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Dan Reynolds and Tegan Quin On How 2019's LOVELOUD Festival Powered by AT&T Will Be Bigger Than Ever

LOVELOUD Festival Powered by AT&T returns to Salt Lake City this year, with a stellar lineup of speakers and performers primed to celebrate the LGBTQ community.

Last year, Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds -- who founded the LOVELOUD Foundation in 2017 --  teamed up with Tegan and Sara’s Tegan Quin to help put together the 2018 fest, which was headlined by Imagine Dragons and Zedd, and raised over $1 million for various vital organizations.

If that seems hard to top, look no further than the 2019 lineup, which features more LGBTQ acts than ever. Quin, who spoke at last year’s festival, has since joined the LOVELOUD board and will return to the festival as a performer with Tegan and Sara. Kesha, Reynolds, Daya, K. Flay, PVRIS, Laura Jane Grace and AJR will also perform, and internet sensation Kalen Allen is set to host. Finally, look for a diverse list of speakers to appear.

Once again, the LOVELOUD Foundation intends to raise more than $1 million for organizations including The Trevor Project, Tegan and Sara Foundation, GLAAD, the Human Rights Campaign, and Encircle. It’s all going down Saturday (June 29) at USANA Amphitheatre in Salt Lake City, Utah, with fans at home able to watch by live stream. AT&T will also donate $1 to LOVELOUD Foundation for every use of #TURNUPTHELOVE on Twitter, up to $200,000, during the live stream.

As Quin and Reynolds prep for a third year of the inclusive event, they spoke to Billboard by phone about allyship, the challenges and successes that come with putting on a major LGBTQ festival, and how they hope the event will continue to evolve.

Dan, you started the LOVELOUD Festival in 2017. What progress have you been happy to see?

Dan Reynolds: In the last few years, at least in the local Utah area, LOVELOUD has absolutely made some impact. It’s one of those things that’s kind of hard to measure. There is the tangible -- we raised over a million dollars last year, and it’s awesome to see it dispersed to all these local and national charities that are doing really life-saving work. But also, just being at the LOVELOUD Festival and seeing these families come together and embrace their youth, or receiving countless letters from people who have been impacted by it in different ways, is awesome. 

What still needs work?

Reynolds: I do think there’s a lot yet to be done. At LOVELOUD, this place -- here in Utah and in this Mormon community -- is the beginning place for us, but really it’s all orthodox spaces that need LOVELOUD. Those spaces need something where our views are celebrated, and religious people, non-religious people, families can come together and really learn and be moved about how we can make a better community for our LGBTQ youth and how to truly celebrate them. 

As you mentioned, last year you raised a million dollars, which is not insignificant. But the festival is going to be even bigger this year -- do you have a new goal?

Tegan Quin: We’re still kind of stuck on that same goal -- raise a million dollars -- we’re being stubborn about it. Work’s always going to need to happen and there are so many amazing organizations this year that we’re going to be giving to. And there’s so much work happening, not just in Utah, but nationally. It would be cool if we could double or triple that [number], but for now, that’s going to be our line in the sand. There are just so many amazing organizations doing work in Utah and outside of Utah, across the country, and it feels really, really good to get that money and give it away! 

You’re also reaching new groups each year with those funds.

Quin: Absolutely. Dan was saying this earlier, but ultimately, a big goal of LOVELOUD is to reach so many more communities in the U.S. This isn’t an exclusive problem for the Mormon community. There are a lot of young, LGBTQ people who grew up in religious communities who are really struggling. We’re all really committed to bring the message of love and acceptance to those communities, and trying to spark that conversation in other places. AT&T helps with that -- they’re able to help us reach so many more people with the livestream. We'd love to have the festival go to other places, but for now, we’ll accept that other kids will have to log in online. So the goal is to raise a million dollars, but also to just bring this conversation across the country.

There are more LGBTQ artists on the lineup this year than ever. What was your experience booking talent this time around?

Reynolds: That was definitely a goal going into this year. One of the great things that Tegan has brought is really helping us to reach out and diversify both the board, as well as the artists and speakers. There are a lot of artists and really powerful, awesome LGBTQ people who people are going to be excited about. I’m excited about it.

Tegan, have you been sliding into the DMs? Is this what he means by “reach out”?

Quin: [Laughs] I’m happy to go through life being Dan’s sidekick and just giving him props, because his outreach is incredible. He’s got some good phone numbers! This year is amazing and we definitely hit up people in every way you can imagine. Through DMs, through text, showing up outside their house and throwing rocks out their window. It’s been exciting, people are so positive and so into it. They really want to be involved.

How do you envision the lineup evolving in the future?

