When you tell someone from another state that you live in Utah, their first response is usually various forms of… “Really?!” or… “Why?!” We get it. From the outside looking in, this bubble-like state can seem as dry as the liquor laws. (zing!) And we have to admit, with the church governing most of the land, it’s easy for boredom to take hold or for even some of the natives who walk to the beat of their own drum to feel like outsiders here, no matter how long they have been dwelling in the valley.
But the hidden gem; the sparkling diamond in the rough; the saving grace; the escape we all need, where everyone is welcome and encouraged to be themselves… is the local music scene in SLC. Whether you’re a starving artist, a musician with a day job, a devoted fan, a casual music browser with time to kill, or just a curious person looking for something to do, you have a place here.
While we don’t always attract all of the touring artists that some of the bigger, more musically recognized cities do, we have an endless supply of talent hiding in the shadows that will leave you wondering why Salt Lake City is not a hot topic of every discussion about thriving local music scenes. Though, the unexpectedness and more underground vibe of our rockin’ society may subconsciously (or very consciously) be what we all love so much about it… The Hard Chew, existing solely due to the massive amounts of artistic talent here, can’t resist sharing it’s luster.
So, what’s going on here? Why is this city’s music scene something worth chewing on?
Accessibility - urban city appeal with a less chaotic feel
As one of only two metropolitan areas in the Great Basin, Salt Lake City has been steadily growing in population and density for years. Yet, this doesn’t seem to impact the ease of access to numerous restaurants, shops, bars, and of course… music venues. Going out for a night on the town is pretty stress free in comparison to more difficult-to-navigate downtown spots like LA, Brooklyn, or Chicago. Parking is abundant, traffic is light, but the activities and crowds are still present. There’s a surprising amount of nightlife fun in this seemingly stale city, if you only know where to find it. This makes concerts and other music-related events a lot more appealing to not only the frequent show-goers, but the occasional attendees as well.
Fan Point: You can get the urban vibe of a big city without the hassle of bumper-to-bumper cars in the streets or the hour long lines outside of bars and venues.
Which brings us to the next bite...
Venues - varying in size and location, with staff who care about music
Sure, it’s on your bucket-list to attend a show at one of the House of Blues locations, or to leave some sweat behind at the Casbah… but there’s something to be said about the experience of jamming out at one of your “home court” venues. Let’s face it; most of us go to shows to feel at home. We love the buzz of the crowd and the intensity of feeling the music we love-- live and loud. When you don’t have to worry about mapping out a venue that you have only heard about in the Rolling Stone, you get to just enjoy the performers that you put pants on for.
But what is truly noteworthy about the venues here in SLC, is that they care about the local community. Almost any night of the week and/or weekend, you’ll find a show at The Urban Lounge, Metro Music Hall, Kilby Court, or Diabolical Records with local talents on the ballot. Whether there is a touring headliner or not, the bands that put countless hours into entertaining the local fans are welcomed to the stage and given the chance to play their music.
Artist Point: Booking shows at venues does not require you to sell your soul. It’s easy to get to know the venue staff and scheduling coordinators as it’s not a huge pond. If you have a solid sound together and you want to play, you can. Once you dip your toes in, you may even be invited to open for touring artists and bigger shows that will help you get your music out there.
But what is so special about these local bands?
Rebellion - escape from the strict, traditional culture
If you haven’t already noticed, many of the artists who truly revolutionized music were looked at as “freaks” at one point or another. Joey Ramone, David Bowie, Freddie Mercury, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin; all of these legendary performers spoke on many occasions about feeling unaccepted by society and thus turned to music for a creative, cathartic outlet. It’s no secret that this state is home to many straight-laced, button-down individuals who likely have ‘Live, Laugh, Love’ painted on their kitchen wall… but with every polished society comes the uncategorized; the untame; the break-the-mold “rejects” who either don’t want to or simply can’t fit in.
We have no shortage of people of all ages and genders in need of a way to escape and express themselves, which is a big reason why we have no shortage of unique musicians and devoted fans. Unfortunately, the feeling of being a social outcast can cause some depressive angst, especially for the youngsters. Not to fear---music is here. (There is a reason why many professional therapists use music medicine to treat a myriad of different issues; it works.)
Fan Point: Every day, there are new artists popping up that are worth listening to. The emotionally charged, real music you crave is around every corner.
Artist Point: The audience is just like you. They’re showing up to listen for the same reason you’re making your music-- to escape and to connect.
Alright, that one was a little heavy. There are definitely some less grim reasons for our abundant population of music junkies...
People Are Bored - there’s only so many movies to see
The entertainment options here are still fairly limited for a couple of reasons, and some of us are just not satisfied with stuffing our faces with popcorn while sitting through another blockbuster film about transforming robots. During the warmer months, we have an astounding number of hiking trails, scenic drives, lakes and rivers, and other beautiful outdoor activities to indulge in, but it’s cold for damn near half the year. Luckily, the music never sleeps. Local and touring shows are happening all year round, all the time. Thanks to the boredom of individuals who need to create to stay sane---rain or shine---music is still being made. With less going on in general, there’s more time to put towards writing or polishing music and likely some seasonally amplified emotions to harness for inspiration. But of course, fans are bored too, and they’re eager to get out of the home-ridden funk to soak up the endorphins and energy that live tunes provide.
Community Point: We may not have the level of excitement that other cities do, but we’re making the best of it by creating and appreciating art. (stick it to the man!)
And last but surely not least...
Unique Culture/Community - a melting pot of artists and fans with diverse backgrounds
Even if Salt Lake City is not on the list of dream locations to set up camp in, a lot of curious individuals decide to give it a shot due to the economical benefits. With cost of living at very low rates and employment opportunities through the roof, we attract a lot of transplants to the area. The downtown population is made up largely of people from other states and/or countries, or just from other areas around the valley who moved to the city to be closer to the action. This makes for a wonderfully diverse community of individuals with varying upbringings and cultures.
But where do new people make friends?
One of the best places to find locals with similar interest to you and make connections in the community is at shows. It’s likely that the other people there came to enjoy some music, just like you, and it’s likely that it’s the same kind of music that you like. On top of that, if you’re an artist looking for other musicians in the community or ways to be introduced to the scene, the local artists here attend shows as fans of other local bands and touring acts and are very devoted to supporting the community as a whole.
We understand that we may be a little biased, but there’s really some sort of magic happening here behind the Zion Curtain. So, what are you waiting for? If you haven’t yet dug into the wonderful world of Salt Lake City’s local music scene, it’s never too late to hop on the train. Instead of taking our word for it, come to a show. See for yourself.
If you’re not sure where to start, you can find the local shows that we recommend attending on our Upcoming Shows page, or you can even just give us a holler!
Our mission here at The Hard Chew is to be a source of information that links fans and artists together, and floods the music scene with talented musicians and enthusiastic crowds. If you want more information on any local bands or venues, feel free to shoot us an email or get in touch on social media. We hope to see you at the next show!