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.

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