I have been out of touch, but you have not been out of my mind.

So…where to begin.

Years ago, I made my first trip out to the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota. On a whim, during a town-wide dinner, I took out my guitar and sang a few songs.

If I had only known.

Many of you have heard this story, and many of you haven’t.

After I finished my songs and went to put my guitar in its case, dozens of pairs of curious hands reached out to strum the strings, feel the frets and hold my pick. I fielded questions about how to write songs, about how I learned to sing, and if I knew Taylor Swift. (I do not.)

I asked and you responded.

In 2011, I recorded a Christmas CD, asked you to buy it, and used the proceeds to buy guitars for folks in town so that they could learn music. I bought 50 guitars and throughout that first summer, had 56 participants of all ages, and at the end of the season when we performed our final concert, I got to give away guitars to everyone who stuck with the program. It was one of the highlights of my musical career.

Through your generous donations, people giving me guitars, or handing me a generous twenty dollar bill, I’ve been able to sustain music camp, and last night we had our fourth annual, LaPlant Music Camp Concert. 

Thanks to people like you, and thanks to Fender, I was able to give out another round of guitars to our next generation of music makers.

As it’s been every year, it was amazing.

The kids were proud. So proud so show off what they’d learned. So proud to have their friends and town cheering for them. So proud to know that I, and all of our Simply Smiles family are proud of them.

And then - in the final moments of the concert, after the encore finale (which included a group performance of “Smoke on the Water”) I got to make an amazing announcement.

I announced that the brand new, shiny guitars were theirs to keep. And with tears in my eyes, I looked back at their innocent and joyful faces, which held expressions that I only wish I could truly describe.

This may seem like melodrama, but I know that nights like last night can save lives.

These kids live in an environment where suicide is considered an option, and is mentioned often and casually.

All of the kids that participated in last night’s concert have lost a relative, a friend or a classmate…in a completely preventable form of death.

About a month ago, many of these kids lost one of their friends to suicide. Her name was Jessica.

According to all, she was funny, pretty, smart, good at sports, and kind-hearted.

Her death set off a chain reaction in this town. Suicide threats. Attempts. Self-harming behavior.

It has been a rough summer. 

I’ve learned more than I had ever hoped I’d need to know about suicide prevention, about the mental health system, and about how to navigate protecting minors that you care for, but have no legal authority to protect.

It’s enough to break your heart.

So nights where kids sing, ‘This Little Light of Mine’, and ‘Keep Hope Alive’, shouting their own truth with all of the power in their lungs and hearts…these nights save lives.

And these kids are worth saving.

And that’s what I’m doing. And that’s what I will do.

And so this brings me to some news.

I have an opportunity for them.

My friend, Peter Yarrow, the legend of a folk singer, has asked me and my music camp kids to come and sing with him for the grand finale at the Unity Concert in the Black Hills.

Singing on stage with Peter has been one of the highlights of my career, and I’ve had the good fortune of doing it many times.

I want these kids to share that same swell of pride. I want to see their chests puff up, and smiles spread across their cheeks as an audience of thousands cheers for them.

I announced this to the kids yesterday. We started learning ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’ today. These kids are so ready to show the world what they’ve got.

They’re ready to show the world that they will not fall victim to hopelessness.

We will keep hope alive

Thank you for always supporting me.

Thank you for always supporting these kids.