Cozy Little Book Journal: FOR THE SENDER Review

I originally received an advanced digital copy of this book for review, but the publishers were kind enough to send me a printed copy along with a sample CD. I’m so glad they did. The book itself is small and delicate, filled with poetry and black and white photos like secret treasures. The feel of the book reflects perfectly the subject matter. Alex Woodard is a country musician who was inspired by a series of very personal letters he received, and used the inspiration to write a dozen songs. He is humble and empathetic. He treats each letter, each interaction, like a secret treasure.

I promised myself I wouldn’t compare this book to Dave Carroll’s book United Breaks Guitars, other than to say this book could not be more different than that one. Dave Carroll boldly proclaims that he changed the world. Alex Woodard humbly opens himself up to the world changing him.

I recommend getting this book .The actual book, not the ebook. Hold it in your hands and open up the pages, revealing the delicate treasures inside. It sounds like I’m overstating, but FOR THE SENDER is not just a story, it’s an experience.

By Beatnik Mary

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FOR THE SENDER Book Review By Honor Your Spirit

Thankfully, some people still write letters

And others turn them into music for your soul.

A good book resonates with your heart. Good music resonates with your soul. So what happens when a talented songwriter pens a memoir? You’re taken one step closer to understanding life.

That may sound a little over the top, but the pure emotion that flows from Alex Woodard’s FOR THE SENDER can hardly be contained within its small size. The short book and accompanying CD tap into rich veins of creativity, sorrow, pride, despair, and most of all, love. Woodard’s songwriting background brings a richness to his writing that allows us the honor of feeling our way through the story of his life, reveling in his accomplishments and crying with his tragedies.

In fact, it only took me 14 pages into the book before I finally had to give in and get a box of Kleenex. Woodard’s life story and the letters of inspiration he used to write the book are both emotionally wrenching and life giving at the same time. The song lyrics he includes aren’t just poetic, they’re cathartic, helping move the reader through the sometimes-painful memories each song unearths.

Since the universe is always on our side, it’s easy for me to see why this particular book made its way to me at this time in my life. Within the first few pages, I was hooked into Woodard’s storyline, feeling my own life mirrored in his discontent of dreaming for a better life for himself. While I’m not an aspiring songwriter or musician, I think he adequately captures the denseness of living a life that isn’t quite fulfilling.

“These cold realities of the music business slowly begin to creep under my skin and some nights, as I lay alone in bed, I weave a make-believe coat of dreams as protection to keep me warm: dreams of ‘making it,’ dreams of having somebody to grow old with, dreams of little feet on hardwood floors. That imaginary coat of protection keeps the cold out, but it also keeps most of myself hidden from anybody else,” he writes.

That metaphor creeps in and out of the storyline as Woodard takes us back a few years so we can understand his own state of mind as he learns to let go of the life he thought he should be living and accept the life he has.

The storyline
FOR THE SENDER is more than Woodard’s life story. It’s a story of how he came to accept and understand his life by reframing the stories of others through songwriting. Those stories come in the form of four letters he received over a period of several years and the 12 songs that were written from each letter’s inspiration. In all, the letters and songs connect us to Woodard’s life and our own stories, which are as natural as the world can be.

The four letters Woodard received became inspiration for Woodard and some of his musician friends, pushing their creativity to capture the feelings and emotions emanating from the letters’ authors. The letters came from four women, sharing their intensely personal stories:

  • Emily, who met her soulmate only to have him pass away. She began writing letters to her lost love and she included one in her letter to Woodard. The grief, despair, hope and acceptance in that letter made a profound impact on the songwriter.
  • Woodard and some friends visited a homeless shelter for teens to inspire the kids and in the process became inspired by the center’s director, Kim. The story of her troubled youth and understanding of her own unique gifts is fodder for two songs.
  • Alison is a medic who was one of the first responders after the devastating earthquake in Haiti. Her selfless devotion to the people of Haiti and her questioning of the will of God caused Woodard to reflect on his own faith.
  • Katelyn was struggling to handle the demands of a newborn when her police officer husband was killed in the line of duty. Her resilience to move on touched Woodward and his friends as they wrote about the circle of life.

