How Salt Lake’s Kilby Court became a springboard for small groups on their way to glory

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Although Salt Lake City is often a stopover on North American tours for most major artists, the city has never been considered the mecca of music per se. However, several of today’s top artists to watch, such as Ritt Momney, The National Parks, and The Backseat Lovers, are products of the region. Salt Lake also attracts renowned artists – think Diplo, Death Cab for Cutie, and Sylvan Esso – to the valley again and again, to perform at local festivals, concert series, or on their own tours. But whether these artists have local roots or not, they all have something in common: the local Kilby Court venue.

“It’s a rite of passage, I think,” says Will Sartain, co-owner and talent buyer at Kilby Court, of the venue’s place in local musical culture. “Kilby is awesome because he just provides that first step all the way up.”

The place itself is nothing fancy. A faded marquee welcomes guests into the space, and once inside, corrugated aluminum wall panels line the makeshift stage. Put simply, Kilby Court makes any garage band feel right at home.

The place doesn’t have to be fancy, however. His roster of stellar alumni speaks much louder than the slightly seedy surroundings. Benefiting from alumni like Phoebe Bridgers, Mac Miller, Doja Cat and many more, Kilby Court is Salt Lake’s own incubator for successful musical talent.

Normally, places like this don’t just happen, they are carefully curated by a team of music industry professionals with a keen eye for sound, emerging talent, and cultivating a specific fan base. It’s just not Kilby’s style, and it never has been.

Kilby Court was established in 1999 out of necessity. At the time, there weren’t any small venues serving independent Salt Lake bands, so founder Phil Sherburne turned his garage and woodworking shop into a makeshift concert hall. The place quickly gained popularity and the following year Sherburne decided to formalize Kilby Court, acquiring zoning permits to designate the space as a music venue.

Sartain and his business partner, Lance Saunders, bought Kilby in 2008, making it part of their local music presentation empire, Sartain and Saunders. Although Sartain and Saunders partner with bigger companies like the Twilight Concert Series, they’ve always kept Kilby true to his DIY, it all goes to the roots.

“We are just a space. Our philosophy is not necessarily to organize certain things in Kilby, ”explains Sartain. “There is no pretentious attitude about ‘We have to attract this type of group or this type of audience.’ We’re not really focused on “Are they good enough?” Or “Are they some type of sound?” It’s just more equal booking chances.

Kilby’s hands-off booking approach might explain why they seem to have an uncanny ability to attract and develop musical talent. As Sartain says: “We get numbers that end up exploding because we are open to everything.

They also continued to put local artists at the forefront, and local band Dad Bod says playing Kilby inspired them. Michael Marinos, who is the singer, guitarist and songwriter of Dad Bod is a longtime Kilby regular; he has attended live music spot shows for all ages since high school. He says it was his first exposure to the local music scene, and for his band, it was a dream venue.

“When we had a show there for the first time, it helped us realize, ‘Oh, okay we can do it,’ says Marinos. “I think it’s one of those great stepping stones to be able to play locally and go from there.”

Papa Bod is a regular at Kilby. After just three years of performing on the local scene, they’ve graced the Kilby stage more than 30 times, says Marinos. The group is set to take the stage with The Backseat Lovers – another locally born, Kilby-born band that recently achieved international success – at The Depot on December 17th.

So whether the bands are just getting started or if they – like Death Cab for Cutie – return to the scene after gaining worldwide acclaim, Kilby is at home.

According to Sartain, the Kilby space is a place for local artists to express themselves, and it’s as essential to Salt Lake’s music community as it was in 1999.

“There is something memorable about this place,” says Sartain. “It was just really necessary [when it was founded], and I think it is still needed to this day. It’s just a really special and unique atmosphere.

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