I had the opportunity to attend this year’s LOVELOUD Festival at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City. The purpose of LOVELOUD is to have dialogue within our communities about loving one another unconditionally and ultimately achieve acceptance and support for the LGBTQ youth in Utah and throughout the country. Teen suicide for LGBTQ youth is at a scary high rate here in Utah. The general message of the festival was to help those in that community to understand their worth, and that they belong. The other intent is to help the predominant culture here in Utah, which is quite conservative and centered around The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or Mormons, and the LGBTQ community to join together in understanding, and inclusion.
What started as an extremely hot day, evolved into a beautiful evening. The speeches and the music combined to help with the message of LOVELOUD, which was founded last year by Dan Reynolds, lead singer of LOVELOUD’s headlining band Imagine Dragons. The goal of the day was to raise over one million dollars within the hours of the festival to help LGBTQ communities such as Encircle, The Tegan and Sara Foundation, and the Trevor Project.
Some of the speakers were Alfonso Ribeiro of “Fresh Prince” fame, NFL Hall of Famer Steve Young, and Barb Young Encircle Co-Chair, Drew Scott Co-Host of Property Brothers, and Gus Kenworthy Olympic Freeskier Silver Medalist just to name a few. They all shared varying messages of assurance to the LGBTQ community in attendance that they were loved, they were accepted, and that there was nothing wrong with them. All of the speakers seemed well received and had the best of intentions to support the cause.
No matter what the message, no matter what the cause, a good festival doesn’t work unless you have good music. LOVELOUD did a good job of putting together a solid lineup of bands and musical artists. My concern for the festival, and I’m fully aware that this might just be an “Old man alert”, is its a little long. And by a little, I mean it’s three hours too long. It’s hard to sit in a sweltering stadium for almost nine hours. There were some really good bands that started the festival too. But they were playing to a 90% empty stadium. Vagabon, A.W., Parson James, and Vincent should be playing in front of a bigger crowd. And some of the speakers had some great things to say, but people were waiting for it to cool down to show up. And they were waiting for the bigger acts.
My two cents would be to start the festival at 6 o’clock. The temperature starts to go down, and people are aware that there is only so much time in the day, so they’d head right to the festival instead of waiting until 6 or 7 anyway. I would recommend setting up a side stage like other festivals do, and putting the bands that performed at 3 on that stage with a bigger name like maybe Tyler Glenn headlining that stage. They’ll have plenty of fans to attend that concert and if the side stage ends a couple hours before the main stage, everyone can join together to watch the two or three big acts on the lineup. I think it makes for a more efficient and impactful evening. Now in writing this, I know that the LOVELOUD Festival was streamed live by AT&T throughout the world in order to raise that million dollars. So I’m sure having a longer festival helped that cause. My job is to discuss the live concert experience, and being there in person felt long. So again, my two cents.
I thought the last four acts of the concert were excellent. Grace Vanderwaal of America’s Got Talent fame, was a true champion throughout her performance. The strap on her ukelele broke, and she was stung by a bee for the first time ever. She persisted through the show as if nothing ever happened. I was really impressed. She has such a unique and captivating voice. To be honest, I wasn’t too familiar with her before this. I mean, I like a zillion others saw her amazing AGT audition. I just hadn’t followed up since and I was glad to see that she’s developed into a true artist. I really enjoyed her set. I was made aware of a boy to the right of me, who couldn’t have been older than 10. He was singing every single word to every single song to her set. It was one of the coolest things I saw the whole day. It took me back to some of the bands I liked at that age, and how I knew all the words to all their songs. I would have loved to have seen them live then. I’m sure Grace’s set made his life!
I think out of everyone I saw on Saturday, Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park was the most impressive. First of all, I couldn’t escape the sadness I felt seeing him up there without Chester Bennington. It’s been just over a year since Chester committed suicide, and while Mike put on a great set, the pain of Chester’s loss could be felt from him and the Linkin Park fans in attendance. Mike paid great tribute to Chester, and honored him by asking the crowd to sing his parts on the hit song “In the End”. I thought his solo songs were really good, and I enjoyed how he moved from his synth and guitar playing along with tracks. I was happy to see him soldiering on to help inspire others despite the tragic loss of his bandmate. The crowd loved him, and he seemed to be buoyed by their response.
I’ve been critical in the past of EDM shows and DJ’s performing “live” and never really got why people were so into seeing DJ’s in person. It looks like they’re pushing a button and then pretending to do stuff for the rest of the time. That may actually be the case, I have no idea, but after seeing Zedd perform I have changed my mind about EDM shows. The energy he produced with his music, and the way the crowd reacted to it was something you just have to experience in person if you haven’t yet. It was like he flipped a switch and the crowd was at full energy. I looked around the now almost full stadium and it looked as if every single person was dancing. I loved it! I myself may have thrown out a couple moves. So if you see some amazing new dance moves at the next EDM show, they came from me. You heard it here first folks.