Woven throughout the storylines of each letter is Woodard’s reflection on his own life. We see his anguish over the loss of his best friend—a black Labrador named Kona—who died in his lap. His companion was a benchmark for Woodard and his dreams and her death helped clarify where his life was headed. Until he received the first letter from Emily, he had concentrated solely on writing about himself, using songwriting as a form of self-expression and emotional release.

The letters helped Woodard see life through a different filter: that of other people. He realized he could express the raw emotions of others through his songwriting and in the process, solidified his own thoughts and feelings on life and spirituality.

Woodard’s reflection on the letters and his own struggles with life help him understand the shared experiences of everyone on Earth. He understands that the letters are written more for the sender’s benefit than for the receiver. Yet the ideas, emotions, hopes and dreams of the letters are so universal that they can be appreciated by anyone.

Reading FOR THE SENDER, I felt privileged to peek into the creative process of Woodard and his friends. Like alchemists, the songwriters sifted through the words of each letter and distilled the bare essence of the sender’s souls. What remains is pure, clear insight into the human condition and a soothing tonic for understanding the world in a new way.

From a self-development perspective, I enjoyed watching Woodard’s growth through the songwriting process and ultimately his own changing consciousness. His understanding of conscious creation comes through as he breaks down his own self-defeating thought processes and begins to understand his role in creating his life.

“Under my breath I tell myself to stay out of the way and trust the process. Lately I’m finding that sometimes what I want isn’t really what I need and the right things seem to happen if I’m patient,” he writes as he begins to see the letters and subsequent songs take on a life of their own.

Ultimately, he realizes that life is best experienced when he drops expectations, when he stops trying to control every detail of his life. That’s a hard concept to process, let alone experience, but he gets there one day while surfing in the Pacific.

“These moments are what my dreams are made of now, more so than all the things I thought I wanted someday. Surfing isn’t about someday. It’s about now. I let go of someday every time I take off on a wave and become more present in the moment. Life is better then, when I’m not thinking about me.”

Who should read this book?
You don’t need to be interested in music or in self-development to find enjoyment in FOR THE SENDER. However, anyone with an interest in songwriting, creativity, spirituality or new age concepts will be pleasantly surprised by the storyline of this memoir and especially in the lingering buzz it leaves on the reader.

FOR THE SENDER does tug on the heartstrings in a most blatant manner. I attribute this to Woodard’s poetic writing style that eliminates extraneous details in order to focus on the things that matter most to him and the women who penned the letters that inspired his songs. It’s a quick and easy read but is one that is sure to stir your own deep emotions and leave you feeling hopeful for the future.

FOR THE SENDER is scheduled for hardcover release on September 18, 2012. A CD of the songs inspired by the letters is included and proceeds generated by the songs from each letter will be donated to a cause of the sender’s choice.

You can watch videos of the songs created from the letters, as well as read the letters themselves, at the book’s website at:

FTC Disclosure notice
I received this advanced copy of the book for free from Hay House Publishing for review. The opinion in this review is unbiased and reflects my honest judgment of the product.

Press written by Honor Your Spirit

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A Bonus Q&A with Sara Watkins

Friday, May 4, 2012 Music Minded: Music news, reviews and interviews

Here is more from my recent interview with Sara Watkins…Q: You’ve played some “FOR THE SENDER” music and book reading shows with San Diego-area singer/songwriter Alex Woodard. What has that been like?
It has been really special, particularly because of the local emphasis on the whole project. All the musicians who worked on it are good friends of mine. We come from such different worlds that the odds of us all collaborating would conceivably never happen. Some, like Jon Foreman, I’ve done lots of stuff with. Never got to do anything with Jordan Pundik of New Found Glory and he’s a great friend. And Jack Tempchin – I didn’t meet him until it was through the project. He’s a really wonderful person to sing and write with. From the musical side, it was really lovely. On a creative side, it was wonderful. [Hearing] the stories of what these people went through, the letters and seeing how it all came together was pretty astounding for all of us musicians. I couldn’t believe that Alex pulled it off.

