Though it hugs Nevada and isn't that far from San Francisco and Los Angeles, Utah still retains a reputation as a very conservative place -- one where out LGBTQ+ figures remain a novelty.
Which is what makes LOVELOUD, a music festival for LGBTQ+ people produced in Utah that benefits local and national LGBTQ+ charities, so remarkable. The AT&T-sponsored festival, now in its third year, was started by Imagine Dragons frontman and passionate ally Dan Reynolds, who also headlined this year alongside bi pop star Kesha. LOVELOUD's mission is to "ignite the vital conversation about what it means to unconditionally love, understand, support, accept and celebrate our LGBTQ+ friends and family" - a purposeful approach to benefitting LGBTQ+ youth in unaccepting homes and communities who are 8 times more likely to die by suicide and 3 times more likely to engage in risky drug use.
Reynolds sits uniquely poised to bring disparate points of view together over a shared experience. "What we're looking to do is to get people to rise up and say 'our hearts have told us something different since we were children.'" His idea was to do what he does best: rock an arena full of people and spread a message of love and acceptance.
As in previous years, Reynolds gathered many talented musicians, performers, and speakers to Utah to perform for and speak to the state's LGBTQ+ citizens. This year he brought the likes of Kesha, gay Neon Trees frontman Tyler Glenn, lesbian indie pop band Tegan and Sara, trans punk rock musician Laura Jane Grace, and dozens of other celebrities onstage to create an unforgettable experience filled with talented artists, hit songs, and so much more. Proceeds from the festival will be given out as grants to several local LGBTQ+ charities including The Trevor Project, from Provo Pride to the Utah chapter of the Human Rights Campaign, all of whom had booths and representatives at the venue. "The money being raised here today will help us to end conversion therapy in the state," reported Troy Williams of Equality Utah. "It's amazing what they're doing here."
As act after act took the stage, a spirit of camaraderie pervaded the event, defying the unseasonably hot weather. Families attended with children, allies attended with their LGBTQ+ friends, and everyone was whole-heartedly there to support and uplift the community. The musicians took every opportunity to make the audience feel supported and happy. "I think our biggest goal is to make sure that everyone who comes to the show today has a really great time," said Tegan Quin of Tegan and Sara, "and ultimately the biggest message is to love themselves, because we love them and we want them to stay here."
As golden hour approached and the air cooled down, the performers became more overt in their messaging. Glenn performed his song "Midnight" about his struggles with spirituality as a gay man in the Mormon church. Recently out former Brigham Young University mascot Charlie Bird reunited with his old BYU dance troupe to perform for many of the same people he used to entertain, but this time making a point to do so with no masks on. In one particularly stirring moment that brought the crowd to a standing ovation, Los Angeles-based singers VINCINT and Parson James teamed up to debut their new charity single, "Oh Love," about LGBTQ+ kids in the middle of the country who feel isolated. As they repeated the refrain, "I swear there's enough of us in this world to change it," they were joined onstage by the Encircle Youth Choir.
"I want these kids to look at this [festival] and know that there are people out there who love them and care about them," said VINCINT before the festival. "We're always thinking about them, we're always thinking about new ways to get to them, and to make sure they're loved and they're in a safe space and just able to be themselves."
Another highlight was the vibrant set from headliner Kesha, who in between some of her biggest hits like "Tik Tok," "Praying" and "Your Love is My Drug" uplifted the audience with hopeful words of love and allyship. "I just want to encourage everybody here to not only love yourselves, but love the person next to you and love the people around you. You do not know what they're going through. You do not know what they've been through." The singer also debuted a new brunette look, threw confetti bombs out into the audience, and proved she can rock some leather chaps like none other!
Reynolds himself was the final act of the evening, singing an inspiring set full of stripped down versions of notable Imagine Dragons tracks that highlighted their messages of pride and self-acceptance, as well as a duet with Tyler Glenn of "I'll Walk With You," a Mormon hymm from his childhood, and a memorable rendition of "Stand By Me." In one heart-wrenching moment, he broke down crying on the stage, unable for a moment to return to his feet after making eye contact with the parents of an LGBTQ+ youth who took his life a few years ago.
"We're at odds," he exuded to The Advocate. "We're at war. This is war, and this is our battleground today and we're going to fiercely love, and we're going to proclaim it to all these kids, and use privilege, power, allies. Powerful LGBTQ+ people will be given platforms. All of these people are coming together to fight."
Based on the flow of tears in the audience and the jubilant mood throughout the day, the festival is accomplishing what it set out to do. LGBTQ+ people were expressing themselves freely, surrounded by their families and neighbors, charities benefited, and together everyone got to enjoy some great music.
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