Dan Reynolds led off his set for this year’s LoveLoud Festival with a hit from his band, Imagine Dragons, “It’s Time” — and the crowd rose to its feet, singing the loudest at the line “I’m never changing who I am.”
During Reynolds’ set Saturday, fans embraced each other and flew pride flags in every color. Reynolds — who founded the festival in 2017 as a celebration and safe haven for LGBTQ+ youth and teens — wasn’t shy about joining the crowd, even climbing into one section of the arena to sing with fans.
There were tears of joy, and relief, at being able to gather again, to listen to live music in a space without fear of restrictions or judgment, after the event was put on pause for two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Emotions ran high throughout the show, which started at 4:30 p.m. Saturday and ran into the late evening.
David Archuleta, the Utah singer and “American Idol” alum, wiped tears from his eyes about his internal struggle with coming out as LGBTQ+ while being a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He said he tried to get married three times, in the hope that he would magically become straight.
“It’s a beautiful thing to be queer,” Archuleta told the crowd, before performing a heart-wrenching, uninhibited rendition of “Glorious.” It was the only song he performed, having recently come off of vocal rest following surgery.
Former Miss Utah Rachel Slawson has a similar moment when she spoke onstage, detailing how her mother and brother reacted negatively when she came out as bisexual. She brought her crown on stage, and at the end of her speech, she snapped it into pieces and tossed them into the crowd.
“I want to share my victory with all queer youth,” Slawson said. “We can win.”
Besides Archuleta and Reynolds, the musical lineup Saturday included Neon Trees — which, like Imagine Dragons, got its start in Provo’s music scene — Willow, Morgxn, Silver Cup, Mat & Savanna Shaw, and the Brazilian singer-songwriter Anitta. Non-musicians who appeared on stage included YouTube star Kalen Allen and the creators of the Black Menaces TikTok channel.
Anitta closed the show, and her dancers’ somewhat racy moves and minimal outfits may have prompted some audience members with young children to leave early.
Two notable no-shows Saturday — both due to COVID-19 — were the Orem-based band The Aces, who announced their cancellation earlier Saturday, and Gov. Spencer Cox, who tested positive on Thursday.
Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson filled in for Cox, delivering a message from both of them: “We love you, we hear you, we see you, we care about you. You make Utah better.”
Henderson alluded to the Utah Legislature’s passage in March, over Cox’s veto, of HB11, which bars transgender girls from competing on girls’ high school sports teams.
“Some of you may have heard some troubling conversations that have taken place on Utah’s Capitol Hill,” Henderson said. “Gov. Cox and I have been very concerned about how those conversations have impacted you. We want you to know that your worth is not derived by what people think about you or say about you. Your worth is certainly not determined in the halls of government. Your worth comes from within you.”
During his set, Reynolds dedicated another Imagine Dragons song, “Whatever It Takes,” to politicians — whom he urged to spend time talking with transgender youth, to hear their stories. “Every child deserves to play sports,” he said.
In his message to politicians, Reynolds said, “we need you. We have entrusted you in powerful positions to protect us, to protect our youth, to protect our most vulnerable, to protect our trans youth.”
“It’s tough to be a queer kid, especially in the state of Utah,” state Sen. Derek Kitchen, D-Salt Lake City, the only openly queer member of the Utah Legislature, said on the red carpet before the show. “We have the youngest demographic. If you look at our leaders, so many of them don’t actually look like the people they represent.”
Events like LoveLoud, Kitchen said, “show people through music that they’re welcome and that they’re included.”
Troy Williams, the executive director of Equality Utah, said on the red carpet that “even though we have political challenges, even though there are social divisions, there’s never been a greater time to be an LGBTQ youth in the history of ever.”
Around the concourse in The Viv, LGBTQ organizations — including Utah Pride Center, Flourish Therapy, and The OUT Foundation — set up tables and talked to concertgoers. Golden Healer Service Dogs brought golden retrievers for people to pet, and gave a puppy to the winner of an essay contest tied to LoveLoud.
Neon Trees gave one of the more rousing performances Saturday, with lead singer Tyler Glenn — who was raised in the Latter-day Saint faith, and came out in 2014 — sporting a multi-color leather jacket. “I don’t feel like I’m being made fun of by anyone for wearing this jacket,” Glenn said.
That comment came back full-circle for Reynolds, who credits Glenn with inspiring him to launch the LoveLoud Festival.
Reynolds told a story of what happened the first time he and Glenn performed together in Las Vegas. Reynolds said he had planned to turn down the offer, because the show was on a Sunday — and, back then, he was quite religious. (Reynolds grew up in the Latter-day Saint faith, and attended BYU.) He went, and met musician Aja Volkman, the woman who would become his wife.
Also at the show, he saw Glenn being heckled for what he was wearing. Reynolds felt bad, he said, but he didn’t do anything.
Now, as a “cisgender white man,” Reynolds said, “we have to be part of the puzzle.”
LoveLoud’s ability to bottle the sensation of live music uniting people was summed up by Glenn’s bandmate, drummer Elaine Bradley: “It’s inviting to a community that usually is polarized. It’s inviting to a religious community and it’s inviting to the queer community. It invites people to just come be people together in a way that like, say, a pride festival or a religious conference would not.”