kevin lyman talinda bennington 320 conversations
[Photos via Kevin Lyman/Chad Sengstock, Talinda Bennington]

Not even the coronavirus can stop Talinda Bennington and Kevin Lyman from doing good. The 320 Festival, a program designed to address aspects of mental health, goes live tomorrow morning online. Once the pandemic put a moratorium on live music performances and major gatherings, the widow of Linkin Park vocalist Chester Bennington and the founder of Warped Tour turned an all-day program into a three-day digital event. 

From great artist performances to a bevy of panel discussions regarding mental health care and assistance, 320 Festival is poised to become a movement. Bennington approached Lyman 18 months ago to help create an event that would not only pay respect to her late husband but unite organizations with the same mental health objectives. And of course, pay it forward to people who may need help but are unsure where to go.

Read more: Kevin Lyman, Talinda Bennington launch mental health-driven 320 Festival

320 Festival has amassed a wide variety of artists speaking on various aspects of mental health. Chris Martin (Coldplay), Keith Buckley (Every Time I Die), Duff McKagan (Guns N’ Roses), Caleb Shomo (Beartooth), Jayden Panesso (Sylar), Frank Turner, Echosmith and Derek Sanders of Mayday Parade are some of the artists showing up in a variety of contexts. 

At 5 p.m. PT Saturday, there will be a special aftershow performance, “Songs That Saved My Life.” Artists slated to perform include YUNGBLUD, Badflower, Cassadee Pope, Elohim, Social House and Blue October’s Justin Furstenfeld. The 320 Festival mix of information, personal testimonies and musical performances should go far to further transparency regarding mental health awareness.

Bennington and Lyman spoke with AltPress about 320’s beginnings and the greater mental health conversations that need to be had. 

Read more: 11 ways Chester Bennington is living on through those he impacted
How did you two meet to get the 320 Festival started?

TALINDA BENNINGTON: I had the idea of this festival, and I knew I needed to have some serious help, and I thought, “Who was the best of the best?” And the obvious answer was Kevin. We got a meeting with him and pitched the idea. He was like, “Yes!”

What was your vision for 320? Was there a particular agenda or particular bullet points you wanted to get across, first and foremost?

BENNINGTON: I wanted to connect everyday people with existing resources. I also wanted to connect the resources with one another, because oftentimes I realize that this organization is trying to do this and so is this one, and they don’t know about each other. And, Chester’s love with music, of course. And I just thought, “Wouldn’t that be so fun to have a festival with the nonprofit organizations that just really have it approached in a very noncritical way?”

Kevin, what did you think when Talinda brought this idea to you?

KEVIN LYMAN: I think the first thing she wanted to do [was] a tour. And I was like, “Yeah, I’m not really in the market right now after 28 years of straight touring.” [Laughs.] But I know the need. I’ve known the need: I’ve been an advocate [in] our industry for a long time and know that people need help. And I felt that sometimes I was butting my head against the wall. But maybe with Chester’s legacy and Talinda’s ideas, this could be something. I feel that the stigma of mental health is starting to break down a bit, especially in our industry. But nationwide for youth in general, I’ve always been a person who’s like, “OK, you know what? Let’s go for it. But let’s not do a tour.” 

Read more: Talinda Bennington explains Chester’s posthumous impact

We had the date scheduled for Saturday, May 9 at L.A. Live. And then I started putting on my professor hat of USC now. I thought, “How can we turn this into a learning experience for students?” Because really, that’s one of the reasons why I’m going to teach now. Not only to show people how to do good business, but how to do good things in life. A great support came from Mike Garcia, who was in the music industry with me for a long time. We have a class [to] solve a problem. But usually [the students] are working with a label or something in the industry. But this sounds like a problem that needs solving, and it would give them some real-life skills. So it’s been a balance between Talinda, Kevin Lyman Group and USC. Trying to balance the ball has been sometimes difficult as a learning experience, but it’s worked out very, very well.

You had that big preview event March 9, and not long afterward, the pandemic forced an end to live performances and large groups of people meeting. But 320 made a hard pivot and took it all online.

LYMAN: We had a wonderful kickoff event with Ken Jeong. We had a great turnout. And then two days later on March 11 was when things started shutting down. USC canceled all events. [The event] was viewed by 200,000 people who viewed some part of it or all of it online. And then [the live show] went away. Live Nation started canceling things. And then I called Talinda and said, “Let’s take it online.” So now we have a national and worldwide tour online. It’s 21 hours of programming and a concert at the end of each night.

In current culture, we’ve made significant inroads on the subject of mental health in the entertainment industry. Are we still seeing a lot of stigma?

BENNINGTON: I believe that sadly, we do. But I also believe that perception is reality. So for every single person, if we could change the perception surrounding mental health, mental illness and suicide, we [could] make mental health care normalizing. It’s a long road. We’ve come so far as a society, but we still have a long way to go.

Read more: Kevin Lyman teases project with Chester Bennington’s wife to honor singer
The breadth of topics on the panel discussions is massive. Social economics, LGBTQ+ issues, addiction, depression, nutrition: There’s something that affects anybody. How did you compile that list?

LYMAN: Talinda put a list of stuff together. We put a list of stuff together, and [in] my USC class, we asked the students to put a list together. Then we started throwing ideas out. What you see there is a winnowing down of about 30 pretty awesome concepts. I remember that night. I’m coming off teaching three other classes that day. Everyone had their opinions, and it was ruled by a committee in a way. For me, it was a little painful because I know we had to go through this process. I explained this to the students because some of the students got frustrated. “This is what you will be doing as a parent. One day when you have to go to a PTA meeting or parents group and you have 40 parents with diverse ideas and you may come in with the best idea because you produced events, you know things, but you can’t exert your will. You have to go through the process.” And usually they come back your way anyhow.

I was just skimming emails before we came on here. I’ve just had three other artists approach [me] in the last two hours while we were doing our normal 30-minute grocery shopping that just took us three-and-a-half hours [asking], “Can I do something?” So I think word of mouth is carrying so much of that. Everyone’s getting excited about it.

Talinda, what were you thinking when you saw the Kevin Lyman machine in action?

BENNINGTON: Awe. Just still to this day to this very moment, still in awe of Kevin and his team and how everything came together. It was unreal to see this idea come to life and be executed with such finesse and such grace. And I’m just in awe. I had faith in Kevin. He’s the founder of Warped Tour. What’s cooler than that? That festival’s been brilliantly executed for two decades. You’ve got to stay in your lane. It was great to have Kevin on board and do what he does best.

What are you looking forward to at the end of May 10 after the whole event is over?

BENNINGTON: Gosh, so many things. I want to know how my team feels, if they were happy with everything, if it was a good experience, if all the participants are happy with how it came out. And to hear back from the viewers, to see how they liked it, how it reached them. I’m really looking forward to that.

LYMAN: Hopefully maybe five years, 10 years down the road, I’m somewhere by a lake. Someone will walk up to me and say, “You know what? That event helped me save my life.” That’s not short term; that’s long term. Short term for 320 Festival? Maybe someone’s willing to pick up the phone. Someone may realize they can get help, or maybe someone is listening to make their life a little better. And you’ll never know. But if it affects one person, we did our job. Because we’ve lost too many people that we all know.

The 320 Festival begins Friday, May 8 and will be streaming for free on Facebook Live, YouTube Live and Twitter. You can also tune in via KNEKT Network on Roku and Apple TV. To stay up to date with #320Festival, RSVP here