Q: Last year you did some touring with The Decemberists. What did you take away from that experience?
In Nickel Creek, the band I grew up in, we had really adoring fans [like they do]. We were so spoiled. I saw that same adoration in the Decemberists fans, which was sweet to see…It’s such a great band in terms of pleasing the crowd and not taking themselves too seriously in all the right ways. But still caring about what they do.

Q: How did you decide to use Blake Mills as your new album’s producer?
I met Blake at a mutual friend’s house, who was having music gatherings every Sunday night. We played together there and he came down to Largo and we found ourselves onstage together a few times. He’s an asset to any group of musicians. Last fall, I was trying to figure out who I could have produce the record. I had no idea. There were certain directions I wanted to avoid, but didn’t know who the right person was. After a couple months hanging with him, I thought, ‘I should do it with him.’ He’d never produced a record all by himself. He had co-produced some things and is also the kind of musician who probably inadvertently produces things. A lot of times, people will defer to his opinions. This was the first time he’d taken on a project on his own. I was delighted. We had a great time and I’m really excited and pleased with the results.

Q: Did your ongoing Watkins Family Hour shows at Largo play a role in the guest musicians on the album?
Yes. We’ve gotten to know a lot of really great musicians [there]. Taylor Goldsmith is the one I knew least. He and his brother had come down to play our Christmas show. He was just hanging around the studio when we were trying to figure out this harmony part [for a song]. Neither my voice nor Blake’s was right for it. All the sudden, it was like, ‘let’s get Taylor.’ He had just left the studio. We ran out before he pulled away in his car, he came back to sing in like five minutes and left. It was great.

Q: Where do you find inspiration for songs?
It’s beginning to be a bit more broad. A couple songs on this album are not about romantic relationships.

Q: Did the Dan Wilson-penned song on the album come about after you’d guested on his last solo effort?
I’ve known Dan for a little while. We’ve played on a couple different things over the years. That song, Sean recorded with him and he loved. Then I asked Dan if I could record it. I think I pretty much told him I was going to. He’s been very nice about it.

Q: Last year, you did that iPad violin lesson. How was that experience?
I hope it’s been well-received. I haven’t checked on the ratings. It was a totally different thing for them because they are a guitar-focused application. They were trying something different. We tried to make it work with Sean as well so hypothetically a guitar and fiddle player could learn the same songs and play them together. It was challenging. Anytime you’re teaching something in a really detail-oriented way and you have to speak intelligently all day in front of a video camera, it’s kind of wearing. I’m not used to performing in detailed ways, other that trying to play and sing well. All of those are normal qualities for human beings to have; I’m not very good at it.

Q: The new album cover has a vintage, sort of late 1960s vibe.
We were looking at a lot of old posters in the studio and I really liked that look. We looked at old Clint Eastwood posters and didn’t end up going in that direction. But who can deny how great those things are.

Q: You and your brother just appeared on the new Lyle Lovett album. Any other studio work coming out soon?
I’m playing and singing on a new Kris Kristofferson record coming out. I’d never met him before. It was a tremendous experience.

ForeWord Reviews: FOR THE SENDER

Lyrics originate in unexpected places, expressions of the songwriter’s personal experiences and memorable relationships, but what if a song was a manifestation of another life? In FOR THE SENDER, Alex Woodard delves into the pleasure and pain of strangers reaching out through the heartfelt words of letters.

This innovative memoir is Woodard’s story with an altruistic twist. Along with a select group of collaborators he refers to as his family, he writes for people who choose to share with him their deepest emotions. Behind the scenes, this mesmerizing musician’s existence is filled with the blows of the passage of time, ranging from the death of a beloved Labrador named Kona to the gradual deterioration and loss of his grandmother. Embedded in the shattered dreams of others, as expressed by his music, are his own broken links to buried feelings too gut-wrenching to confront.

As he moves beyond creative stagnation to active participation, Woodard discovers the key to meaningful happiness and real success. “In this new anonymity I begin to feel lighter and free, like a door has opened into a bright, airy room I’ve never seen, one that’s been in my house the whole time but I always just walked past.”

