Ten years ago, 19-year-old Renee Yohe was just another addict struggling with her pain. As fate would have it, a journalist, Jamie Tworkowski, caught wind of her plight and offered his support. That encounter would eventually pave the way for the Florida-based nonprofit To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA). In a decade, the organization has offered help to nearly 200,000 people and raised more than $1 million towards counseling and professional solace for those battling depression, self-injury, suicide and more.
Earlier this month at Orlando’s House of Blues at Disney Springs, a sold-out crowd helped fete TWLOHA and its founder Jamie Tworkowski as part of its 10th anniversary Heavy and Light celebration. With a headlining set by Jon Foreman of Switchfoot and support from Arizona’s The Summer Set, Nashville’s Matt Wertz and Renee Yohe herself, the event proved to be a rousing success.
The evening opened with New York-based spoken word poet Tonya Ingram who wowed the crowd with “An Open Letter To My Depression,” and “Unsolicited Advice,” each of them a verbal blitzkrieg that perfectly matched the tenor of the night. After a brief introduction from Tworkowski, Yohe took the stage. Performing only “Saudade” and “Crazy Fishes,” her appearance became more of a testimony to why TWLOHA exists today and less of a concert. Confident, comfortable and eternally grateful, Yohe’s appearance did more and said more than most, if not all, of the performers and speakers who graced the stage by night’s end. And yet one couldn’t help but feel disappointed that Yohe only played two songs.
After brief speeches by counselors Aaron and Michelle Moore of Solace Counseling, Nashville singer-songwriter Wertz took the stage. Wading in the introspective acoustic waters akin to John Mayer circa 2002, his set was strong if not a little predictable. His most personal moment came before introducing set closer “I Will Not Take My Love Away,” a song he said he wrote from God’s perspective, one written as an attempt to illustrate his belief in a higher power. In an event carrying so much emotional heft, the tender moment was both welcome and inspiring.
Spoken word poet Sierra DeMulder appeared next but none of her repertoire deviated from her appearance at TWLOHA’s Heavy and Light celebration in Orlando last year. While her words and cadence were solid, it was frustrating to hear DeMulder offer no new material. That feeling of being underwhelmed unfortunately did not dissipate. Arizona’s The Summer Set took the stage next and did nothing different from Wertz. Their entire set was light, bubbly and sun-kissed, if not a little boring. Frontman Brian Dales shared a brief glimpse into the mind of the band when he referenced that their new album was originally written as a farewell album, before the band realized how much they enjoyed making music together. Though the sentiment was a bit gooey, it was a perfect parallel for an event whose main focus is to encourage people to soldier on despite the peaks and valleys.
Arguably the most surprising moment of the night came from event organizer and TWLOHA founder Tworkowski who said that a bout of melancholy the last few weeks had him questioning whether or not he’d even attend the 10th anniversary celebration. Tworkowski noted that a phone call from Jon Foreman of Switchfoot helped bring him some much needed clarity. That small glimpse helped accentuate a sterling, if not condensed, set from Foreman. Opening with the riveting albeit dark “Terminal,” there was little about the set that was forgettable. Even on ubiquitous anthem “I Dare You To Move,” Foreman had a tangible energy that reverberated through the sold-out crowd. Anchored by Keith Tutt’s inspired cello and Foreman’s inherent love of entertaining, the set was a friendly reminder than more than two decades into his career, Foreman is not one for mailing it in.
As an event, TWLOHA’s 10th anniversary celebration was designed to present songs, conversation and messages of hope. Aside from the sets by Yohe and Foreman, most of the songs were forgettable. But it was those poignant moments from Yohe, Tworkowski and Ingram that kept the night anchored and indelible. And it is the hope that those testimonies live large in the weeks and months to come. After all, that is exactly why To Write Love on Her Arms was founded.