Quin: We reach out to everyone we possibly can and have a dream list every year. Unfortunately, people get booked up really quickly and you have to contend with other festivals and shows and people’s touring schedules. We’re trying to keep costs as low as possible so that the majority of money can be distributed to all of these amazing organizations. So we’re working towards it, but the dream is obviously to eventually have a pretty huge festival with everybody -- all these LGBTQ people who are incredible, but also for our allies to play eventually. 

It’s hard to put on a festival, period. Festivals don’t work out all the time -- they survive one year and then fizzle. But you guys have pulled off a basic feat.

Reynolds: Yeah, it’s definitely been eye-opening. It’s exhausting and wonderful at the same time. The day after the festival we’re all like, “Ahhh,” and then the next day we’re like, “Okay, time to start planning for next year!”

Quin: I don’t even think we gave ourselves a day. I’m pretty sure I remember leaving Salt Lake [in 2018], going to the airport, and there was already a text about artists for next year. I was like, “Holy shit.”

Dan, you’re still part of a small group of straight male celebrities who identifies as an ally. I think it’s such a no-brainer to us. But what is your view on why many others in the industry are hesitant? And what has your experience as an ally been?

Reynolds: First of all, whatever any artist’s endeavors are, whether it’s political or charity causes, it needs to stem from a real place. It needs to be something you are passionate about, that you really care about, that you’re not leveraging for other purposes or being charitable just to be charitable. Even though it’s great -- there’s still charity raised -- you have to go after things you’re passionate about, because it’ll resound. People can tell, and they’re very intuitive, when someone is really passionate about something or not. It’s just part of human nature. So I can’t speak for other people, but I can say this is something I’m really passionate about and it affects a lot of my friends and people I care about. It’s been part of my life since I was young, whether it was just being in grade school and meeting kids who were gay and Mormon and seeing that conflict and watching how hard that was for them and how much distress it brought to their life. It was a real part of growing up. I felt like I just had to be an ally since I was young, because these are my friends, and they were being really targeted and marginalized at the same time in really awful ways. 

So one, maybe it doesn’t affect these straight, heterosexual white men, very privileged people, everyday. And two, I think people are afraid of saying the wrong thing and not knowing the right pronoun or stumbling on their words.

Right, everyone would love for there to be more allies, but it needs to come from a real place.

Look, we need more allies, for sure. I’d love to see more straight white men who are leading really privileged lives and having huge bands -- come play LOVELOUD! We’d love to put you on the bill. We’d love your audience to come out to LOVELOUD. The sad truth and reality of the community we live in today, and especially the industry, is that LGBTQ artists are just not given the same power. So why is it hard to put together a festival? Because there’s only so many LGBTQ artists. And why are there not that many? It’s not for lack of LGBTQ artists, it’s because the world has not been open and willing and it’s just starting to be a little more open, but not fairly at all. Anyone who says otherwise is just wrong.

Looking at an artist like Taylor Swift, who for many years was supportive but not necessarily outspoken, and now is stepping up -- I think it’s never too late.

Quin: Oh, I totally agree. And Dan just said it so well. A lot of people want to do good and help and get involved, they’re just terrified of saying the wrong thing. But here’s the thing, I’m a gay artist and I say the wrong thing all the time. You just have to fucking figure it out! You just learn, you just have to step up. 

The most profound lesson I’ve learned during the last three years with our foundation is that a lot of people are doing great work and are showing up with time and money, they’re just not going on social media and telling you about it. I’ve become very protective over, especially big stars -- not that they need Queer Tegan to protect them -- but I’ve become more aware of the fact that the Taylor Swifts of the world have been fighting, they just haven’t been doing it publicily. I’m not saying this is Taylor -- I actually have no idea what she’s doing, because I don’t know her that well. But I know that a lot of the people we’ve met over the last few years have been doing really great work, they just haven’t been going online. I understand some of the criticism on the other side, like, “Hey, where were these people a few years ago, where were like during marriage equality?” But I don’t necessarily think that’s helpful. What’s more helpful is going, “Welcome to the team! There’s so much to do. Here, pick up this tool. We’ve got a lot of work to do.” The more, the merrier. And I think people are realizing now that you do have to speak up publicly, because there’s power in that too. You can write a check, but when you have a platform and you have the ear of people, that can mean a lot. 

To your point, Dan is really a 10 on the Ally Scale.

Quin: Dan is the bar. Anyone who is doing less than him in his division, there’s no -- like to me, that’s the bar. 

Reynolds: I love you. 

Quin: That’s why Dan is so incredible as an ally, because he didn’t just say, “Oh, I’ll show up and put a foundation together and raise money.” He’s stepping on stage every single night and using his base to talk about conversion therapy and marriage equality, and talking to our youth and suicide. These are not, like, “Hey, what’s going on Minneapolis?” topics! These are heavy and important conversations. I can see why allies are terrified of speaking out, because you have to educate yourselves. But it’s fun and empowering and it’s helpful and really makes change.