The author will amaze the uninitiated, while deterring fledgling songwriters from the aimless pursuit of glamour. His down-to-earth approach showcases the working aspect of the business, as opposed to the mere idea of fame at the top of a competitive profession. “Barely break-even touring is bookended by stalled personal and professional relationships and I find that sometimes chasing dreams is just that: a chase.”

Woodard discusses the hidden elements of his soul with candid appraisal. “My hopes, dreams, and fears are all there, deep water running still under the moving currents of the songs.”
Included with this small gift book is a music CD, featuring the songs discussed. With a strong country-and-western essence, this balladeer will attract dedicated lovers of the genre, along with an eclectic audience that gravitates toward intellectual messages as opposed to superficial pop lyrics. Divided into eight chapters with titles such as “The Autumn” and “The Box,” Woodard’s memoir is poetry in prose. His talent as a storyteller is apparent in his writing as well as his music.

Alex Woodard lives in a small beach town north of San Diego. FOR THE SENDER is his literary debut, and a portion of the proceeds from each song on the CD will be donated to a cause chosen by the sender. For anyone intrigued by the inner workings of the artistic mind, Woodard’s autobiography will afford a prolonged glimpse, tempered by a jarring dose of realism.

Julia Ann Charpentier
ForeWord Reviews
July 10, 2012

ForeWord Reviews is a print magazine and online review service for readers, booksellers, book buyers, publishing insiders, and librarians.

Listeners Provide Inspiration in ‘FOR THE SENDER’ Project

Published in The North County Times of San Diego County, January 12, 2012
By George A. Paul

Alex Woodard used an ambitious promotion to draw attention to his eponymous independent album in 2008. Anyone who preordered it would receive a personalized tune.

“I got quite a few responses and it worked pretty well,” said the Encinitas-based singer/songwriter during a phone interview from Las Vegas. “I wrote a lot of songs for folks on my kitchen table. Then the record deal fell apart.”

Despite the bad news, Woodard’s spirit was suddenly lifted after attending a neighborhood guitar gathering with prominent area musicians such as Sean and Sara Watkins (Nickel Creek), Jon Foreman (Switchfoot) and Jordan Pundik (New Found Glory).

“It ended up being a fun and special night and became a recurring thing. Every time a few of us were in town, we’d get together at my house or across the street.”

Soon after, a letter arrived from a woman who had seen the album promotion and relayed how she puts pen to paper each autumn to commemorate the loss of a soul mate. She didn’t seek a special song, but wanted to share a piece of herself. Woodard told Sean Watkins about the letter, and they were inspired to create the song “FOR THE SENDER.”

That led to a same-titled book and CD project where a dozen songs were derived from that correspondence and letters by three other women and their life experiences: Kim, director of San Diego homeless shelter StandUp for Kids; Alison, an Aussie medic serving victims of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti through Sean Penn’s relief organization; and Katelyn, whose police officer husband, Dan Bessant, was slain during a 2006 gang-related Oceanside shooting, leaving behind an infant son. (The four letters can be read at
Woodard and others from the gatherings, plus veteran tunesmith and fellow Leucadia resident Jack Tempchin, contributed lyrics, vocals and music. Yet it took a while to decide where the songs would end up.

“I really liked the idea of writing about other people’s stories and having another voice sing them,” Woodard said. “I was so tired of myself by then. When you’re an independent musician, you’re pushing yourself all the time.”

The adult alternative music artist has put out five CDs since 2000, but it was the Americana-tinged ’08 album that found some success. “Halfway” garnered airplay at commercial country radio stations, and a music video to “Reno” (with Sara Watkins on guest vocals) spent two weeks atop CMT’s Pure 12-Pack Countdown.

With “FOR THE SENDER,” Woodard discovered that “the most direct connection you can have with the listener is doing something for them.” About three-fourths of the way through the project, Woodard noticed a similar thread ran through the folk, adult pop and alt-country songs and unexpectedly “found my own story in there toward the end.”

