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Free concert in Heyworth to spread local veterans' stories through song

Man wearing a hat standing in front of a red wall
Melissa Ellin
Mark Buchholz is a veteran from Bloomington who's participating in an upcoming concert in Heyworth that will showcase songs about local veterans. One of the songs will be about him.

Heyworth is having a concert to showcase veterans' stories through music on June 19, but they won't be able to tell you what's being played.

That's because the songs are being written only hours beforehand.

It may sound unorthodox, but for Freedom Sings USA, which is organizing the event, it’s the norm. Its songwriters are dedicated to taking a veteran’s words and creating art — even if it’s on a deadline — and five are traveling from Tennessee to Heyworth to do so with locals.

“They're not bragging, they're not confessing. They're just telling the story.”
Songwriter Don Goodman

They’ll have less than 24 hours to get four veterans’ songs written [one veteran's song has been done in advance since he can’t make it Wednesday].

Sue Lichty, who organized the concert, said songwriters and veterans are going to meet the morning of June 19, and the songs will be ready when the concert begins at 7 p.m. She’s excited to hear the final products.

“I got to sit in on one of their sessions, and I was just awestruck at what they can do, how they can bring out the information from the veteran, and put down their thoughts, you know, and make it into a song, something that they can share with other people,” she said of the songwriters.

Experiencing the songwriters in action also is what inspired Lichty to bring a Freedom Sings concert to Heyworth.

A local veteran participating

Bloomington resident and veteran Mark Buchholz joined the U.S. Army as soon as he graduated from high school. He told WGLT he spent time in Desert Storm, and since then, he’s had physical and mental health issues.

He’s been fighting a substance use disorder for 26 years, and hopes that all this makes it into his song.

“I do suffer from PTSD [Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder], and I hope they concentrate on that to see why mental health and veterans is a very important subject that needs to be looked at and taken care of more,” he explained.

Raising awareness about veterans is why Buchholz is participating. He said he wants people to know what it's like.

“We're not this cold, old, grumpy, irritated old man, get off my lawn type of guy,” he said. “I mean, we are like that, but there's a reason we're like that, and I really wish people would get to know the people that we really are.”

Songwriting process

Tennessee-based songwriter Don Goodman has been writing music for most of his life and co-founded Freedom Sings. He’s lyricized dozens of veterans' stories, and soon, he’ll be coming to Heyworth to do the same.

He spoke about his process, which starts with simple questions.

“Where were you born?... What'd your dad do for a living? Did you play sports in school? What was your first girlfriend's name?” are all questions he might ask a veteran to get the conversation going, he said.

Respect and comfortability are necessary, Goodman added, to encourage them to open up. It’s after those softer questions that he’ll start to get into their military life.

“I think it frees them,” he said. “They're not bragging, they're not confessing. They're just telling the story.”

Goodman said he sees Freedom Sings as a means of “chronicling history.”

“You’re there with someone who was in Vietnam,” he said. “They spent the night in the jungle, and if I do a really good job of writing that song, you’re going to feel like you spent a night in a jungle.”


The songs Freedom Sings produces are meant to have someone hear them, Goodman said.

By the veterans, because they might be able to find comfort in them, but also by the public, who can learn from them.

The best compliment Goodman ever got, he said, was when a veteran told him he’d listened to the songwriter’s song about 50 times.

To which Goodman replied, "What do you think?"

The veteran responded, "I think you listened."

Buchholz said his hope for the concert is that the community will do the same — "look and listen." Outside the concert, he wants people to support veterans, even if it’s just a “good morning.”

“That's what I could ask for and not beg or plead for, but just be there for the person when they have their bad moments,” he said.

Lichty hopes this will be only the first Freedom Sings concert in Heyworth, but there aren’t any plans for a follow-up yet. She also hopes the community is interested in making Freedom Sings more present across Illinois so more Central Illinois veterans can have the opportunity to have their stories made into song.

The concert starts at 7 p.m. June 19 and is free to attend. It’ll be at American Legion Post 624, located at 205 E. Main St. in Heyworth.

We depend on your support to keep telling stories like this one. WGLT’s mental health coverage is made possible in part by Report For America and Chestnut Health Systems. Please take a moment to donate now and add your financial support to fully fund this growing coverage area so we can continue to serve the community.

Melissa Ellin is a reporter at WGLT and a Report for America corps member, focused on mental health coverage.