Tucked away along 100 South is Moab’s Backyard Theater, a music venue set on a small plot of land just big enough to host a stage, seating area, and food truck. The theater is home to bluegrass and honky-tonk music and magic shows, and now that the weather’s warming up again, the events are returning for the season.
“It started as this idea to create a space that was inviting and open-air, with low-budget family entertainment,” said Sand Sheff, who runs the theater. Sheff and his wife, Sunnie, started building the theater in 2012 and started hosting performances in 2013.
Over the years, the theater has hosted a myriad of live events, including a musical comedy Sheff wrote, “Uranium Days”; and “Moab’s Dog and Pony Show,” which featured music, comedy skits, and fire dancing, Sheff said. The bluegrass band that plays on Wednesdays and Thursdays, Quicksand Soup, has been playing at the theater since 2015.
There’s been very little physical change at the theater, Sheff said, besides adding a few more chairs and bringing in the food truck, El Local, which serves tacos and hot dogs.
That’s because the mission of the theater has always remained the same: to provide a space where anyone, tourists and locals alike, could bring their families for a night of entertainment. Music nights are always free, unless there’s an outside band—“if you like it, you can throw a buck in the can,” Sheff said—and magic nights are $10 for adults, $5 for children. Outside food and drink are welcome, along with dogs, “cats, if you really want to bring your cat, goats, whatever! We don’t care. Things are pretty easy here,” Sheff said.
“During the pandemic, I think people became a bit more understanding of the value of having live entertainment,” Sheff said. The theater is outside, so it stayed open for the majority of the pandemic. “To us, that meant quite a bit, and to the people who like live music and care about the odd traditions and eccentric behavior of the human race, well, people dug it. It meant a lot, especially during the pandemic.”
In April, the theater will host three outside bands: Pale Dream, an indie band from St. George, on April 1; Sunfish, an alternative rock band from Salt Lake City, on April 15; and Birds of Play, a bluegrass band from Telluride, CO, on April 29. Sheff said all the bands reached out to him, and he was happy to provide a venue.
“We’re looking forward to playing somewhere new!” said Trey Hoskins, the lead vocalist for Pale Dream. The band got started in 2018 when Hoskins and his friend Mari Ericksen would jam together. They released their first song in February 2020. Since then, they’ve added a guitarist, Michael Hockman, and bass player, Bray Buell, to the band, and their style has transformed from modern indie to “a vintage, 80s era indie sound,” Hoskins said. “Darker songwriting and catchier hooks led to a somber meaning behind a dreamier soundscape.”
“We’ve never played in Moab, so the mystery of it all is super exciting,” he said. “We’re hyped to bring some of our music to Moab and hopefully make a few new friends along the way!”
Tickets for those three shows are $20. Sheff said he’s always open to new acts coming to the theater, and encouraged any locals with an act to reach out to him.
“We’ve always wanted the theater to be a reminder that as humans, we’re whole and free,” Sheff said. “And that we have this beautiful history of coming together in public spaces to feel the power of our culture and our energy. The theater is a place for music to just be, where there are no strings attached.”
Everyone is welcome at the theater, Sheff said, and is encouraged to do nothing more than just enjoy the music.
“I would love it if we could get some more dancing going on though,” he said.
There will be shows at the theater at 7 p.m. on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. On Wednesdays and Thursdays, the bluegrass band Quicksand Soup will play. Starting in the spring, the honky-tonk band Juniper Drive will play on Fridays. On Saturdays, Rick Boretti hosts a magic show: admission for the magic show is $10 for adults and $5 for children. Music nights are free.