“The Table” revolves around a man whose partner dies of cancer. After penning the lyrics, Woodard’s dog, Kona, succumbed to bone cancer.

The CD closes with an acoustic live take he did at Eddie’s Attic in Atlanta with Shawn Mullins. Woodard produced the bulk of the “FOR THE SENDER” album, and veteran Grammy-wining mixer David Thoener (Santana & Rob Thomas’ 1999 megahit “Smooth”) “worked his magic.” Recording at home without a timetable resulted in “crazy” scheduling.

“No one was around at the same time. If a song was almost done, I’d have to wait a couple months to get it finished with whoever was doing it with me; then have time for them to come by the house, perform and record it. It was definitely an exercise in patience.

“A lot of my job was to take my hands off the wheel and let it go where it wanted,” continued Woodard. “By the time we got it done, it was cohesive. It might be hard to define because of all these layers, but I don’t really care as long as it moves somebody.”

What was it like collaborating with Tempchin —- the seasoned pro best known for writing/co-writing hits for the Eagles (“Already Gone,” “Peaceful Easy Feeling”) and Glenn Frey (“You Belong to the City,” “Smuggler’s Blues”)? “He came by with his old Martin guitar and we wrote ‘Act of God.’ That’s one of the songs I’m most proud of (in my career). Going back and forth with him was like being with an old friend.”

Tempchin didn’t want to stop.

“He wanted to keep doing this on more letters because he liked the process so much. He was a fan of Sara Watkins, so I arranged for her to come over and write with the both of us. That was a big thrill for Jack.”

Sara Watkins was moved by the entire experience.

“Working together with friends to tell a story from someone else’s life with a unified focus is unique to anything I’ve been a part of before. I’m grateful to the people who sent Alex those letters and shared a bit of their lives with us,” she said via email.

According to Woodard, the “whole crew” will be present for the live presentations at La Paloma Theatre on Jan. 19. The 7 p.m. show sold out based on word of mouth, so a 9 p.m. performance was added. A portion of the proceeds go to causes of the letter senders’ choosing.

“That’s the one night everybody’s in town. Jordan is flying out from the East Coast after doing a show, getting on a plane, doing this and then flying back there the next morning. It’s been a challenge to get everybody in the same room, but everyone really believes in the project and the work.”

After spending three years on “FOR THE SENDER,” Woodard is glad to see everything finally come to fruition.

“It’s been a very long process, but a beautiful one. At the shows, we’re going to present the letters and play the songs, but it’ll be done creatively.”

He plans to use video and audio recordings of each woman reading her letter. A limited number of books will be on sale there, but not with the album.

This spring, Woodard expects to put out print and audio components  simultaneously on a wider basis, but said, “We’ll have to see who embraces it. I think it would be a good (fit) for coffee shops and different lifestyle stores. … I’m obviously going to need help. The book is a new thing for me. I’ve been a musician for so long that I’m not quite sure how that world works.”

Woodard deftly weaves his own life story and personal losses into the self-published 120-page book, with chronological background on the letters and songs. Designed by “Sender” song contributor Nena Anderson, the impressive, compact hardcover release looks like something you’d see on the shelves of Barnes & Noble, though it’s only available for sale at his concerts.

“I’d like to do a different kind of book tour. I could take me, Sean and Sara Watkins or whoever is available out —- have a rotating cast. We’d do bookstores in the afternoon and play venues at night. That could be really cool.”

Read more:

FOR THE SENDER: A Concert Review That’s More Than Just A Concert Review

Written by Christian Rodas

In an instant, emptiness consumed Katelyn’s life on a cold December night when her husband, an Oceanside police officer, was shot and killed in the line of duty.

Elsewhere in San Diego, Kim nearly lost sight of the beauty she truly possessed when her life on the streets turned to rape, drugs and abuse.

For Emily, autumn was a particularly painful time of year as it was a bittersweet reminder of her lost love.

And Alison, a disaster relief nurse in Haiti, literally worked to the point of exhaustion but continued to find inspiration in the people she served. The one thing all of these women had in common was a letter, and much like you and I, a story.

