Demi Lovato sings out for music and mental health
Pomp, circumstance and flash galore count for a lot at pop concerts in amphitheaters, where every move made onstage is blown up on video screens, every note sung is blasted at an ear-numbing level, and creating larger-than-life spectacles is mandatory.
But the most notable thing about Demi Lovato’s ongoing joint tour with Nick Jonas may well be the intimate nightly event that quietly happens offstage before each show on their 44-city Future Now tour.
2016 Honda Civic Tour, featuring Demi Lovato & Nick Jonas: Future Now, with Mike Posner
When: 7 p.m. Sunday
Where: Sleep Train Amphitheatre, 2050 Entertainment Circle, Chula Vista
Phone: (800) 745-3000
In what appears to be a first for any pop-music tour, “wellness workshops” are being held for between 100 and 150 concertgoers at each venue on the tour, which stops Sunday at Sleep Train Amphitheatre in Chula Vista.
More unusual still, these events - which focus on mental-health-related issues - have not been documented on social media, since all attendees are asked to turn off their phones for the duration.
“The workshops have been amazing, and I learn something from them every time,” said Lovato, 23, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2010 and spent three months in treatment that year for drug abuse, bulimia and a self-harming disorder.
“We have a speaker in every city who shares their story and how they overcame obstacles in life. It teaches me something every time I hear someone speak. It’s been refreshing and rewarding to watch people in the room; it kind of clicks for them.”
Lovato briefly makes her presence known at the workshops, but primarily attends as an observer. Jonas, whom she first worked with a decade ago in the Disney movie “Camp Rock,” has also attended. His brother and former musical partner, Joe Jonas, has also attended - and spoken - at some of the workshops.
“For the most part, I listen to the speakers as much as I can,” Lovato said, speaking from a recent tour stop in St. Louis. “I’ve been to quite a few of the workshops, and I’ll go and sit down in the front row. I want to show my presence and that I’m supportive of every person in that room.”
‘I leave my political views out’
Admission is free to concert ticket-holders, who sign up in advance online. The workshops are the brainchild of Lovato and Mike Bayer, the Los Angeles therapist and self-development coach who has been credited with helping save her life.
“I used to speak onstage, not about mental health care but illness, and trying to take away the stigma and taboo of mental illness,” she said. “With this tour, I don’t want to shove it down anyone’s throat. People coming to my tour know what I stand for, so I leave my political views out.”
Lovato delivered an impassioned and concise speech on mental health issues at last month’s Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. She also sang the self-affirming title track from her fifth and most recent album, 2015’s aptly tilted “Confident.”
“The intimidating part was actually the speaking, because I don’t do that often,” Lovato noted. “I have done speaking engagements before, but not live, in front of millions (of TV viewers). The performance I did at the convention was less nerve-racking.”
And how does she respond to those who maintain that entertainers should simply entertain, not speak out?
“I think every artist has the ability to speak out about things they believe in, and that it’s important, but it’s also a personal choice,” Lovato replied. “Some people like to keep it private, and that’s totally their choice. But, for me, I see the importance of sharing my story and speaking out.”
Singing and speaking out both come easy to Lovato, who rose to prominence alongside Selena Gomez as a child star on the Disney Channel series “Barney & Friends.” Her 2008 Disney movie “Camp Rock,” which co-starred the Jonas Brothers, elevated her profile and was followed a few months later by her debut album, “Don’t Forget.”
“I think the best lesson for me that came from ‘Camp Rock’ was about the amount of fame that came to me within such a short amount of time,” she recalled. “I learned about the fickle fans, who would be there for you one minute and tear you down the next. I also learned how to deal with the paparazzi and how to live under a microscope. So I learned a lot, definitely. I was thrown in the deep end.”
While the production on her “Confident” album is often overly sleek, the album reaffirms how much more vocally skilled and musically limber Lovato is than Gomez, Taylor Swift and most other current young pop stars.
Her singing on “Stone Cold” and the autobiographical “Father,” two ballads that are highlights on “Confident,” demonstrates a degree of dynamic control and artistic and emotional depth that would be impressive in a performer 10 or 20 years her senior. Credit for this goes both to her well-honed talent and to a diverse range of creative inspirations.
Before each of her concerts, Lovato warms up singing such Aretha Franklin gems as “Respect” and “Ain’t No Way.” She also cites jazz and blues vocal icon Billie Holiday’s classic “Strange Fruit” - an intensely haunting song about racial lynchings in the then-segregated American South.
“I wouldn’t say I’m a big jazz fan, because I’m just not that educated on a lot of current jazz,” Lovato said. “But I’ve always felt a weird connection with Billie Holiday, because she dealt with some of the same issues I’ve dealt with, like drug addiction, and I know she was really troubled.
“The song of hers that connects with me the most is ‘Strange Fruit,’ because of the picture she paints in your head and the darkness of the lyrics. It was extremely brave for her to sing about something like that and channel that experience in her music. It’s such a powerful song. And when I first listened to it years ago, that’s what drew me to her.”
Asked if she might ever consider doing a Holiday tribute album, Lovato offered a swift and emphatic response.
“I’ll leave that to her - and not touch the master,” she said.
In concert, Lovato stressed, her goal is “to entertain.”
She regards sharing the stage with Jonas, whom she has known for nearly half her life and considers a confidant, akin to being on tour with a childhood pal.
Does the saying that only your best friend will tell you when you have bad breath ring true for Jonas and Lovato?
She laughed heartily.
“He would tell me, for sure,” Lovato said. “But I would tell anybody if they have bad breath!”
Sign up for the Pacific Insider newsletter
PACIFIC magazine delivers the latest restaurant and bar openings, festivals and top concerts, every Tuesday.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Pacific San Diego.