Downtown Salt Lake's Twilight Concert Series
Musical performances at Pioneer Park aim to please audiophiles and families alike
There’s a real magic to twilight. Given. But a twilight concert? Even better. As the sun sets on Salt Lake City, the western faces the skyscrapers catch the golden light. The shadows of the trees in Pioneer Park stretch across the grass. People begin to gather prior to showtime. Food trucks and vendors set up. Roadies prepare the stage. More people flow in. There’s nothing quite like an outdoor concert. But this isn’t your typical intimate setting or outdoor amphitheater. The buzz around this event is different. It's bigger. If you’re passing through Salt Lake City on a Thursday night late summer, Pioneer Park is where you’ll want to be. Here’s why:
Outdoor Music at its Finest
A weekly shindig with 10,000 friends, you say? One that costs less than $10 and offers world-class musicians playing in a downtown park? It sounds too good to be true, but nope, this dream has been a reality in Salt Lake City every summer for the past 29 years.
The Twilight Concert Series, presented by the Salt Lake Arts Council, has fostered hundreds of vibrant Thursdays since its inauguration. The concerts — which now cost $5 in advance and $10 day of show for general admission tickets — are a high point of the hottest season and the place where teens, hipsters, families, and audiophiles of all walks of life congregate to enjoy some tunes.
The series began in the summer of 1988, under the moniker Brown Bag Twilight Series, and hosted 11 free concerts in the Salt Lake Arts Center (now UMOCA) sculpture courtyard. Starting in the mid-’90s, the series moved to Gallivan Center and was there until it moved to Pioneer Park in 2010. At its current location, there have been 48 concerts thus far. The series began charging admission in 2012. Last year, in 2015, the average attendance was 9,461, with a high mark of about 25,000 for Death Cab for Cutie.
Over the series’ history, it has attracted huge acts from every category of music, featuring bands such as The Black Keys, Big Boi, Wu-Tang Clan, The Decemberists, Sonic Youth, Girl Talk, Iron & Wine, Beck, and so many more. The list is an incredibly diverse assortment of acts, styles, and genres — indie rock, reggae, hip hop, electronic, acoustic, and more. This diversity is in line with the mission of the series: “to connect audiences with the arts by presenting world-renowned musicians who reflect strong artistic values and diverse social principles in a way that creates vibrancy in downtown Salt Lake City.”
A night at Pioneer Park exemplifies this. As folks begin to congregate on the lawn in front of the stage, you are likely to see families spread out on blankets, eating food from the Twilight Food Market, which offers myriad culinary options from more than 20 food trucks and pop-up restaurants. It creates a grand festival-like atmosphere with local food and beverages. Looking further around the venue, there’s folks chatting and taking selfies, others drinking cold libations sold on site, and still more showing the goods and crafts they purchased at the Craft Market. Presented in conjunction with Craft Lake City DIY Festival, the market showcases local artisans specializing in mediums such as screen printing, jewelry, electronics, and much more.
Then, music starts to come over the speakers and it’s one of the best local bands taking the stage to warm up the crowd. For each of the 2016 season’s seven concerts, a Utah band will open. Four of the bands are the winners of the Salt Lake City Weekly Best of Utah Music contest, and the remaining three are highly talented acts picked by the non-profit partners of the series.
The sounds of quality music lifts high above the aspen and pine trees of the park and echo off of neighboring high-rise condos and storefronts. A steady flow of concertgoers trickle in and fill out the venue. Folks begin to dance, people clap, and laughing can easily be heard throughout the venue.
People come to join in the fun and enjoy each other’s company, whether they are dancing in the front row, relaxing on the lawn in the back, or taking it up a notch with the VIP Lounge, which is available to the public for the first time in 2016. But no matter where you stand, the music can be heard and enjoyed — after all, that is the reason the series is around in the first place.
Recent main acts include Kurt Vile, Andrew Bird, Chet Faker, Big Grams, Diplo, Jenny Lewis, Pusha T and Digable Planets, Grimes, and Fitz and the Tantrums. The series once again provided a setting to truly fall in love with summer in Salt Lake City.
Gates open at 5 p.m. and music starts at 6:30 p.m. at Pioneer Park (350 W. 300 South, Salt Lake City). For more information, a full concert calendar, and ticketing information, visit the Twilight Concert Series website at twilightconcerts.com. If you’re going to be in or around Salt Lake City on a Thursday during the summer, be sure to buy tickets and add this great event to your itinerary!
Story by Austen Diamond