On January 18, 2023, Angel Conrad hosted an amazing event: #SongsForTomorrow, A Benefit Concert to support Children’s Mental Health, and a tribute to Aaron Carter. The benefit raised over $150,000 in support of On Our Sleeves, an organization which strives to bring awareness to Children’s Mental Health.
Lance Bass’ club, Heart WeHo, was a perfect intimate venue to allow people from all over to join together and honor the life of Aaron Carter, who sadly passed in November 2022 at the age of 34.
The line up was a 90’s fangirl’s dream, from members of Backstreet to N’Sync, 98 degrees, LFO, O-Town, Ryan Cabrera, David Archuleta, and B Howard. The throwbacks of songs like Cabrera’s “On the Way Down”, Archuleta’s “Crush”, LFO’s “Girl on TV”, O’Town’s “All of Nothing”, N’Sync’s “Bye, Bye, Bye” and Backstreet’s “Shape of my Heart” and “I Want it That Way” were enough to bring me directly back to the TRL days when I would sit anxiously on the couch waiting to see who Carson Daly would announce in that coveted number 1 song for the day.
Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine I would be at any event that housed all of these incredible performers in one space, hearing all of these songs that were the soundtrack to my childhood. And if I had ever imagined such a thing, I would have assumed it would have been a day filled with nothing but joy.
I’ve sat down to write this review several times. Each time, I come up short.
The bottom line is, there are no words that I can use to truly and accurately capture the emotions that were present in the room on the night of the show in West Hollywood. There aren’t really any phrases I can drum up to explain the heartache and sadness it felt to be attending a celebration for a life gone too soon. And there were not enough kleenex boxes in all of the greater Los Angeles area to capture every tear spilled over hearing Aaron’s twin sister Angel share her grief over a life lost and her hope in finding a new purpose from the tragedy, of seeing video of Aaron himself singing a song about recovery when he was tragically unable to win that batte himself, or hearing Aaron’s older brother Nick sing a song he wrote in honor of his brother about unconditionally loving someone, despite their toxicity in your life. The stories shared about Aaron, as a bubbly child, an energetic teen performer, and then ultimately, a troubled adult, were sobering for many reasons. The frustration from people who clearly loved him, yet couldn’t reach him in time to save his life. All of these things were palatable in the room.
Honestly, I left the event in a state of paradoxical emotions. The sadness and grief were obvious. Any life lost is sad. Aaron was too young, too talented. A father, brother, son, partner…He had too much left to give the world.
There was also a pinch of joy. Seeing familiar faces in the crowd and getting to spend time with friends from all over, some I had just seen who are near and dear to my heart. Others I hadn’t seen in months, or even a year or more, who similarly find ways to fill my heart. And still others who I had never even met in real life, but have connected with through the airwaves of online communities. Even a random N’Sync fan standing just behind me during the show, whom I’d never met or spoken to before, leaning in to console me as she saw my tears during some of the speeches.
Then the most unexpected of emotions: the slight optimism which I felt after seeing so many people in the room there to support children’s Mental Health.
As a school-based mental health worker, this is an area that always tugs at my heart. The continued deterioration of children and adolescent’s mental wellness throughout the COVID-19 closures has left a significant impact on our student’s ability to function and feel safe in the schools. The amount of crises we face related to suicidal ideation and drug abuse daily is astounding. The constant battle mental health practitioner’s face to support our kids is exhausting. And one of the biggest hurdles has been the stigma. It has never been ok to talk about our feelings, especially those that identify as male, in our society. This stigma casts such a dark shadow on so many individuals who are then unable to get the help they need to get better. It’s a perceptual cycle that we are struggling to break every day.
Organizations like On Our Sleeves have helped to improve some of this, but we need so much more. This particular event, however, brought me an ounce of hope, something I have been struggling to find in the world of mental health for some time. Witnessing the amount of love people have for someone who brought so much frustration and pain to many in his life; the awareness that there was help that may have benefitted him, had he chosen to follow through with it. The understanding that we as a community HAVE to do better to support to protect our youth and adults so that we can collectively live a more joyous life. These feelings were also palatable in the room, and intense within me.
And for the first time in a long time, I felt some hope for the future. That hope will continue to drive me as I go further into this journey of supporting mental wellness.
When I think back on this night, I want to remember that feeling of community. A bunch of strangers and acquaintances coming together for a shared purpose: to remember the life of a brilliantly talented, yet sadly troubled man, and to ensure that his death would not be in vain.
I think we did just that.