LGBTQ celebration LoveLoud ‘flying under its own wings’ in third year, says founder Dan Reynolds

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Loveloud Founder Dan Reynolds says a few words to the crowd at the start of the Loveloud Festival in the early afternoon, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, July 28, 2018.

During the first two years of organizing the LoveLoud Festival, founder Dan Reynolds knew he could count on one thing.

“Whether it was a big failure or not, I could at least convince my band to do it,” Reynolds, lead singer of arena-rock superstars Imagine Dragons, said in a recent phone interview.

In its third year, LoveLoud — billed as a celebration for LGBTQ youth, set for Saturday at Usana Amphitheatre in West Valley City — is growing and evolving beyond that.

“It’s flying under its own wings this year,” Reynolds said. “This isn’t an Imagine Dragons show. This is about our LGBTQ youth, and it’s about celebrating them.”

LoveLoud “is a concert, but it’s also part pep rally, but it’s also part telethon — there’s nothing like LoveLoud,” added Tegan Quin, whose band, the Canadian indie-pop duo Tegan & Sara, performed at last year’s festival and is returning for this year’s show.

Reynolds and Tegan & Sara are two of the eight music acts slated for the marathon show, which starts at 2:30 p.m. and runs into the night. (A portion of the show will be aired live, starting at 6 p.m. Mountain time, on AT&T Audience Network, channel 239 on DirecTV, and streaming on DirecTV Now, WatchTV and the DirecTV app.)

The festival aims to raise more than $1 million for groups that help LGBTQ youth, including The Trevor Project, GLAAD, the Human Rights Campaign, Tegan and Sara Foundation, and Encircle. AT&T, the event’s title sponsor, will donate a dollar to the LoveLoud Foundation (up to $200,000) every time someone on Saturday and Sunday uses the hashtag #TurnUpTheLove on Twitter.

Last year’s festival faced criticism from some patrons, particularly over a lack of access to gender-inclusive restrooms at Rice-Eccles Stadium. This year, LoveLoud has enlisted the help of Gender Spectrum, a nonprofit group that advocates for LGBTQ youth, to give sensitivity training to festival volunteers.

The festival is also teaming with the autism-acceptance nonprofit KultureCity to provide a mobile “sensory room,” a reprieve for fans who feel overwhelmed by the noise and clamor of a rock show.

“Every year, all we can do is learn how to be better. And that’s our goal,” Reynolds said. “We want this to be safe, and we want this to be all-inclusive.”

Onstage, Reynolds said, “we really focused on diversifying the lineup.” He credits Quin — who is lesbian, like her twin sister Sara, and calls herself “the mayor of LGBTQ artist town” — for helping draw more LGBTQ talent to the bill.

One example is the electro-pop singer Daya, known for the hits “Hide Away” and “Sit Still, Look Pretty,” who came out as bisexual in 2018. Another is Laura Jane Grace and the Devouring Mothers, the side project of Grace, whose songs for her punk band Against Me! chronicled her transition as a transgender woman. And rapper-singer Kristine Flaherty, who records as K.Flay, has been dating musician Miya Folick (one of the festival’s guest speakers) for about a year.

The big headliner is pop icon Kesha, known both for dance hits like “Tik Tok” and empowerment ballads like “Praying” (a song inspired by her experiences as an abuse survivor).

(Jordan Strauss | Invision/AP file photo) Pop star Kesha will be the headline act at the third LoveLoud Festival, set for Saturday, June 29, 2019, at Usana Amphitheatre in West Valley City.

“She brings the party,” Reynolds said. “She is so wonderful as a human being. She’s one of my friends, IRL, I guess people say, in real life. I love her. But also what she stands for, what she’s been through, is fitting for this. She’s also been a fierce ally for many years.”

Other performers are the alt-rock bands AJR and PVRIS. (DJ/producer Martin Garrix dropped out of the show after breaking his ankle while performing in Las Vegas in May.)

Hosting the festival is Kelan Allen, a YouTube personality and contributor to “Ellen.”

A highlight of the speakers’ roster is Matt Easton, the Brigham Young University political science valedictorian who earned national headlines when he came out during his graduation speech in May. BYU Cougarettes and alumni, led by Charlie Bird, the former BYU mascot “Cosmo,” will perform a dance routine.

Reynolds praised the way Utahns have shown support for Easton. “Utah is unfairly represented in the press, as this super-conservative, just Mormon, state, and that’s just not true,” said Reynolds, who attended BYU and whose band came up through the Provo club scene. “Salt Lake City is one of the most diverse, artistic communities in the nation. This speaks to the people of Utah in a really rad way.”

Other speakers include Emmy-winning screenwriter Lena Waithe, Neon Trees lead singer Tyler Glenn, country singers Ty Herndon and Brandon Stansell, and Parkland shooting survivor and gun-safety activist Emma González.

Quin called the vibe at last year’s LoveLoud “magical,” and wanted to get more deeply involved — so she joined the festival’s board.

“I’m standing in the audience, and I’m watching this event happening, and there’s families and people talking, and there’s so much love,” Quin said. “I was like, ‘What in the hell is happening?’ I kept texting Sara: ‘I’ve joined a cult. I’m never leaving.’”

Reynolds founded LoveLoud in 2017, in part to reconcile his support for his teen LGBTQ fans with the policies of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of which he is a member. (The origins of the festival were chronicled in the documentary “Believer,” which premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival and debuted on HBO last June.)

In April, church leaders reversed its 2015 policy that barred children of LGBTQ parents from being baptized and receiving blessings.

“It’s certainly a baby step. ... I think there’s a long way to go,” Reynolds said.

Anti-LGBTQ doctrines in many churches — which are often blamed for depression and high suicide rates among LGBTQ youth — run counter to those churches’ messages, Reynolds said.

“Our leaders are not speaking up and standing for the very thing that is at the core of a lot of these orthodox religions’ teaching, which is unconditional love,” he said.

“This isn’t a Mormon problem, this isn’t a Utah problem,” Quin said. “This is about LGBTQ youth and religion and family and community, and igniting a conversation that’s really important about unconditional love.

“To love someone is to accept and celebrate who they are,” Reynolds said. “Real love is not ‘I love you, but…’ That’s the important thing.”


Getting to LoveLoud

LoveLoud Festival Powered by AT&T is a celebration of LGBTQ youth featuring music and guest speakers, now in its third year.

Where • Usana Amphitheatre, 5150 Upper Ridge Road, West Valley City.

When • Saturday, June 29, starting at 2:30 p.m.

Tickets • Starting at $29, at smithstix.com.

On TV • A live broadcast starts at 6 p.m. Mountain time, on AT&T Audience Network, channel 239 on DirecTV. It also will be streaming on DirecTV Now, WatchTV and the DirecTV app.