The Aces get a warm welcome home as headliners at Fork Fest

The band from Orem played their first Utah performance since the release of their new album, ‘I’ve Loved You for So Long.’

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Aces — from left: Alisa Ramirez (not pictured) on drums, guitarist Katie Henderson, vocalist Cristal Ramirez and bassist McKenna Petty — play the Fork Fest in American Fork, on Saturday, June 17, 2023.

American Fork • It was a hometown heroes’ welcome.

In April, indie-pop goddesses The Aces said they couldn’t wait to come home to Utah County and perform the track “Suburban Blues,” one of their new songs from their third album, “I’ve Loved You For So Long,” which was released on June 2.

It’s one of the album’s 11 tracks that explore the topic of being raised in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints faith while also being part of the LGBTQ community.

On Saturday night, they fulfilled that promise, as headliners at Fork Fest, an annual festival at American Fork’s Art Dye Park, just 10 miles away from their hometown of Orem. They were the last of 32 Utah bands that performed across three stages Friday and Saturday.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Aces play the Fork Fest in American Fork, on Saturday, June 17, 2023.

“It’s a very special record to us, because we talk a lot about what it was like to grow up here,” Cristal Ramirez, lead vocalist and guitarist, said from the stage. “Three out of four of us are queer. It wasn’t very easy for that reason, I’m sure a lot of you know, so we’re doing something special here tonight.”

The band not only performed “Suburban Blues” twice, but had a videographer recording it, bringing the hometown crowd along for another era of their music. When Ramirez asked the crowd how many of them new of the band beforehand, cheers echoed from all over the park.

The festival atmosphere was easily accessible, and not overly packed. The smell of barbecue floated through the air. The grounds contained a small area for food trucks, one for a hammock hangout and a vendor area.

One highlight was the Forest Stage, in the back of the park. Strings of lights were suspended among the trees, and chairs and couches were scattered around, giving the feel of a living-room show. The dream-like backdrop, with a collage of rusty corrugated metal and weathered planks, was the perfect setting for an intimate concert at a small festival. On the way to the stage, a glowing matinee sign read, “magic is real.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) EJ Michaels plays the Forest Stage at the Fork Fest in American Fork, on Saturday, June 17, 2023.

On the main stage, called the Mountain Stage, The Aces closed out the festival. Dressed in suits — a look they used in promotional photos for the album — Ramirez, her sister Alisa on drums, guitarist Katie Henderson and bassist McKenna Petty rocked in front of an enthusiastic crowd. Cristal even wore a pair of black sunglasses, to top off the style.

On their album, The Aces sound more free and authentic than they’ve ever been. That feeling transferred to Saturday’s performance, their first in their home state since the album’s release. They danced, they head-banged, they tore up the stage with a setlist curated heavily around the new album, plus some of their earlier hits, such as “801″ and “Daydream.”

The song “Stop Feeling,” which is about depression and anxiety, started the album’s journey, Cristal told the audience. “You have a place with us,” she told the crowd, as the band kicked into the song.

Henderson’s guitar solo on “Always Get This Way” was electrifying. Alisa, though hidden in the back behind her drums, delivered a sound that reverberated throughout the park. Cristal’s vocals were riveting, and Petty is a master on the bass.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Aces play the Fork Fest in American Fork, on Saturday, June 17, 2023.

In many ways, the concert was a way for fans to welcome The Aces home. (The band got its start in Orem, and played the Provo club scene — notably Club Velour — in the footsteps of Imagine Dragons and Neon Trees.) Fans at Fork Fest knew the lyrics for old and new songs alike.

Earlier in the day, Petty posted an Instagram story that featured photos of the bandmates visiting their former elementary school in Orem, along with a photo of the band when they were still called The Blue Aces.

Each of the band members’ families sat in Fork Fest’s VIP section, dancing, beaming with pride, and making video calls to relatives who couldn’t be there. Henderson’s mother danced all night. Cristal and Alisa’s father said he couldn’t express how proud he was of his girls.

Cristal said from the stage that it was an honor for the band to be on the bill, alongside other bands with whom they had played shows. “It’s truly a dream come true,” Cristal said. “We’ve been at this for a very long time. We’ve been playing music since we were about 10 years old.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) The crowd cheers for the Aces the Fork Fest in American Fork, on Saturday, June 17, 2023.

The atmosphere was magical, as the audience experienced a moment that will be difficult to replicate. The bandmates told The Tribune in April that “I’ve Loved You for So Long” — both the album and its title track, which they performed to open their set — is as much of a love letter to their band, a journey back to their roots, as it is anything else.

Their set ended with an encore of “Stuck,” from their first album. Rainbow stage lights flickered, and the crowd was jumping in delight.

The crowd’s response was a good indicator that The Aces, no matter how far they go (they’re scheduled to tour Europe in August and North America in the fall, with a stop at Salt Lake City’s The Complex on Oct. 21), will always be welcomed back home.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Fans cheer for Cardinal Bloom, at the Fork Fest in American Fork, on Saturday, June 17, 2023.