The 2018 LOVELOUD Festival, dedicated to spreading the message of love and acceptance to LGBTQ+ youth, brought hope and excitement to a crowd of thousands in panoramic Salt Lake City, Utah. Founded by Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds, the eight-hour festival was packed with performances by Imagine Dragons, Tyler Glenn, Grace Vanderwaal, and Mike Shinoda, alongside messages of support for the LGBTQ+ community from Apple CEO Tim Cook and others.
Even the LOVELOUD team has been wonderfully surprised by the festival's reception; Lance Lowry, executive director with LOVELOUD foundation, tells The Salt Lake Tribune that "one year ago at this time, we didn’t have a venue, we didn’t have any sponsors. Now, we’re about to play in a football stadium in Utah in front of 30,000 people who put their money where their mouth is.”
It was a powerful night filled with hope, excitement, and love from beginning to end. Here are 10 of the festival's best moments:
1. Apple CEO Tim Cook expressed his support and love to LGBTQ+ youth
As CEO of one of the world’s largest companies and an openly gay man, Cook took the stage as a powerful role model for LGBTQ+ youth. He shared an emotional message: “You are a gift to the world. A unique and special gift, just the way you are,” adding that “normal just might be the worst word ever created.”
He encouraged everyone to keep hope, saying “I know that life can be dark and heavy, and sometimes might seem unreasonable and unbearable, but just as night turns to day, know that darkness is always followed by light.”
It's hard to get more inspiring than one of the world's most successful tech leaders promising that “life will get better, and you will thrive.”
2. The LOVELOUD Foundation raised $1 million for charity.
The LOVELOUD Foundation met their goal raising one million dollars for charities that provide support and suicide intervention for LGBTQ+ teens and their families. The charities included The Trevor Project, a crisis and suicide prevention non-profit, Encircle, an LGBTQ+ family and youth resource center, and the Tegan and Sara Foundation, which fights for equal representation of LGBTQ+ women and youth.
AT&T donated $1 for every time the hashtag #TURNUPTHELOVE was tweeted, up to $50,000, helping the festival meet its goal. The money raised by the event will go directly to benefit those charities and programs that have been working for years to end the public health crisis that is LGBTQ+ teen suicide.
3. Imagine Dragons lit up the stage—and the entire arena—with messages of empowerment.
LOVELOUD founders Imagine Dragons headlined the show with an incredibly powerful set, full of messages of love and strength for the LGBTQ+ youth in attendance and watching online.
Reynolds poured his heart out from the stage, saying “I hope that you know you are needed. We need you. I don’t want to hear any more stories of youth taking their lives in Utah,” he said. “One thing that will not be part of my life, because it does not align with my heart, is to tell people how to love and who to love.”
The arena sparkled with every color of the rainbow during the Imagine Dragon’s set, activating color-changing wristbands on everyone’s wrist, uniting the entire audience in light and a visual expression of the beautiful diversity LGBTQ+ individuals bring to the world.
“There is light up ahead,” Reynolds reminded everyone. “It gets better. Hold on. Your life is always worth living, always. Never take your life from us."
4. AT&T’s LGBTQ+ songwriting winner performed her original song.
AT&T and LOVELOUD held a songwriting contest for an original song about LGBTQ+ love and acceptance. The winner, Imani Forbers, was introduced to the stage by Grace Vanderwaal and then performed her very own original song, “Freedom,” onstage.
The song was full of powerful lyrics about the journey to hope, love, and freedom, including that she felt she “never fit right into a box this square,” but that “the time is now, I’ve had enough…I’ll take them to a place, singing freedom, freedom,” and “if anyone tries to tell me otherwise…I will be singing freedom, freedom.”
5.LOVELOUD more than doubled its attendance in just one year.
If there was any question whether or not the LoveLoud Festival was achieving its goal of igniting conversations around LGBTQ+ acceptance and understanding, you’d just have to look across the crown at Saturday’s event.
A year ago, the first LOVELOUD Festival almost didn’t happen, but 17,000 people attended the first festival in a small ballpark in Orem Utah. This year, the event nearly sold out a football stadium in the heart of Salt Lake City with more than 35,000 attendees. Plus, six million more watched the AT&T livestream from around the world.
6. Standing ovations and inspiring words.
Tim Cook wasn’t the only inspirational speaker to give encouragement from the stage. Performing artists Vagabon, Tyler Glenn, A.W., Mary Lambert, as well as Tegan Quin from Tegan and Sara, and Olympic silver medalist Gus Kenworthy, among others, represented the LGBTQ+ community and showed that LGBTQ+ people can become successful, even amid discrimination, giving LGBTQ+ teens hope for themselves and their own future, as well as role models they can identify with to look up to.
Tegan (of Tegan and Sara and the Tegan and Sarah Foundation) said she was amazed that a festival like this was happening at all, adding "This is life-changing for so many people.” She and the other artists and athletes addressed the need for more LGBTQ+ representation in pop culture and encouraged the youth at the festival to speak their own truth, make their own voices heard, and create their own art to share with the world.
“From this moment forward, I challenge all of you to not seek your acceptance or validation from anyone. And never ever ask anyone permission to be who you are,” Kalen Allen said to cheers and standing ovations.
7. LGBTQ+ youth performed on the same stage as their idols.
Perhaps the biggest tearjerker moments of the night were when the artists and speakers of LOVELOUD gave the stage to LGBTQ+ youth, putting them directly in the spotlight before an audience of millions. Early in the event, a group brought an incredibly emotional poem to life, comparing themselves to wildflowers trying to be tamed into other forms of plants.
Later, a group of LGBTQ+ youth performed the song, “This is Me" from the movie The Greatest Showman to a cheering crowd, many of whom gave the performers a standing ovation for their bravery to come out to friends and family, to speak their truth, and to stand on that stage in front of the world.
8. AT&T’s “Turn Up the Love” installation.
The LOVELOUD Festival was sponsored by AT&T, who brought an immersive campaign to the festival, with art installations and games that drew people into an energetic, encouraging atmosphere.
The Turn Up the Love project creator, Terra Lopez, built a walk-through art installation with messages of love and support for LGBTQ+ teens from all around the world. The installation was filled with mirrors, so LGBTQ+ youth could see those messages reflected all around them, representing the love that they are always surrounded by from members and allies of the LGBTQ+ community.
9. Utah’s Governor declared July 27th LoveLoud Day.
The state of Utah gained a new official day when Governor Gary Herbert declared July 27th LOVELOUD Day. Lt. Governor, Spencer Cox, who has publicly apologized for his previous viewpoints about LGBTQ+ people, read from the declaration of LoveLoud Day, and acknowledged his own previous struggle with depression.
“It was dark and it was lonely, and I was scared, and I was afraid, and I started to think that maybe the world would be a better place if I wasn’t in it. But I stayed. And I stayed because I had people who liked me, I had connection,” he explained about his own depression as a teen. He then acknowledged that his own struggles weren’t difficult “compared to what so many of our LGBTQ+ friends have gone through. But I am here to tell you that we need you to stay.”
Cox then read from the LOVELOUD Day declaration, saying:
"We need to encourage the relevant and vital conversations about what it means to love each other unconditionally, understand our differences, and include and support our LGBTQ+ friends and family members."
Want more LOVELOUD coverage? Watch exclusive episodes of AT&T's Turn Up the Love.