At Utah’s fastest-growing music festival, the local music scene makes a national name for itself

On the first day of the three-day Kilby Court Block Party, vendors and fans share in the excitement.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Fan of Japanese Breakfast react to lead singer Michelle Zauner at the Kilby Court Block Party at the Utah State Fairpark, May 12, 2023.

Gabriele Goldberg drove eight hours to get from Colorado State University, where she just finished her finals, to hear the music at the Kilby Court Block Party at Salt Lake City’s Utah State Fairpark.

Goldberg said she saw the lineup — singer-songwriter Faye Webster was the performer she was most excited to hear — and the ticket prices, and decided it was a steal.

It’s Goldberg’s first time attending the block party, which in its fourth year is quickly becoming one of the biggest music events in Utah.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Paige Fish and Thomas Smith of Provo dance at the Kilby Court Block Party at the Utah State Fairpark, May 12, 2023.

The three-day event drew thousands of music fans Friday, its first day, to hear more than 50 national and local artists, according to Nic Smith, managing director for S&S Presents, the concert booking and hosting company that organizes the festival.

Will Connors, a student at the University of Utah, said last year he missed out on the block party because it sold out. This year he made sure to jump on tickets because he heard how fun it was from everyone else.

Headlining Friday’s lineup was the indie rock band Yeah Yeah Yeahs. The Strokes are set to headline Saturday, and Pavement on Sunday.

There were a few surprises on stage. For example, during his set Friday, Mexican American singer-songwriter Cuco performed an unreleased track.

Utah acts were among those playing on four stages at the Fairpark. Indie-pop performer Ritt Momney told the overflow crowd Friday evening how proud he was to be a local artist present at the party.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Fans shout for the band Cuco at the Kilby Court Block Party at the Utah State Fairpark, May 12, 2023.

“I came here straight from my house,” Momney (real name: Jack Rutter) told the crowd. “We’re really blessed here in Salt Lake City.”

Music fans, from Utah and out-of-state, were eager to get into the Fairpark.

“The moment the gates opened, it was just people like crazy,” said Dustin Hansen, owner of the Graywhale record store, which had a booth on the grounds. Hansen brought in crates of records from many of the block party’s performers — and business was so good the first day, Hansen said, he would have to reload half of what he brought.

Smith called the block party the largest event S&S has hosted in its 15-plus years of existence. He said the team took feedback from last year’s attendees to improve logistics and hospitality for the event.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Japanese Breakfast lead singer Michelle Zauner belts out a song at the Kilby Court Block Party at the Utah State Fairpark, May 12, 2023.

The block party may not be as celebrity-filled as the more famous Coachella festival, but Utah’s equivalent was less expensive and more relaxed — and the late spring fashion vibe was similar.

There was plenty of room in the Fairpark for people to sit, or even lie down, in the grass between stages. Many attendees preferred to dance to the music.

There was also room for food trucks, water refill stations, photo ops and more. As with any festival, the lines for the bathrooms and merch tables were long.

There were also booths for a number of local arts and nonprofit agencies, including KRCL, KUAA, K-Ute, Equality Utah, Craft Lake City and Spy Hop. One organization, Save Our Great Salt Lake, had a dunk tank, with proceeds going to their cause.

Hansen, from Graywhale, complimented S&S owners Lance Saunders and Will Sartain, saying they have always been supportive of local record stores.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) A fan of Japanese Breakfast brought an album for the band to sign at the Kilby Court Block Party at the Utah State Fairpark, May 12, 2023.

The block party, Hansen said, was a sign of the fact that in Salt Lake City, music breeds community. Watching the block party grow has been incredible, he said, because it legitimizes Utah’s music scene. Hansen said he’s talked to many out-of-towners who bought records and didn’t know about Kilby Court’s 24-year history as an all-aged music venue — and it felt great to share that story.

Next to Graywhale, Zahir Lawrence, lab manager at Essential Photo Supply, a business from 9th & 9th, was selling disposable and reloadable cameras, as well as film. Lawrence said he was planning a special 24-hour service to develop, scan and email photos for visitors.

Most of the traffic in Lawrence’s booth was from people who came to Utah just for the party. Seeing so many people coming out to support Kilby Court was mind-blowing.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Singer-songwriter Cuco performs at the Kilby Court Block Party at the Utah State Fairpark, May 12, 2023.

“I went to the other block parties, and it just keeps getting bigger and bigger,” Lawrence said. “So much support for all this art, it’s pretty cool.”

The party also brought festival vendors from out of town, such as Peace, Love and Halos flower crowns. Alvaro Ramirez owns the business with his wife, where they sell flower crowns similar to those one might see in old photos from Woodstock. They’ve been running through the music festival circuit for 10 years.

The block party is their first festival event in Utah, but Ramirez said the set-up is amazing and he can’t wait to come back next year. He said Kilby’s good music, good vibes and good people make it exactly the type of festival he loves attending.

The excitement, most of all, could be felt from S&S employees who helped create the large-scale event.

Chloe Monson, who designed this year’s and previous posters for the block party, has worked with S&S for seven years.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Alice Phoebe Lou sings at the Kilby Court Block Party at the Utah State Fairpark, May 12, 2023.

“I was scared to do this one because I was, like, ‘I’m never gonna make one as good as the last one,’” Monson said. But, she took last year’s design and filled it with a ‘80s-inspired color scheme.

Monson said many people have come by the art market area who were from out-of-town, and came here because they saw her poster. To her, that — and the growth of Kilby — is insane.

“Kilby is like such a hole in the wall, 200 capacity, super D.I.Y.,” she said. To see so many people at the block party almost felt not like Kilby at all. But, Monson said, she couldn’t be happier for the team.

Kilby Court’s Hall of Fame — a list of bands and artists that have performed at the garage venue — is on display at the festival, showing just how far the venue has come.

“They put so much work into this and to see it come from such a tiny venue to become something like this is like incredible,” she said. “I have no words for it, really.”

The Kilby Court Block Party continues Saturday and Sunday at the Utah State Fairpark, 1000 W. North Temple, Salt Lake City.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) From left, Laura Cookson, Tyson Herrera and Dawson Davis joined thousands who were entertained by multiple bands at the Kilby Court Block Party at the Utah State Fairpark, May 12, 2023.