You're a cool thing, count mountains (Kilby Block Party recap)

You're a cool thing, count mountains (Kilby Block Party recap)

I am freshly returned from the Kilby Block Party music festival, slightly crisp with sunburn and foggy of mind. The fest took place in gorgeous Salt Lake City, Utah, home of the Kilby Court all-ages music venue (the fest commemorated 25 years of venue operations) and also of the longest and widest city blocks in the United States of America. Lettuce skip the preamble, and I will get right into a recap of the highlights (and occasional lowlights) of this special festival experience.

Soigné: the lineup

2024 has been a rather chaotic festival lineup year so far, with the millennial chokehold on headliners creating an irritating bottleneck of repeat bookings, and a prioritization of "streaming numbers" over "vibes" f*cking up the curatorial element of the undercards. As a result, The Killers are stomping across the music festival industrial complex like Godzilla again, and lineups across our great nation are trying to be everything to nobody.

Enter Kilby: a streamlined selection of indie-rock-leaning acts ranging from friendly legacy dinosaurs like LCD Soundsystem and Interpol to fresh blood like Water From Your Eyes and Hemlocke Springs. The new acts kept the energy current enough to prevent it from being a full nostalgia zone (à la Just Like Heaven) but were also cultivated enough to not end up a viral TikTok disaster zone (looking at you, Gov Ball). When KBP released their lineup, I read the poster and thought: "Wow, a mix of acts I know and love, acts I've been meaning to check out, and acts I don't know at all but must be good based on their inclusion here. Seems like a good time." SIMPLE AS!

Excellent: operations

I am a festival connoisseur (imagine me now with a mustache and a tiny glass of port in my hand). I know music is only part of the equation—you need a killer 360 degree experience to justify your wristband price 'in this economy.' And KBP delivered: clean porta potties and even some genuine real bathrooms, a fairly navigable layout of four stages, lots of food and drink options, easily discoverable medical tents, friendly workers, easy transit in and out of the festival. In a world where an EDM fest I once attended had their gates literally knocked down after telling attendees they were at capacity, the Block Party infrastructure was solid. Also, there were beautiful snow-capped mountains ringing the premises, and that's nice.

waiting 4 joanna newsom with an IPA in hand

Some room for improvement: sound

I am not an audiophile. I don't quibble with treble or brace for bass. I am not Samuel L. Jackson in Jackie Brown: "Play the volume loud as you want to, but don't touch my levels now. I got them set just like I like 'em." But the sound sometimes was a little waffley at KBP—probably a combination of the natural elements and the stage layouts, which caused some sound bleed and sometimes gobbled up layers of vocals or guitars. I have watched enough Dave Rat videos to know the complexity of doing sound for festivals, so I don't want to be too complainy, but I must speak my truth.

molly hive...also sorry these pics are ass, i swear my iPhone is downgrading the camera quality on purpose to try to make me buy a new one...NOT GONNA HAPPEN

Better than ever: Alvvays

Chris and I flew in on Friday morning and the first set we made it to was Alvvays, the Canadian band who gifted me with my 2022 AOTY, Blue Rev. This was my third time seeing Alvvays but it'd been a minute since those first two shows, which both happened in 2016: Coachella, and a free show at the Prospect Park Bandshell that apparently had Big Thief as an opener ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Alvvays have somehow gotten 300% better since the last times I saw them—Molly Rankin's voice in particular sounds fantastic, lively and effortless—and I was thrilled to see some Blue Rev songs live, including "Very Online Guy" and "Belinda Says."

I have died and am now in heaven: Joanna Newsom

Joanna Newsom has now joined Patti Smith in the category of "artists I figured I'd never catch live in my lifetime that conveniently showed up on the perfect festival bill." I was worried people would yap through her set but everyone pretty much behaved! I feel like Ys and Have One On Me get more generalized acclaim but I'm a Milk-Eyed Mender girl. That is my shit. That is my bread and butter. So I was thrilled to hear "Sadie" and got to roll the phrase "exhume your pinecone" around in my brain on and off for the rest of the weekend. Joanna also said that this festival was the first time in seven years she was traveling away from her children; please pause this blog to read the Pitchfork essay on motherhood for working musicians. See you in a few...