As someone who lives for live music, I have been to my fair share of musical events. My parents took me to see Luciano Pavarotti when I was six years old, since then I have been to a countless number of Warped Tours, Street Scenes, and weekend long Christian music festivals. I’ve seen legendary artists like Aerosmith, Carlos Santana, and The Eagles. As incredible as those experiences were, none of them is as special and significant to me as the “FOR THE SENDER” show that took place last Thursday night. Over 600 people filled the La Paloma Theater in two completely sold out shows that featured artists Alex Woodard, Nickel Creek’s Sean and Sara Watkins, Switchfoot’s Jon Foreman, A New Found Glory’s Jordan Pundik, Nena Anderson, Molly Jenson, and legendary songwriter Jack Tempchin.

The “FOR THE SENDER” project got its start about two and a half years ago when Woodard received a letter from Emily thanking him for his music that helped her get through the loss of her soul mate. Around the same time, Woodard was struggling with the loss of his best friend and dog, Kona. Inspired by the words written in the letter, he and Sean Watkins sat down together and wrote the title track “FOR THE SENDER.” Little did they know, the song that they wrote for Emily sparked a fire that would rapidly spread and touch the lives of so many in a way their music hadn’t before. “I have never heard of anything quite like this project,” said Jack Tempchin in a quick interview between shows.

Shortly after, Woodard and surfer buddy Jon Foreman teamed up to write songs inspired by Kim’s letter. Through an intricate string of connections and ritual get togethers, more members of the tight-knit family of North County artists got involved and contributed their own flavor to the project. The artists would write a song from their own perspective in response to a letter they read. “It was really cool to have so many different types of artists represented,” said Nena Anderson backstage, “I think it’s amazing the way it came together.”

The show at La Paloma was essentially a public version of the get togethers the artists would hold where they would meet at someone’s house, share dinner and jam together. In fact, the furniture on stage actually belonged to Woodward. The idea that all of the people on stage were also close friends made the event particularly special.

“These are deep, deep friendships here,” said Jon Foreman, “a lot of times you have that in music, but it’s rare that something like this actually happens outside of the home.”

Although the stage was filled with artists that Tempchin described as “world class,” the show focused less on the musicians and more on the people behind the stories. This made the evening especially significant and important for the 600 people who showed up that night, each with their own stories of heartache, hurt and tragedy. “For us this is the driving force for what we do,” said A New Found Glory’s lead singer, Jordan Pundik, who had flown in from Southeast Asia to be at the show.

For Jon, it’s the people in the audience who inspire him, “There are 300 stories walking into the theater right now,” he said. “I find it really powerful to be the songwriter of their life’s story.” Foreman hoped that his songs would translate back to the storyteller as a gift.

If I had to condense the night down to one word, I would have to use the word ‘intimate.’ The theater itself was small and quaint but it contributed to the heart of the evening perfectly. The use of Woodard’s personal furniture on stage was a symbolic invitation to each audience member to come inside his home and to catch a glimpse of the story that he wanted to tell. A heartfelt connection arose between the artists and the people inside that 1920s theater. A connection that contributed to an atmosphere that was both cozy and comfortable.

Last Thursday night was dedicated to the millions of untold stories and the people who lived through them. It was for the truly dedicated like Alison, for the broken and hurting like Emily, and for the lost and empty like Katelyn. Now the director of a homeless shelter for children, Kim’s emergence from the cavernous black hole that was her life “began as a whisper.” Her dramatic life-change began with an open ear and an encouraging comment.

Take the time to listen. Sometimes the unlocked stories of our lives can be told for us. Perhaps in a better way than we could ever tell it. A sympathetic ear, a smile, a late-night cup of coffee or a hand on the shoulder can be the dynamic life-changing event someone could so desperately need and the therapeutic treatment you seek. Alex Woodard and company did and in doing so, touched lives.

Go out and touch someone’s life and in the process stay safe and soulful, San Diego.

