Shop, the legendary downtown Salt Lake City music store that proudly proclaims, in its motto, to be “peddlin’ evil.”

“It’s always been our family thing to come down,” Koch said Sunday, during the store’s 35th anniversary celebration.

Koch’s own daughter is now 5, and was first brought to the shop when she was 6 months old, for the 30th anniversary. “Her first birthday pictures are actually in her Heavy Metal Shop onesie with a pink tutu,” Koch said.

Koch was one of dozens of friends of the shop who stopped by 63 E. Exchange Place on Sunday, to celebrate the store’s 35th anniversary. People talked to the store’s owner, Kevin Kirk, to congratulate him on the store’s success — and to offer their support as he runs the store without his family.

(Michael Brandy | Special to The Tribune) Kevin Kirk, center, owner of Heavy Metal Shop, poses for a selfie with friends during the shop's 35th anniversary party, Sunday, July 17, 2022.

Angie Kirk, his wife, died in March, after a sudden leukemia diagnosis. Their son, Joey, 26, was struck by a TRAX train and killed in November 2017.

Outside the shop, Kevin’s friends helped put up tents to combat the record high heat. There was a face painting station outside, where people could get spray tattoos of the store’s iconic skull logo, and a butterfly in honor of Angie, who had a large tattoo of one on her right bicep.

Kevin sported both temporary images on different sides of his neck, and wore a shirt with the words “Most Angie Love” — referencing his son (whose nickname was “Most”) and wife.

Their absence was deeply felt during Sunday’s celebration — especially since both were around and doing the face painting at the 30th anniversary event five years ago.

“You walk into this place and you definitely know she’s still here,” Koch said of Angie. “She’ll never leave Kevin.”

For Koch, the heart of The Heavy Metal Shop are the people who run the store and come to it. The shop has become a second home, she said — and when she went through her divorce, it’s the first place she went.

“They make everybody feel welcome and they make everybody feel like they’re family,” Koch said. “Every time you walk in here, you get a smile. No matter what. Always. Not many places in the city can you walk in and no matter what, there’s a smile.”

(Michael Brandy | Special to The Tribune) Kevin Kirk, right, owner of Heavy Metal Shop, poses for a photograph with his brother, Bion Kirk, during the Heavy Metal Shop's 35th anniversary, Sunday, July 17, 2022.

For Kevin’s brother, Bion Kirk, Sunday’s event was an emotional thing to witness.

“I knew that he excelled at what he did,” Bion said. But Bion said he didn’t anticipate seeing so many people showing their love and support.

“Everybody refers to him as the godfather of the music scene in Salt Lake,” Bion Kirk said of his brother. “It’s just the sweet love you get from kindness and years of being a good person.”

Sunday’s events were emceed by Utah radio host ‘Bad’ Brad Wheeler, and featured performances from Sammy Brue, Michael Dean Damron, Carl Carbonell, Travis Labrel, Pete Sands and Morgan Snow.

(Michael Brandy | Special to The Tribune) Local artist Morgan Snow performs during the Heavy Metal Shop's 35th anniversary party in Salt Lake City, Sunday, July 17, 2022.

Wheeler said he is a big fan of the shop, and was honored when Kevin asked him to host the event. Wheeler said he always teases Kevin that he should change the name to “Heavy Metal Shop and so much more.”

“Obviously it’s a venue, obviously it’s a store, but it’s just the soul of a person who is one of the music’s biggest fans,” Wheeler said.

Snow opened the day’s performances with an acoustic country/Western set whose intimacy fit the setting, where the stage takes up most of the room. It’s a venue that forces people to stop, be still, and just listen — and encourages a wide variety of musical styles, beyond the screaming metal the store’s name suggests.

Sunday’s festivities also included the store’s annual weiner dog race — inspired by the dogs Angie and Kevin always owned. A dog named Zamboni won the race, beating out Penny, Stanley and Ladybug.

As the event went on, Kevin Kirk stayed in touch with his two grandchildren, who he is raising on his own. The whole family and the community around the shop are working to carry on without the family’s matriarch.

“This weekend I’ve been pretty emotional,” Kirk admitted. “I miss her so much, but I feel like she’s helping me.”

The store is not just a big part of Kirk’s life, he said, but a part of his soul.

“I don’t know what I’d do without it, it’s really saved me,” Kirk said. “I’d be so lost without it.”