Vanity Fair: How the Weekend’s Biggest Music Festival Wound Up in Utah

There will be rock stars at the LoveLoud festival this Saturday. It’s a modern-day music festival, so there will probably be flower crowns, too.

And, perhaps unlike most modern music festivals, there will be a lot of Mormons. Hosted at Utah Valley University in Orem, Utah, LoveLoud is the brainchild of Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds, who this year started a foundation of the same name. Having grown up in a conservative Mormon community in Las Vegas, Reynolds wanted to bring a festival celebrating L.G.B.T.Q. people to a state densely populated with Mormons, one of the most conservative religious groups in the United States and one in which two-thirds of people oppose gay marriage.

Reynolds wants his foundation, and the festival—which will feature Imagine Dragons, Neon Trees, Krewella, Nicholas Petricca of Walk the Moon, and Joshua James—to reach Mormon families, like his own, who might otherwise never talk to their kids about L.G.B.T.Q. issues.

“More than the event itself is the conversation about it,” he told Vanity Fair in a phone call. “Parents and kids sitting around the dinner table and the kids say, ‘Hey, mom, I want to go to this festival.’ And the parents say, ‘Hey, let’s talk about what that is and what that means.’”

Reynolds, like many Mormons, grew up believing that being gay was a sin. Though he still identifies as a Mormon, he’s had his own differences with the church, including being kicked out of Brigham Young University as a freshman after admitting to pre-marital sex. Reynolds eventually came to think differently about L.G.B.T.Q. rights, and realized he had to become more vocal about being an ally. In 2012, when Glee featured his song “It’s Time,” sung by Blaine to his boyfriend, Kurt, Reynolds said he received messages from L.G.B.T.Q. Glee fans, who thanked him for his music but who assumed he did not support them because of his religion.

“I realized I had to speak out; it was heartbreaking to get all these e-mails,” he remembers. “I’ve been given an opportunity to have this incredible voice. Am I going to spend my life hiding behind it, or am I going to spend my life doing something about that?”

Reynolds began the LoveLoud Foundation earlier this year; in June, Reynolds performed at the TrevorLIVE event during Pride week in New York City, raising money for the organization that supports L.G.B.T.Q. youth. But with the LoveLoud festival, which benefits The Trevor Project, Encircle, GLAAD, and Stand4Kind, he’s bringing this activism back home. Reynolds says that though he still disagrees with some of his family members on major issues, several will be in attendance on Friday, including one uncle, who is gay and Mormon, and moved out of the country years ago when he didn’t feel accepted in his community.

“I was able to invite him to LoveLoud, and it was a really big thing for him and for me to be able to have him around,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds notes that the leading cause of death for Utah teens is suicide. Last September, when a 19-year-old committed suicide, Jason Christensen, a then candidate for Utah State Senate, condemned the teen in a Facebook post, per The New York Daily News. He wrote that he hoped God had mercy on the teen for “the sins of homosexuality and the sins of murder.”

“It felt like a lot of unnecessary guilt looking back on it,” Reynolds said about his own experience with the church. “That already opened up my heart to people who are feeling guilty of religion. To times that by a million is to be an L.G.B.T.Q. child in a home who’s told that their most basic instinct or sense of being is wrong or flawed or sinful.”

For Saturday’s festival, Reynolds said he hopes that even people who stand by the church’s beliefs on gay rights “leave their opinions at the door.”

“I would hope that people realize that it’s not an attack on an organization,” he said. “It is an invitation for our community to come together and listen to our L.G.B.T.Q. youth who are often not heard, whose voices, for whatever reason, especially in an orthodox community, go unheard.”

Jacob Dunford