Inspiration Landed in Alex Woodard’s Mailbox

Published in the San Diego Union Tribune January 2012

Leucadia singer-songwriter and all-star pals team for moving album & book

By George Varga
Leucadia singer-songwriter Alex Woodard’s new book and album, “FOR THE SENDER,” haven’t been made into a movie, but the tale they tell seems worthy of a film treatment.

Writing a book and making an accompanying album with an all-star lineup were the last things on Alex Woodard’s mind after the 2008 death of his beloved dog, Kona, and his concurrent frustration that his music career had stalled.

But mourning and dismay can be great sources of artistic inspiration, even if that realization often only occurs in hindsight. And for Woodard, a Leucadia singer-songwriter who started off as a child actor on “The Love Boat,” hindsight is, well, everything.

“I needed a change and didn’t know what way I was going to go,” he said. “I was looking for something that had nothing to do with me and didn’t have my face or voice. The project didn’t take shape until later. It was a process where I had to let it be what it would be and couldn’t steer it too much. Three quarters of the way through, I got the idea this could be something, something you could hold in your hand…”

The result, four years later, is Woodard’s first book, “FOR THE SENDER — Four Letters. Twelve Songs. One Story,” which he published himself and for which he is now seeking a national distributor.

A poignant and handsomely crafted book, it includes an accompanying CD that features four sets of three heartfelt songs. Each set of songs was inspired by one of four letters that were sent to Woodard by four people he had never met, or been in contact with, previously.

The first letter was from Connecticut resident Emily Jackson, who came across Woodard’s MySpace page while surging the web. “His page had mention on it of an expired promotion Alex had previously offered,” Jackson recalled. “If you pre-ordered his latest CD and sent him your story, he would in turn sit down at his kitchen table and write you a song. I read the postings of the letters people had sent and the songs that resulted and was touched by what Alex had done, so I sent him a letter to say just that. I listened to Alex’s songs and those he wrote for others and felt how much of himself he put into them all and just wanted him to know someone was listening and someone was grateful for his sound.”

Jackson, who was then grieving the death of her boyfriend, also sent Woodard a copy of a posthumous love letter she had written to her boyfriend. Woodard then got together with fellow singer-songwriter Sean Watkins (of Nickel Creek fame) and shared Jackson’s letter. The song “FOR THE SENDER” was born soon thereafter — and, with it, the book of the same name, which Woodard is publishing himself in a limited edition of only a few hundred copies.

“I didn’t expect a reply and in truth I didn’t think I needed one,” Jackson explained. “I just needed to be able to physically send my letter to someone. In my mind, I was writing to Alex to let him know he was heard and to thank him for sharing his amazing talent. But I think, somewhere in my heart, I was also writing, because I needed to be heard.

“When Alex responded that he had gotten my letter and it had connected with him, everything changed for me. The music and lyrics reflected my memories back to me, but since they were only a reflection, it gave me a filter of sorts and allowed me to remember with less sadness.”

Letters from three other people — a young relief worker in earthquake-devastated Haiti, the director of a San Diego homeless shelter and the widow of a slain North County police officer — inspired the album’s other songs. Woodard, 39, wrote five songs on his own and co-wrote the others with Sean and Sara Watkins, Jack Tempchin, Nena Anderson and Switchfoot leader Jon Foreman (who also contributed the song “Unbroken”). Other musicians contributed to the recording of the album.

Woodard and all the artists featured on the album perform two concerts tonight at La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas. The first show sold out several weeks ago and only a few dozen tickets remain for the second. The concerts will feature all of the songs from the album, which includes a bonus cut that Woodard wrote. The focus of the album’s songs on other people also proved inspirational to Woodard’s musical collaborators.

“Working together with friends to tell a story from someone else’s life, with a unified focus, is unique to anything I’ve been a part of before,” Sara Watkins said. “I’m grateful to the people who wrote Alex those letters and shared a bit of their lives with us.”

That gratitude is shared by Jackson, who is flying in from Connecticut to attend tonight’s performances at la Paloma. “These songs tell my story, but — if you listen closely — you can hear yours, too,” Jackson said. “I owe so much to Alex and all the artists involved, they heard me when I most needed to be heard. I honestly don’t know if I can truly describe the feeling that being part of this project has given me, but I can tell you the soundtrack of my life will never be the same.”