What have been some other key factors that contribute to LOVELOUD’s success?

Reynolds: LOVELOUD is so unique and it’s so important because it’s truly bringing people together from both sides. It’s not just [those who are] coming out and helping each other feel good about something they already all agree on -- which is great and there’s a place and need for that -- but it’s bringing the people who feel like they’re on the far right and they don’t really want to go to a Pride festival and they feel nervous, or they’re not there in their journey yet. Hopefully they will be, but LOVELOUD is for that. 

If you attend it and you look out, it really is filled with people from both sides. I’ve gotten so many letters and emails, like, “I walked into LOVELOUD and had some interpretations about it, but my son just came out to me and I felt like I needed to support him and understand what he was going through, and my heart and my eyes were opened and then my family came together and we have a much stronger bond.” That is where the change happens. 

It’s definitely important to have people from both sides.

Reynolds: And you have to give love and respect to both sides, so that people feel comfortable to come sit at the table and have the discussion. That’s a tricky tightrope to walk, because sometimes you’re not going to be conservative enough for the conservative, or progressive enough for the progressive, and so everyone ends up being a little angry. But we knew that going in, that it was going to be a tricky thing, but were willing to stick it out because that’s how you make change. You have to be a bridge. You have to be a place where there’s enough of a common ground that people come together and have that discussion, or listen to music together and look at each other and understand each other a little bit better by the end of the day.

Switching gears a bit here, I was thinking about how there’s always controversy surrounding companies that deck themselves out in rainbows during Pride month. I struggle with this too, like do those stores really support LGBTQ issues, or is it just good branding? Tegan, what would you say to critics of “corporate Pride”?

Quin: Representation matters. I wish that all these major corporations that are celebrating Pride this month did it year-round. But you know what? It’s pretty awesome that they’re doing it this month, and it does help combat some of the negativity and the struggles we see throughout the rest of the year. Sara and I sort of have a positive push on our social media all the time, and maybe some people find it grating and irritating, but for me, we’ve already read all the negative shit, so maybe they don’t need me to be like, “Look at this horrifying article about suicide and conversation therapy!” We’ve decided as a band that we’re going to amplify positive messages. We’re going to use our two million followers. We’re going to give them art and books and content and movies and things that have positive queer representation, because I want them to know that there is hope and that there are great things out there. When I look at the statistics and I feel like, “Oh, God, it’s getting worse” -- which it is -- I also think to myself, “Well, we’ve got an army of corporations and LGBTQ organizations and incredible allies and LGBTQ people who are stepping up and saying, ‘We see the numbers. We see it changing. We see it getting worse and we’re stepping up.’”

There is also often a fine print on the front of the window displays, that they are donating to these organizations. 

Quin: Totally! Look, Tegan and Sara Foundation sponsors an all-ages Pride event in New York City, because every Pride event there is 21+ and it’s hella expensive. We saw the need and we were like, we need to provide a space for youth and for those most marginalized in our community who don’t have the money to go celebrate Pride with the biggest artists on earth charging, like, $75 to see them play. We’re guilty of that, and so we’re trying to pay it forward and give back to the community. Back to AT&T coming on board with LOVELOUD, like, yes there’s corporate dollars, but also, great, there’s corporate dollars! We take some money they have and distribute it to all the small LGBTQ organizations doing incredible work in Utah. It’s a win-win in my opinion.

Are there any plans to expand the LOVELOUD name beyond the festival, like with other programming or events?

Reynolds: Yes, for sure. There are a lot more communities that need it -- the world needs LOVELOUD. But we really wanted to get this right and understand it on a community level and Utah was a place that desperately needed it, so that’s where we started. I grew up Mormon, so it made sense to start there. But there are a lot of kinks to work out along the way, and putting on a festival every year and even understanding how to do that and be as effective as possible is difficult. There’s a lot of things we’ve been learning in these few years, but our absolute goal is to bring it to the nation and hopefully the world. 

Finally, Tegan and Sara have been off the road for a few years, so what can we expect from your LOVELOUD performance? 

Quin: Oh, my God, it’s a lot of sleepless nights right now. Dan knows this too, but when you come out of hiatus for one show...it’s definitely keeping me up. But we are doing something completely different -- something we’ve never done before. We’re collaborating with an incredible female DJ who’s going to come out on stage with us, and a drummer, and we’re going to do something high-energy and really fun. Lots of different versions of Tegan and Sara fan favorites. Mostly, we’re just going to celebrate and enjoy the day. Last year was one of my favorite days that I can remember in recent times -- it was just such an experience. I can’t wait to be there and be a performer and there’s so many cool bands playing this year. 

What about backup dancers?

Quin: Dan’s gonna dance! [Laughs] I’m really excited. It’ll just be a really giddy version of Tegan and Sara.