Jammy: Vampire Weekend

Another band I had never seen live, the Friday headliners spread the jams like they were preparing a scone for consumption. Our spot in the field was occupied by people I will generously call "casuals," mostly because they spent a good chunk of the 90 minutes of Vampire Weekend's set wondering when they would play "A-Punk," and also how many times they would play "A-Punk." To their credit, when "A-Punk" kicked in, they did hop up and down with gusto. The Only God Was Above Us tracks sounded tight, but the highlight for me was the back-to-back Jamflowman-style renditions of "Sunflower" and the SBTRKT heater "New Dorp. New York" which got long and weird and allowed me to loosen my tightening joints by dropping it rather low. It is really funny that people still associate VW with the preppy thing, when they're actually way closer to the Dave Matthews Band, University-of-Vermont-in-the-1990s thing these days. Related, I saw more people playing hacky sack this weekend than I think I ever have in my life.

Simply a cool band: Water From Your Eyes

Despite having a slot on the stage with the toughest sound/crowd gathering layout, Water From Your Eyes crushed everyone. They had a great audience who moshed conscientiously throughout "Barley" and "True Live" (I watched several pit members try to reunite a phone and some car keys with their respective rightful owners). Rachel Brown looked cool in an elongated vest-type garment and told a joke between sets that suggested Radiohead wrote the song "High and Dry" about the city of Denver; they also said "free Palestine" at the end of their set, which got big cheers.

the atlantic was born 2day......and i'll tell u how

Nostalgia ultra: Death Cab For Cutie / The Postal Service

This was my...third time seeing Death Cab? But first time seeing them do their dual Transatlanticism / Give Up show. Unfortunately even though we were up relatively close to the front of the stage and surrounded by people wearing DCFC merch, the first few notes of "The New Year" seemed to cause a sort of sleeper agent activation which made everyone around us start talking about their past music listening habits and high school feelings. Which I'd normally be down for! I mean, you've read this blog before! But dear lord, save the chat for the afters?! A lady near me screeched "THIS IS TWEE! THIS IS SO TWEE!!" throughout "Title and Registration." Saints preserve us.

We ended up moving way back to the end of the crowd for The Postal Service, which made an enormous difference. I then danced through my emotions; "Clark Gable" and "Brand New Colony" both sounded amazing and made me realize my late-in-life electronic dance music affinity probably has at least some of its roots in Give Up, which is pretty crazy because I mostly listened to that CD lying in bed, being Sad, and now I get to travel to a new city and jump up and down to it. Of course, I realized all of this shit quietly. You're just hearing about it now. On my blog. Which some of these chompers should consider starting...unleash the emo in a controlled environment...something to think about...

Hot as hell in temperature and vibe: Model/Actriz

Just in time for the day 3 weather to get truly balmy, we got Model/Actriz on the mainstage. Dogsbody was one of my favorites from last year and it was sick to see those songs writ large. Cole Haden is a STAR. He applied red lipstick without a mirror, struck angular poses, performed several songs at audience-level (if I remember correctly, he preceded his walk toward the barriers with the sand-dry proclamation "Time to meet the people"), all while the other members of the band thrashed industrially. Was hard to take my eyes off Cole but I did get distracted at one point by bassist Aaron Shapiro scratching out some insane bass harmonics. I need to see Model/Actriz in a dark club expeditiously.

Extremely pleasant surprise: CSS

I'm old enough to remember the first glut of press coverage around Brazilian indie sleaze icons CSS (the lead singer is named...Lovefoxxx? their band name came...from a Beyoncé quote?) and to have seen their "Music Is My Hot Hot Sex" iPod commercial. And I don't know what exactly I was expecting from the show—part of their reunion tour after more than a decade on hiatus—but it definitely wasn't a chaotic montage of visuals that hearkened back to the days of 'when the internet used to be fun', a steady stream of high-energy renditions of American Apparel Disco Pant Classics like "Alala" and "Let's Make Love and Listen to Death From Above", and a pre- and post-set dance party to Vengaboys' "We Like To Party." Lovefoxxx also managed to pull off three costume changes/reveals in 40 minutes. What a blast.

