In Memoriam: Utah's Best "Worst Utahn" Shannon Barnson | Buzz Blog
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In Memoriam: Utah's Best "Worst Utahn" Shannon Barnson

Remembering a true Utah original


Bryan Young (left) with Shannon Barnson (right)
  • Bryan Young (left) with Shannon Barnson (right)
“There he goes. One of God's own prototypes,” Hunter S. Thompson once said of Dr. Gonzo in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. “A high-powered mutant of some kind never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live, and too rare to die.”

I always thought that was true of Shannon Barnson, one of Salt Lake City’s favorite sons. Unfortunately, he passed away sometime in the night on July 2, 2024 at the age of 52. The worst part of all of this is that Shannon died peacefully in his sleep rather than in honorable battle. Accordingly, we must all now perform great deeds in battle to ensure Shannon is able to walk the halls of Sto’Vo’Kor.

Of Shannon specifically, Mike Tyson once said he was crazy, and he almost got into a fistfight with MC Chris. But those are stories for other times.

Back in 2013, Shannon—a local bartender, teacher, and geek influencer—beat out Orrin Hatch and Gary Herbert for the least-coveted title of “Worst Utahn” as voted by the readers of City Weekly. Shannon was a different breed of Worst Utahan, though. Instead of actively ruining Utah like the GOP politicians who usually win, he simply defied all of its stereotypes and cared about his community. “I don’t have a giant insulated mug that I fill with soda every morning,” he then told City Weekly. “I hate snow. I’ve never been mountain biking. I’ve never been to Moab, Zion or any of those dumb outside places. I call one person ‘brother’—my brother. I’ve never stood in line outside a new chain restaurant after one opens in Utah. I’m 41 and have one child. I’ve never voted for a Republican, and my underwear isn’t magical.”

Everyone in Salt Lake City seemed to know Shannon, whether it was from his time tending bar at Burt’s Tiki Lounge (which, like Shannon, was gone before its time); his tenure as the fabled wild card of the Geek Show Podcast; or co-hosting (with me) the multi-award winning Best Pub Quiz in Salt Lake. During his early days at Burt’s in the ’90s, Shannon was in charge of booking acts at the venue, bringing notable national acts to Utah—many for the first time—and ensuring that locals got a chance to open up for them. Mark Dago, fellow City Weekly writer and local music legend, told me that Shannon was a quietly influential member of the local music scene, and helped get Numbs (among others) their start, booking them when no one else would. “Back then,” Dago told me, “not many venues were booking local rap acts. Barndog understood what we were doing and got us on at Burt’s. For us, playing that place was following in the footsteps of giants—a rite of passage.”

As a member of the Geek Show Podcast, he was an essential part of the local nerd community. Hosting panels for FanX, helping organize the old Geek Show Movie Night double features at Brewvies, and being an all-around hilarious personality, he helped put Salt Lake City on the map of geekdom. First appearing on X96 with Kerry Jackson, Shannon helped launch the first iteration of the Geek Show alongside Jackson, Derek Hunter and Leigh George Kade (who are still with us) and Jeff Michael Vice and Scott Pierce (who are not.)

Fourteen years ago, Shannon and I (with the help of quiz-mistress Patty Bailey) decided that quality pub-quizzing was lacking in Salt Lake, and started our own quiz at Burt’s Tiki Lounge. Within a few months, we’d outgrown Burt’s, and spent every Wednesday from 2011 until 2020 quizzing at Lucky 13, home of the best burgers in town. In 2022—after the lockdown ended and Lucky 13 grew too popular to handle the quizzing crowds—Shannon convinced me to help him resurrect the quiz at Keys On Main, where it lasted until his passing.

Shannon was more than a bartender, concert booker, tastemaker, and quizmaster, though. He was a connector in the community and did his best to be an example of overcoming adversity, especially as virtually all of his family and his chosen brother—former Deseret News film critic Jeff Vice—died in close proximity to each other. For many years, he was a teacher of children in the 4th grade, and most recently worked at Bennion Junior High, helping troubled kids get back on track.

Like Han Solo, he was a scoundrel with a heart of gold, and was so much more than anything written above. He was simply a great guy and every Salt Lake scene he was a part of is poorer for his passing.

He was the one Worst Utahn we couldn’t afford to lose.

There will be many memorials to Shannon, but Keys on Main will be hosting a memorial in place of the regular quiz on July 10 at 7 p.m, and July 17 will be “The Last Big Shiny Geek Show Pub Quiz,” hosted by me in Shannon’s honor, with half the $5 cover charge being donated to his son for services and other expenses.