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Kilby Court Celebrates 20 Years in Salt Lake City

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Salt Lake City’s longest-running all-ages music venue, Kilby Court, is celebrating its 20th anniversary on Saturday, May 11. It’s more than a celebration of local arts in the valley — it’s also a marker of social change. KUER’s Roddy Nikpour spoke with one of the current owners of Kilby Court, Will Sartain, and Phil Sherburne, the original — and accidental — founder of Kilby Court. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Phil Sherburne: I guess I did accidentally start it. I had a woodshop down an alley, and I took over the building next to it for an art group I was in. I thought we could just use it as a home base and stage thing. At that time another venue got shut down, another underground, all-ages venue. So I just started letting bands play at Kilby in the little building I had. I didn’t really know where that was leading, but that’s how it was accidentally started.

Will Sartain: Putting it into some historical context, too — that area wasn’t great back then when they started doing shows. Speaking from an ownership perspective, I’m sort of in a similar position where I never saw myself as being someone who would own a venue. But specifically, when Phil started it, I think he lit a little fire, and it turns out there is a huge demand for shows.

PS: We were trying to do different — I don’t know, make Salt Lake exciting, and for some reason that was more my mission.

Roddy Nikpour: Tell me about that, then — making Salt Lake more exciting. What was not exciting?

PS: I was a 20-something at the time, and all my 20-something friends were moving to bigger, more exciting cities, talking about how Salt Lake was terrible on their way out the door, and I thought, “No, Salt Lake is awesome. We should do something here.”

RN: Will, can you tell me: Is the all-ages aspect of running this venue still that important?

WS: I think so. I think the all-ages aspect of Kilby is very important because, especially in the early days before people knew about it, a parent would call and they would say, “What’s your venue like?” and we would say, “Well, there’s no alcohol.” And that was a big kind of relief. If you were a parent and you just come once, you would say, “Oh, wow, this is a really cool art space.”

PS: Yeah. I think from just the changing landscape of — I don’t know, the community — the community has changed. Growing up in South Valley in the 80s, I was — I did not fit in the South Valley, and I was angsty, and a lot of us were. Everybody would go downtown in full display of your anger and “you didn’t belong” and “you didn’t fit in.” You wore it like a badge. In the South Valley back when I grew up, it was pretty obvious if you didn’t fit in. They would stare at you. If you drove to Bluffdale back then, the town would stop. It was like a record scratch. Now, you drive out there, and people are covered in tattoos and they are skateboarding on Sundays. Salt Lake has changed a lot. From my perspective, it might just be there is less to fight against.

RN: It sounds like over the course of time, because you’ve had enough people who were different and didn’t fit in altogether, you formed your own culture within Salt Lake City to make a space for Kilby Court, an all-ages venue with people who could just belong no matter what.

WS: You could have a ton of different kinds of people come to Kilby, and they still all feel like it’s their own. You could have a hip-hop show one night and a rock show the next night and a folk show the next night, but each of those groups — even though they might not be attending the same shows — they feel like Kilby is their home, especially in the early 2000s and late 2000s when there’s not a lot of options. That’s why I think you have a lot of people with these really fond memories of Kilby, going to those shows. There just wasn’t much, and it just filled a need.

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