After Zedd left the stage there was some great build up to Imagine Dragons taking the stage. There was a video clip showing a variety of celebrities encouraging the LGBTQ youth. Then there was a touching moment where we watched a video of a transgender boy’s story followed by that same boy walking on stage with people from Encircle to sing “This is Me” from The Greatest Showman. It was a special moment for the crowd, and clearly something that boy will never forget.
Steve and Barb Young took the stage to introduce Tim Cook, CEO of Apple who in turn introduced Imagine Dragons. Tim mentioned how impressed he was with the festival, and for the work, Dan Reynolds was doing for the LGBTQ youth. The crowd roared their approval and as he yelled “Imagine Dragons!” the spotlight shut off, the fog machines went off, and it was showtime!
At this time the stadium was as full as it was going to be. If I were to guess that 40,000 would be considered a sellout, there were just over 35,000 in attendance. That’s pretty great! Yes, they were there to see one of the hottest bands in music today, but it was clear that they were also there to celebrate the message of LOVELOUD. The band opened with megahit “Radioactive”. Those in attendance were given wristbands that light up. But they didn’t just light up, they change colors, they flash in synch with all the other wristbands, they matched the beat of the songs, and they added an amazing element to the show. There was a moment when Dan Reynolds pulled a sequin rainbow flag onto the stage and the entire stadium was glowing with multicolored lights. It was beautiful.
Dan spoke for a few minutes after the first song, mentioning that he loved the things he learned growing up in a Mormon family. He mentioned that he has no anger towards religion or anybody. That he just wants inclusion for all. That was met with great applause from the huge crowd. I felt like that was the first time that everyone in attendance felt included. Dan was emotional at various times throughout the show, whether he was overwhelmed by the moment, or whether it was the stories he’d share of teens committing suicide, or his conservative LDS mother being in attendance, it was clear that the evening was a significant one for him. He mentioned that this was the happiest he’d been in a long time. He also stopped the show at one point to announce that they reached their goal of raising over one million dollars in one day. What an amazing accomplishment.
The band ripped through a two hour set playing all their hits, shooting of what seemed like an endless supply of confetti, releasing enormous beach balls into the crowd, and performing better than I have ever seen them before. Imagine Dragons are a favorite here in Utah going all the way back to their early days playing at Velour, or playing an album release at Gray Whale. We have loved them for years. So this was a sort of homecoming show for them, and us, and it was special.
I was a little confused by what Dan Reynolds was wearing. He came on stage shirtless with cut off sweats or sweat shorts maybe. Now, Dan looks great. He’s probably in the best shape of his life. I mean the guy is ripped! He looks like a pro wrestler. It just seemed that giving the speeches he gave and the important message he wanted to convey, he maybe could have thrown on some jeans? I mean, I saw him walking around, and he spoke on stage earlier in jeans and a LOVELOUD shirt. So he actually changed into the sweat shorts. I only bring this up because I noticed people around me discussing how he looked, and what he was wearing during his most heartfelt speeches. I think it was hard for them to take him seriously. I don’t care what he wears, I just noticed too many people discussing it not to mention it.
The show ended with “Believer”, and it seemed as if the band and the crowd alike had exerted all of their energy. Imagine Dragons were the perfect headliners for this festival. Dan Reynolds is such an impactful frontman that I think sometimes it’s easy to underappreciate the rest of the band. But they’re phenomenal. The sound they produce and the energy they give is amazing.
My main critique of the Festival is this. The purpose of this festival is for inclusion, acceptance, and understanding that we all belong. I understand this is geared toward the LGBTQ youth here in Utah. As it should be. No suicides should be happening because people feel alone and unaccepted for who they are. But I didn’t feel a lot of inclusion for the Mormons in the audience who support the Festival. I spoke to a Mormon couple and asked them how they were liking the festival and they said, “We love the music, we love what’s being said, but we feel like unwelcome guests.” I asked them why, and they mentioned that “While we don’t feel like people are hating on Mormons, and we get why there might be some animosity, We’re here. We want to help bridge the divide. But we feel like the inclusiveness that is being spoken of does not include us.” I could see what they were saying. I heard a lot of “I’m not mad at the Mormon church anymore, or I used to hate Utah and the culture but now I’ve forgiven and moved on.” And that’s great, but what about the Mormons in attendance that are trying to be a part of the solution this festival is trying to reach? They were rarely mentioned, and to my knowledge never one recognized or appreciated. Like I said, Dan Reynolds was the only one to even say anything positive towards Mormons all night. I guess I just thought that the purpose of the festival was to bring cultures and communities together to understand one another, accept one another, and keep each other alive. I felt like aspects of that were lost.
That being said, it made me feel good to look out into the audience and see people who normally might not normally feel included, or might not be able to express themselves the way they’d like to have the freedom to do so. It’s a powerful thing to see over 35,000 people there to support a cause in a place where you might not expect so many to be in favor of. Things aren’t always as they seem. Even here in Utah.