Provo Music Scene On The Rise

Much like Seattle in the 90s, Provo is becoming a musical hotspot.

By Alex Sousa
Header Photo Supplied by Justin Hackworth Photography

Mini Moustachery calls Provo’s Center Street home.

Just a few weeks ago, Imagine Dragons rolled through our little corner of the valley and played to a sold out crowd in Orem’s UCCU Events Center on the domestic leg of their highly successful Night Visions tour. [1] The tour is, of course, in support of their critically acclaimed debut album of the same name that came out last September; an album that peaked at #2 on the Billboard 200 and sold over 83,000 copies in its first week of release, making it the most successful debut rock album in six years. [2] But it was just over three years ago that I was watching them play at Velour, a favorite Provo hotspot for the indie music junkie; and it’s only been four years since they started the band, briefly based here in Provo. For anybody who hasn’t been paying attention to the music scene down here, this is a prime time to do so, because it’s on the verge of exploding.


Imagine Dragons isn’t the only band with Provo ties that’s on a hot streak. While they haven’t quite hit the same stride, Fictionist is on the verge of the same amount of success. After signing last year with Atlantic records, Fictionist is planning their major label debut with an album set for release this summer — an album being produced by the award winning Ron Aniello, who recently worked with Bruce Springsteen on his Grammy-nominated album “Wrecking Ball.” [3] Their signing with Atlantic came after Fictionist gained national attention by making it to the semifinal round of Rolling Stone magazine’s “Do You Wanna Be A Rock n’ Roll Star?” competition in 2011, and they’ve been on a roll ever since. [4]

Skull Candy is a global electronics brand that calls Park City, Utah home.

There’s also Neon Trees, who gained national acclaim after touring as a supporting artist with The Killers in 2008 and went on to be commercially successful with their 2010 release of the album “Habits.” Local favorite Joshua James has already turned down a number of record deals but has been making a big name for himself on the concert circuit by playing shows at music festivals like SXSW and Bonnaroo as well as getting national airtime on satellite radio.

And those are just some of the biggest names singing their way out of our Happy Valley and into the limelight. Smaller acts are gaining a lot of notoriety as well. We’ve got Desert Noises, who are currently touring and were announced as part of the 2013 lineup at the Austin City Limits Music Festival. [5] The New Electric Sound garnered a lot of new fans when their music video for “Heartbeat” received high critical praises and was nominated for the best music video in the 2012 International Film Festival Manhattan awards. [6] And recently, local artist Pablo Blaqk got a nice shout out from Zach Braff, indie film wonder boy and music enthusiast, with a nod and possible inclusion on the soundtrack to his forthcoming follow up to the highly successful film Garden State. [7]

Klos Guitars are proudly made in Provo, UT.

Every city has a rhythm, and in recent years Provo has finally started to discover its own. With reformed zoning laws downtown, a lot of love from Forbes magazine [8] and the most recent announcement of Google Fiber coming our way, Provo is a rising star. As part of these changes — as Provo really has started to mature and adapt to the changing world around it — there’s been an obvious effort by musicians, promoters and the city itself to support the hotbed of talent that’s long been thriving between the century-old walls downtown.

So, why now? Why is the Provo music scene glowing red after laying mostly dormant to the mainstream for so many years, and why is it about to explode? A lot of it has to do with timing. We’re still a slice of small town Americana out here in the desert, and that directly affects the sounds produced by our local musicians. That sound is exactly what the booming indie scene has been running with.

Pricey, high-end guitars are made in the heart of Provo.

Thanks, in part, to the insufferable hipster mentality that is being engrained in pop culture, there’s a whole mass of twenty-somethings looking for little-known bands and rich, authentic sound. It’s something the college scene here in Provo has been doing for years and an idea that the mainstream has just recently latched onto. The valley has been the perfect incubator for the underground music scene but was relatively isolated until the boom of the indie scene. Now — much like the gold rush — hipsters around the country – and the globe – are racing to find those musical gems, and we’ve got a long list of artists for them to mine thanks to our long-running support of the local music scene.

Cotopaxi fanny packs are made right here in Utah.

The music world itself is a creature of habit, especially when dealing with music labels — that’s why it took such a hard hit with the advent of accessible music online — and has been struggling to adapt. We can be sure that the success of these local artists will be joined by the success of many more from the area. Groups like Imagine Dragons, Neon Trees, and Fictionist all coming from Provo roots is a pattern the bigwigs at the label companies are going to notice. Every local band that gets a lot of attention will share some of that with our other local artists. So, in the next five years, plan to see a lot more of our local favorites hitting the big time.

Of course, the city itself has been helping to cultivate the music scene as well. Not only have the new zoning laws relaxed and revitalized Downtown, making it a better hangout for college students [9], but the city has been promoting free summer concerts featuring local artists with the Rooftop Concert Series. It started a few years ago and has grown exponentially ever since. It’s done wonders to support the local talent and to make the music scene even more accessible. After decades of being a simple college town, we’re finally seeing Provo blossom. And while that college scene grows — which will also directly affect the music scene — we can be sure that it’ll play directly into the mainstream love we’ll be seeing.

Shop local products. Groom local beards.

In ten years, Provo will not be the same Provo it is today, and the music scene will be at the forefront of that transition because of what’s happening here now. Much like Seattle became a regional landmark for arts and was the notorious homeland of the grunge movement in the early 90s, Provo can — and I believe will — do the same thing for the alternative and indie scene. Provo is growing up, so get ready to see what it does for the music scene down here in the Valley.

[Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on before they changed to their new discussion-based format. All articles from Provo Buzz have been reposted here with permission. This article was given citations, and minor spelling/grammatical errors have been corrected.]
[1] Haddock, Sharon. “Concert Review: Imagine Dragons Win over Packed House.” Deseret News, 21 May 2013. Web. 11 Jan. 2016.
[2] Caulfield, Keith. “Matchbox Twenty Scores First No. 1 Album On Billboard 200.” Billboard. Billboard, 12 Sept. 2012. Web. 11 Jan. 2016.
[3] Hamilton, Christian. “UTAH BAND FICTIONIST ARE ON THE VERGE: Summer Tour with Neon Trees and COIN.” ROCK PAPER ROCK. Seattle Sound Live, 31 Mar. 2015. Web. 11 Jan. 2016.
[4] Stone, Rolling. “Choose the Cover: How Fictionist and Paramore’s Producer Resolved Their Differences.” Rolling Stone. Rolling Stone Magazine, 11 May 2011. Web. 11 Jan. 2016.
[5] “Desert Noises’ Graffiti Party.” ACL Music Festival. Austin City Limits, 16 July 2013. Web. 29 Dec. 2015.
[6] “The Satellite Presents.” The Sattelite, 22 May 2014. Web. 11 Jan. 2016.
[7] Braff, Zach. “Update 13: Limited Edition Vinyl · WISH I WAS HERE.” Kickstarter. Kickstarter, 1 May 2013. Web. 11 Jan. 2016.
[8] Badenhausen, Kurt. “The Best Places For Business And Careers.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 27 June 2012. Web. 11 Jan. 2016.
[9] “Busy Bees.” The Economist, 31 Apr. 2013. Web. 11 Jan. 2016.

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