People know their names even if they don't know where they're from. Donny and Marie, the Neon Trees, David Archuletta, The Piano Guys — they are all chart toppers and they are all from Utah.
Despite Utah's quiet, conservative reputation, the state puts out a surprising number of musical artists that make it to the big time, proving that the there is something in the desert air that has undeniably produced stars. Many bands on their way to stardom today attribute that success to the unique and highly supportive music scene that musicians and fans alike have cultivated in Utah.
Brady Parks, of the booming Provo-based band The National Parks, explains, “I think it’s that there is a community here that especially loves music. That exists places other than Utah, but in Utah people are rooting for local bands. People always come out to support us, and bands support other bands. It’s a great place to play,” said Parks in a phone interview with the Deseret News.
Parks shared that starting out as a young singer-songwriter, he would perform at open-mic night at Provo’s local venue, Velour. It wasn’t until Velour owner Corey Fox asked him to play in a local showcase that Parks’s career really got off of the ground.
“I freaked out. It was one of my dreams to play a showcase,” Parks explained. “That experience was awesome and really motivating.”
That showcase was the first time that he and bandmate Sydney Macfarlane performed together, and the show resulted in another invitation from Fox to participate in Velour's bi-annual Battle of the Bands. Culling together the rest of their crew, the musicians began “forming their own sound,” Parks stated. The National Parks took second place in the Battle that year, launching their Utah stardom.
Thanks to Fox’s encouragement and community support, The National Parks have charted on iTunes singer-songwriter charts and gone on several tours. But Parks said that no matter where they go, nothing beats playing for their home audience.
“We once sold out a venue in Salt Lake and performed at a rooftop show in Provo for over 10,000 people. There are so many opportunities to play in Utah, all you have to do is start taking them to make a name for yourself,” he shared.
While Utah County has a thriving music scene, it's not the only place in the state that produces popular bands. Benton Wood, founder and lead vocalist of the funk group Panthermilk, said they used to play Mojo’s in Ogden, but after it closed they took the majority of their concerts to Logan.
Logan, according to Wood, has a much more tight-knit music scene than Salt Lake City or Provo, and that the small atmosphere promotes musicians supporting each other.
“There’s really only one dedicated venue in Logan, so you see a lot of house shows. There’s not a lot of bands, but over these past three years with Logan City Limits Music Festival and other festivals developing, it has made it all pretty well-rounded,” Wood said.
He explained there is a scene at Utah State University for almost every genre of music, from metal to singer-songwriters.
“More than anything, Logan is a community of musicians. It’s a cool scene because you see younger bands being picked up and encouraged by older, more seasoned bands. For the most part they’re all just great folks, which makes a lot of people want to get involved.”
Older music fans also have a place in Utah, according to Anna Wilson, a founding member of the 1970’s rock revival band Troubadour 77 and one half of a Grammy-award winning singer-songwriter team with her husband Monty Powell. Wilson said in an interview with the Deseret News that the Wasatch Front is full of Gen-Xers and baby boomers who have moved to Utah to enjoy the mountain air, love life and hear good music.
Wilson’s band plays music specifically for these older generations. Concerned that music today often caters to the young, Troubadour 77 is dedicated to keeping alive older, classic rock playlists.
“We felt there was a lack of new music to appeal to that older audience. Our goal is to carry the torch of the rock era into the new generation, 40 years later, so that these fans can find new music that sounds like what they grew up on,” Wilson said.
But Troubadour 77 doesn't only play for fans who grew up with their music. When the band first started playing in Utah, they realized that there was more interest in their music than they originally anticipated. Wilson said that she believes the local music scene has created a generation of young people who open to hearing new sounds and styles of music.
“My husband and I are originally from Nashville, and when you’re stuck in a city that is so music-centered for so long, the music all becomes about the same thing. But here, there are so many lifestyle opportunities. I think the mountains and the outdoor lifestyle is so prominent here that it clears the creative palate a bit,” Wilson explained.
While none of these bands have yet reached Osmond level of fame, each of them has the support of the community to fuel their musical careers — careers that are still going strong. Troubadour 77 has created what they dubbed a “progressive album,” which started as an EP, but now they will release a new song every month until December to build anticipation in their fans. Panthermilk released a new EP at the end of March, available on Spotify, and The National Parks are currently working on their third album set to be released late this summer.