ENTERTAINMENT

Why Kilby Block Party is ‘life changing’ to music lovers in the Mountain West

May 14, 2024, 2:03 PM | Updated: 3:22 pm

A crowd watching The Garden at Kilby Block Party 5 on Saturday, May 11, 2024.  (Mark Less, KSL TV)...

A crowd watching The Garden at Kilby Block Party 5 on Saturday, May 11, 2024. (Mark Less, KSL TV)

(Mark Less, KSL TV)


SALT LAKE CITY — In the five years since its genesis, Kilby Block Party transcended from a humble gathering on 700 South in downtown Salt Lake to a staple attraction in the Mountain West, known for its indie roots and dreamy mountain backgrounds.

The festival began as an anniversary celebration of Salt Lake City’s longest-standing all-ages venue, Kilby Court. For its fifth block party, Kilby Court celebrated 25 years of shows at the widely beloved venue.

The first two parties were headlined by friends of the venue and nationally acclaimed bands, Death Cab for Cutie and Young the Giant, which snagged the eyes of local music lovers in the Salt Lake Valley and nearby areas.

The load in and main entrance to Utah’s Kilby Court. (Ivy Ceballo, Deseret News)

The third festival held in 2022 was moved to Library Square and headlined by Phoebe Bridgers and Mac Demarco. The festival took an even larger turn the following year, booking early 2000s heavy hitters The Strokes, Pavement and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

The fifth festival, which kicked off on Friday, headlined another group of 2000s alternative rock bands, Vampire Weekend, The Postal Service + Death Cab for Cutie, and LCD Soundsystem.

It may be difficult to imagine what could drive such growth, but the track record of popular headliners joining the roster speaks for itself. Folks in the crowd though had more specifics to give for why the festival had become such an annual importance in their lives — and it wasn’t just fame.

Kilby Block Party is good at accessibility

In a pool of guests, many traveled by booking a weekend flight from nearby states like California or Texas; others said they road-tripped. Some had never heard of Kilby Block Party before booking their flights, in hopes the festival might give them a chance to enjoy a more affordable experience.

One couple that had traveled from Orange County, California, had never heard of the festival before booking flights and 3-day VIP tickets.

“It seemed like it was going to be way more chill than festivals back home,” Jacob Robinson said.

“Yeah (Coachella) is almost out of touch with reality in the sense that it’s so expensive and like unattainable for normal people,” said his partner, Jazmine Baker. “Whereas Kilby caters more toward your everyday person like you can afford to go. At Coachella I hear that to get a sushi roll it’s like $100, and here I can still eat for ten, fifteen bucks.”

Baker and Robinson said the festival also gave them a much more inclusive feeling than others they had attended.

“It feels very inclusive like I saw that there’s a nursing room for moms which was super cool, and it looks like they’re very ADA accessible,” Baker said.

Spotify playlists

Robinson said the decision to come to Kilby relied a lot on the fact that he could visit the official Kilby Block Party Spotify playlist and discovered quickly that the festival offered the kind of music he enjoyed.

Others, Alan Day, Samantha Boren and Zac Simmons said they heavily relied on the playlists to dictate their schedule.

“Arcy Drive was really good this morning. We weren’t going to even be there by then … but at the last minute last night I was like ‘Ok is it worth even going before 2 p.m.?'” Day said. “Went to the playlist, Arcy Drive stuck right out, so we got here for them and they were awesome.”

Simmons said the playlists helped draw them in, but inevitably, the festival gave them new groups to hear once they got there as well.

“I think getting here and seeing bands that we’ve never really experienced just kind of opened our eyes. We’re like ‘Hey that’s a cool band.’ I think we’re probably taking a look at listening to more of their stuff so I think it’s great exposure for bands that are just on the cusp of becoming big,” Simmons said. “I think it’s cool that Kilby offers that, it’s a cool starting point for these local artists.”

Day said that is exactly part of the reason for going at all.

“My whole music experience exists within Spotify. And the algorithm is not as good as it first seemed,” he said, of trying to discover new music within the platform.

Likewise, Dale Phillips said he’d had a similar experience at Kilby Block Party 4, and came back for more.

“The thing I loved the most last year was discovering two bands that I became like a superfan of, that I had never heard of before or had any prior experience at all,” he said. “I retired recently from school teaching and I have a little bit of extra time on my hands now. This is as good as it gets for an old man to discover a new artist that you feel really excited about, and then come to find out they have a deep catalog.”

VIP tickets are “worth it”

Many enjoyed lounge and club areas in the VIP section of the festival, which was blocked off to general admission, and included its own main entrance to the festival.

“We’ve never waited for a line to get in. The most we’ve waited in line for anything was like 10 minutes, and that was the merch line. Not that bad!” Boren said. “I haven’t even used a port-a-potty once and I’ve been here two full days!”

Boren spoke as she sat at a table in an air-conditioned makeshift club, under dimmed red lights, and accompanied by a pop groove music playlist playing in the background.

The tickets, sold for approximately $400 per person, included access to premier food and drink vendors that couldn’t be found anywhere else on festival grounds. For a lucky few, it also included a celebrity spotting of Emma Chamberlain, who was photographed at the festival on Saturday.

Real Housewives of Salt Lake City star was also spotted by the crowd, when Vampire Weekend called Heather Gay up to the stage to play cornhole during their set.

“Overall I think it’s worth it for three days,” Boren said.

“The greatest experience of my life”

A shocked girl stares at a stage during Kilby Block Party 5. (Mark Less, KSL TV)

For others, tickets were a no-brainer.

“We bought tickets before the lineup was released this year,” said Caroline Herrera, who was there with two of her friends, Krista Boyd and Casey Dillon.

Herrera said she and her friends were not concerned about who would be there after the last year’s experience they had together. Dillon flew back out from San Francisco to attend the festival for a second year.

“We were so excited last year for the Strokes,” Herrera said. “And we were like ‘Alright, we’re gonna check this out.’ And then we came and the whole thing was like actually kind of life-changing, like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ set last year like actually changed my life. I was sobbing by the end. I only knew a couple of their songs going into it and I was like, ‘This is the greatest experience of my life!'”

Phillips, who also traveled from San Francisco, said he felt a deep appreciation to the experience. When speaking about his fears, he said political and economic collapse in America could be a difficult feat for him to handle, but if he had to face his fears, he would rely on music to get him through.

“Oh my god I’m terrified,” he said. “Anything could go wrong. But I think ‘Alright, there’s still music. I’ve got something.”

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Why Kilby Block Party is ‘life changing’ to music lovers in the Mountain West