Utah venues and bands hope 2011 will be a better year for live, local music

Watch a video of Utah’s live music scene.

Story and video by HELEN COX

Hard times have presented themselves, but Salt Lake City’s performing hard rock bands hope 2011 will be much more promising than 2010.

For decades Utah’s counterculture has loved and supported heavy, aggressive music. This is evidenced by a multitude of local bands, consumer support of the Heavy Metal Shop since 1987 and the recent re-opening of Raunch Records, the local punk and metal store that was popular during the eighties and nineties.

Local musicians and venue workers say times have been tough for Salt Lake City’s comparatively small nightlife since the recession set in. In regards to live performance turnouts in Utah’s underground music scene, 2010 was particularly difficult. But many are seeing changes happening already in 2011.

Jeremy Sundeaus, manager of Burt’s Tiki Lounge, has undoubtedly seen the economy’s effects on the venue that has employed him for more than a decade. Burt’s, which is often described as the CBGB of Salt Lake City, is a live music mecca. With cheap cover charges, cheap drinks and specializing in punk, hardcore, stoner rock, metal and rockabilly, the bar and venue has been in business for nearly 20 years ­– long enough to see a number of highs and lows.

“In the past year-and-a-half or so, it’s been really hard to get people out to shows. Some shows that I thought would be no-brainers, nobody shows up for. And sometimes you get lucky and have a good show,” Sundeaus said. “In the past month or two, it’s actually started to pick up – it kind of feels like old Burt’s again. I feel like maybe the economy’s taking a turn.”

Not only is Sundeaus pleased 2011 has started out well for his venue, he is also excited to see a lot of support for his band Muckraker and the stoner rock genre itself – a hybrid of psychedelic rock, blues rock and doom metal – which has become quite popular in Salt Lake City.

Bassist Dave Jones of locally-based, stoner rock groups oldtimer and SubRosa has also noticed the same economic struggles and successes in Salt Lake’s live music industry.

“I don’t know exactly what has happened, but just in January I started noticing a difference where people were coming out to more shows,” Jones said. “Maybe it’s due to weather, maybe it’s tax refund season and people are feeling like spending some cash – I’m really not sure.”

Jones’ bands play at bar venues like Burt’s on a regular basis, oldtimer’s guitarist even works there, but they can also be found gigging at more do-it-yourself (DIY) types of shows. This is an alternative idea that has recently become more popular in Salt Lake City, particularly at locations such as Salt Lake Recording Service and Raunch Records.

Brad McCarley opened Salt Lake Recording Service three-and-a-half years ago. With a love for music and a passion for recording bands, he said he had a goal of making “solid recordings of some of the great local music we have in town.” Salt Lake Recording Service has recorded over 110 bands to date.

What McCarley did not know initially was that his studio would soon double as somewhat of an underground venue. About a year after opening, Jones suggested having a show there. It was successful, and similar small performances have continued to occur ever since. Shows at Salt Lake Recording Service are free to attend, with a recommended donation. This type of setup gives bands a place to play, and the donations benefit the studio and touring bands.

“Having shows is mostly about keeping the music going, but it’s not what we normally do here,” said McCarley, who is focused on recording, but happy to have a symbiotic relationship with bands looking for a place to play.

Many locals like this type of relationship too, and perhaps it is the answer to getting more people out to see live bands.

“It’s very comfortable, it’s DIY, and everybody pulls together as a community to throw shows and help each other out,” said Alex Ruiz, guitarist and vocalist of doom metal/crust punk band, Doomed to Extinction.

As an unemployed musician, Ruiz has felt the harsh blows of the recession. Still, he remains optimistic for local music because of people’s willingness to collaborate through the tough times.

“It’s just honest people having a good time,” Ruiz said. “I think that’s all that matters.”

In fact, most musicians seem strangely optimistic these days. While most cannot afford new instruments, they are still buying new guitar strings, renting jam rooms and playing gigs around town – whether people are showing up or not. Perhaps Salt Lake City’s music scene really is going in a more favorable direction.

“It’s just hard times right now,” said multi-instrumentalist Alejandro Gomez, who is known for his work in Incendiant, Yaotl Mictlan, Trigon Aion and others. “But people will figure it out. They’ll find a way. It’s worth it. I think it is.”

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