For Woodard, the unplanned book and album have provided new insights into life and into the sense of community that music can inspire and nurture. Many of the songs on the album trace their genesis to potluck dinners with other North County musicians, including Foreman and Watkins. After sharing the letters he’d received with them, Woodard began co-writing some of the songs that appear on “FOR THE SENDER” with some of the musicians from the dinners.

“Writing these songs about these letters took me out of where I was (emotionally), which I needed,” he said. “It was no longer my story or voice, it was somebody else’s, which I liked. As these letters came into my world, I’d share them with Jon or whoever was around. We’re a close-knit community.”

So close-knit that Sean Watkins and Jensen flew with Woodard to Connecticut, where the three surprised Jackson — “FOR THE SENDER’s” first letter-writer — by performing the songs she had inspired for her.

“Emily was the genesis of this whole thing,” Woodard said. “She met me in an airport hotel lobby, thinking I was on the road and we were meeting for lunch. Instead, I took her to a room and Sean, Molly and I played for her.”

Woodard even flew to Haiti to sing for the aid worker. “It wasn’t a surprise,” he said. “I let her know I was coming.”
Videos of the performances for each of the four letter-writers can be viewed on the web site Woodard created to document the journeys that resulted in “FOR THE SENDER.” For Woodard, it is a journey that has been cathartic for him as much as for the people who inspired the book and album.

“I haven’t talked with anybody about this, but — to me — it feels like (I’ve found) my life’s work, kind of,” he said. “All the different experiences I’ve had, lessons I’ve learned and skills I’ve developed came together at a point here. This project everything I’d been working on for the past 12-15 years.

“Regardless of what happens — whether one person reads and hears this, or a million — I’ve kind of let my mark, which is ironic, because this project isn’t about me, it’s about other people.”

Switchfoot Plays FOR THE SENDER

FOR THE SENDER is an experiment in courage and empathy. It’s a collaborative effort of some of San Diego’s finest artists, working together to reveal the humanity behind their artistic expression.

Created out of an idea that writing letters is vulnerable and revealing, so much so that many letters are left unsent, and many words, left unsaid. This is an attempt by members of Switchfoot, New Found Glory, Nickel Creek, Jack Tempchin, Molly Jensen, Nena Anderson, and Alex Woodard to perform songs inspired by handwritten letters sent to them. The special performance is entitled FOR THE SENDER, in support of the release in book form. An event celebrating the project is Thursday at the historic La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas and will benefit homeless youth in Oceanside. Proceeds from sales and tours will benefit charities of the various sender’s choosing.

Letters featured on the website are the real-life kind. They’re the kind you’re going to have to sit with, perhaps at times uncomfortably. But there is a real beauty in this art form. All of the letters are candid and brave, revealing loves lost and taken, immeasurable sadness, suffering in impoverished countries and homelessness. In fact, the inspiration for the project was a woman who lost her soulmate and wrote him letters every Autumn. They are beautifully described on the website in a section titled The Autumn. It is through writing these kinds of letters that senders can experience relief, simply because they are able to share their stories. And then you add the power of music, translating that into sounds.

Musician Alex Woodard, the man behind the project, explains on the website that “sometimes a letter is like a prayer, written more for the sender than the receiver. There are unsent letters tucked away in dresser drawers and buried in boxes everywhere, serving as testimony that sometimes it’s enough to just write it down. You might have a letter of your own somewhere that nobody has ever seen.” That sentiment has prompted him to create the book, album and concert series.

This is the first of many events connected to project, which will feature a rotating cast of artists, as well as an early spring release of the music as an audiobook with songs embedded, as well as a DVD of the live event. Get your tickets quick — the original 7p.m. performance sold out, but due to demand, organizers added a 9 p.m. performance.

Nada Alic runs the San Diego-based music blog Friends With Both Arms. Follow her updates on Twitter or contact her directly.