320 Festival, ‘A Mental Health Movement,’ Coming 5/9 in L.A.: Q&A with Talinda Bennington, Widow of Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington

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Rock Cellar Magazine

On May 9, the 320 Festival will take place at L.A. Live in Los Angeles in hopes of advancing the conversation about mental health through face-to-face meetings with non-profit organizations, live musical performances and much more. Free to the public, it’s a product of tireless work put in by Talinda Bennington, widow of Linkin Park front man Chester Bennington, who was found dead in July 2017, and Kevin Lyman, founder of the Vans Warped Tour.

This has all been in the works for quite some time. When Bennington’s band mates gathered in October 2017 for an intensely emotional tribute concert event at the Hollywood Bowl, Talinda took the stage to introduce her new directive, 320 Changes Direction, which intended to strengthen the societal understanding of mental health and improve the discourse surrounding it.

100 percent of the net proceeds will be donated to participating official 320 Festival nonprofits.

Rock Cellar spoke with Talinda Bennington about the 320 Festival and what makes this such an important event.

Rock Cellar: Congratulations on what this has become. I was at the Hollywood Bowl at the Chester tribute event in 2017, when you went on stage and talked about 320 Changes Direction for what I think was the first time publicly. And then to see where it is now, three years later, it sounds fantastic. 

Talinda Bennington: Wow, thank you. Yeah, it’s definitely come a long way, and it surprises me, really. I couldn’t have done it without all the support of everybody, from my family, friends, to Kevin, his crew. Everybody’s support, it’s … I was talking about this last night at our conversation event, somebody asked me what was the best experience out of everything I’ve been doing. I said watching how our society is coming together.

I feel like every part of our society, from national mental health organizations, world health organizations, musicians, actors, everybody’s doing what they can. And that’s making a difference, and I think it’s so cool.

Rock Cellar: The event, the 320 Festival coming up in May, has music, the panels, Q&As. It’s not just “here are some tents, here are some bands who care about mental health,” it’s just so much more than that. And it seems great that Kevin Lyman became so involved, given all he’s done with Warped Tour over the years regarding mental health outreach. 

Talinda Bennington: Yeah. That was a bit of kismet, I think, me meeting Kevin. My idea to do a music festival with mental health nonprofits came as an idea. I had been talking and working with so many nonprofits, even for-profits groups and organizations, government organizations. I was in awe of how much really great help there is out there, but then I also knew that not everybody knows about this. And some of these organizations didn’t even know about each other, most of the time!

I thought that was pretty telling of our mental health climate. And I was thinking of what would be a good way to bring everybody together, and obviously music was on my mind since that’s what Chester loved to do. He loved planning tours and stuff, so it came together and I thought long and hard about the different tours I had seen. In my mind this was going to be a tour, and Warped Tour, for me, was the best ever.

So I was like, “Who’s that guy that started Warped Tour? His name is on the tip of my tongue,” so I Googled it and the first article I read was about how he was ending Warped Tour. So I thought, “Sweet, he’s going to need something to do,” so I got some help in management making the connection. He thought he was walking into a meeting with Chester’s widow to give me advice on how to do this, but he fell so in love with the idea that we weren’t even halfway through the meeting and he was like “Yep. We’re doing this.”

And maybe a week later, we met with the president of L.A. Live, and he said yes within five minutes. Then they donated the entire campus to us, too.

Rock Cellar: Regarding the artists involved in the festival, I know Justin Furstenfeld from Blue October is very open and honest about his personal struggles, and I’m also familiar with two of the other artists, Grandson (who took part in your speaking event earlier this week) and Holy Wars, a project that was born out of intense grief and personal loss. It seems like the participating artists are very in tune with that conversation as well. 

Talinda Bennington: Yes, absolutely. It’s non-profit show, so they’re donating their time and to be able to do that, especially as an artist in prime touring season, it has to be something close to your heart. So I’m in awe of everybody taking the time, working so hard.

It’s a lot — I didn’t quite know what I was getting into, and I’m glad I did. I’m learning a lot. But it’s amazing to me how everybody wants to help, and the more people know about it, the more they want to help. From the beginning stages of early last year when Kevin and I were going to meeting after meeting, it just snowballed.