Brutal: the 100 gecs / Guided by Voices conflict

Tough break for millennials. The Xers flocked to Pollard and co.; the Zoomers donned their homemade wizard caps and gathered for the Gecs. We split the difference, starting off at the mainstage to catch Laura and Dylan do sloppy-karaoke-style versions of "Frog On The Floor" and "Hollywood Baby" (Devo drummer Josh Freese, who contributed percussion to 10,000 Gecs and played with the band at Coachella 2022, was sorely missed here) and then melting in the sun at the Mountain stage while GBV hit classix like "The Goldheart Mountaintop Queen Directory" and "Game of Pricks." Just trying to have it all, man.

Delicious: the food

We don't tend to eat a ton of food at festivals, preferring to frontload a hearty breakfast and then burn it off over the course of the day (after all, it's hard to dance when you are full of buffalo chicken mac and cheese), but the food we had was tasty. Big fan of the foot-long corn dog, frightened and intrigued by the sign for a HOT BEEF SUNDAE.

thank you r/kilbyblockparty. we sang "hot beef sundae" to the tune of "zoot suit riot"

Not too shabby: branded experiences

I love a good branded experience at a music festival. A fest costs a lot of money to put on and it seems like unless you go to that Shambhala thing in Canada, there's going to be some kind of spon con involved, so you might as well make it good. Ford (maker of cars) had a shaded "lounge" featuring several shiny new cars just sitting around, and tables that had charging cords for your phone. Skullcandy (maker of headphones) sponsored a skating competition at the Fairpark's skate park, which we watched for a while and I winced every time a guy fell down...sorry...I'm an empath. Skullcandy also had a booth where you could play plinko in exchange for merch—I won sunglasses. Titos (maker of vodka) had a booth with vaguely steampunk decor where a representative told you "three fun facts about Titos" and then you could play an arcade claw game in exchange for merch—I did not claw anything but they gave me sunglasses regardless. I came to Salt Lake City with one pair of sunglasses and left with three. That's a win.

Unexpected delight: Silent disco

Not gonna lie, when I saw there was an indoor silent disco scheduled during regular festival hours, I had questions. One question, really, which was Why must this be silent if it's sequestered in a building and happening during other noisy stuff? (Coachella's campgrounds have a pretty epic silent disco, but that's mostly to cater to the absolutely zooted post-fest crowds who still want to dance off their drugs even after Indio's strict noise curfew kicks in.) But my judgment was premature—the setup actually made total sense. There were three DJs spinning all at once, and you tuned your headphones' channel back and forth between the DJs, with a red, blue, or green light on the headphones corresponding to the different DJs. You could look across the room and see who was listening to what, which vibes dominated the dance floor. And the music was awesome—the DJs who played are linked in this post, and they spun some extremely good shit, like a nü-disco remix of "Psycho Killer," and a techno version of Megan Thee Stallion's "Thot Shit."

A+++: the attendees

Overall the best part about KBP was not even the tunes, it was the lovely people. Other than the Death Cab yappers, it was a largely respectful and friendly crowd, and we made great fest friends waiting in various lines. The people-watching was also out of control; the fashion was all over the place, with hippie duds, extremely large denim shorts, and Juggalo-style face paint all in the mix. Beach Fossils frontman Dustin Payseur shouted out a t-shirt he spotted from the stage, which apparently read "I'm high as fuck and have a gun in my backpack." That kind of thing.

I appreciated that the festival was all-ages and people under 21 or even 18 got to enjoy this experience. Everyone is hollering at the children now for lack of show etiquette, but how are they going to learn if they don't get to go to shows to begin with? Whitney Houston once sang "I believe the children are our future / Teach them well and let them lead the way"...she was so real for that. THANK U KILBY!!!