Rock Cellar: The obvious and overlaying connection with Chester, as well … I’ll say it this way. I came of age, so to speak, with [Linkin Park’s 2000 debut album) Hybrid Theory when I was in high school, so that’s a pretty special album in my life. But I remember back then, some of the “cool kids” who didn’t take to the music like others did, dismissed it as many people did regarding “nu-metal” and that whole era of music, saying things like “Those lyrics are dumb, they’re fake, it’s just dumb rock stuff,” and so on. 

But then in looking back on it now, and looking at Chester’s life and career overall, it obviously wasn’t “fake.” It wasn’t made up, and I feel like that’s a huge part of the whole mental health conversation at the core of all of this. 

Talinda Bennington: Yes, it wasn’t made up. All of the lyrics that Chester wrote, and the emotion with which he sang — that all came from somewhere. And I think it was helpful then, you said you came up with it, maybe you were ready to acknowledge your feelings and emotions more, so you could connect … but I have a gut feeling that those that couldn’t weren’t ready to.

So that’s what we’re trying to do, get people ready to feel, and know that it’s OK to feel.

Rock Cellar: And that whole aesthetic played a big role in making Linkin Park’s music earn such a huge global audience. So many kids related to that, the emotion, the feeling. 

And you see it now with the Linkin Park tribute act, In the End, who’ve been doing a bunch of shows lately and linked up with 320 Changes Direction a few times, I believe. You go to those shows, it’s more than just a band playing Linkin Park songs. The vibe is cathartic, everybody’s there because of a connection they felt with the music and seeing and experiencing it performed live in such a way is special. 

Talinda Bennington: Right. Yeah, it’s … I don’t even know how to answer what you just said because you said it so perfectly. (laughs)

It’s very therapeutic, very cathartic, yeah. If you can bring your emotions out through music, I think that’s so beautiful. And sometimes those emotions aren’t fun to acknowledge, but I think if you do acknowledge them, you’re helping yourself.

Rock Cellar: Part of the focus is to help those in need find resources, whether individuals going through struggles or their families and friends. What kind of resources are you hoping to bring awareness to for those who might not already have known about them?

Talinda Bennington: OK, so I’ll walk you through the event site so you’ll get a good picture of what the 320 Festival will have to offer.

You park at L.A. Live and already hear the music playing. Chick Hearn Court, right in front of L.A. Live, will be closed down. Kevin will have his band on plaza stages, Warped-style. You walk into the plaza, the Xbox Plaza at L.A. Live, there will be about 40 non-profit organizations under 10 x 10 tents, doing their thing in a really non-clinical way.

You may see kids’ activities, rides in some areas, some breakout sessions over by the teen area, and if you walk through there will be a little something for everybody. If you go to 320Festival.com you can see all of them, but some of them are really focused on mental health specifically. Some are on education, some on recovery, we wanted to make sure there was something for everybody, and that it wasn’t shoved down your throat either.

If you want to dive in a little deeper, you can go upstairs to Club Novo, where there will be panels running all day, with amazing guest speakers from around the globe to talk about the topics. There will also be round table discussions on the terrace, so you can sit with somebody and hear about things as well.

Free licensed therapists will be there, too. Or if you want to take a step back, a film festival over at the Regal Theater showing documentaries all day, a show that my son, Chester’s son, Jaime, curated. So that’s pretty cool, proud mom over here. (laughs)

And then at night we have a paid ticket event at Club Novo, the Songs That Saved My Life event, with a whole bunch of artists, the ones we already announced and then more that will be announced as well. [Tickets for the concert will go on sale March 27.]

Rock Cellar: This all sounds like a great event. And — not really related to this but also kind of related to it — it’s great to see what’s going on with Grey Daze (Chester’s pre-Linkin Park band releasing some unheard music soon). I had their music on my iPod years ago, and it’s cool to see some of that stuff coming out in the way it is this year. 

Talinda Bennington: Yeah, I’m pretty excited about it. I can’t take credit for it, it was really all Sean who made that come to life. He’s such a good friend of mine, he knows I can’t listen to Chester’s voice and he’s … really checking with me at every point to make sure I was emotionally OK, and I appreciate that. That’s a good friend.

He loved Chester, and he really wanted that to happen. So who am I to stop it, you know?

For more on the 320 Festival, visit the links below.



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