SPANISH FORK — As a gifted and dedicated musician, Wes Buckner loved to write and perform his own compositions on the piano.
“He loved to perform and he loved being on stage. That’s where he felt the best,” explained Wes’ mother, Mary Buckner in a recent interview with the Deseret News.
Wes’ love of performing is what inspired Buckner, along with her friend Amberly Asay, to start the J. Wesley Foundation following Wes’ suicide in 2015, at the age of 14.
A few months after Wes’ passing, Buckner said she was looking for a way to honor her son’s legacy, and after speaking to Asay, they decided to form a foundation focused on providing support for young musicians with limited resources and helped raise awareness for teen mental health.
“I know how much the piano meant to (Wes). It was like his arm, it was a part of him,” Buckner said. “Because (Wes) suffered from depression and anxiety, the piano just brought him so much peace and comfort. Ultimately, he lost the battle to the depression and anxiety, but the piano was such a part of how he released emotion and dealt with life.”
Recognizing the comfort that music gave Wes and the resource for coping that performing provided for him, Buckner said she felt the need to help others who were perhaps in struggling as Wes did.
Since the foundation was started just under three years ago, it has raised enough money to give away five pianos and one college scholarship to young people from the Utah, Idaho and Texas. And as Asay explained, they have already been able to see their donations bless the lives of the recipients in many ways.
“We had a past recipient reach out just this week … and they just related to us how much peace and comfort their piano is to them and how it’s helping them be able to cope with difficulties they’re going through,” Asay said.
Their goal for this year is to raise enough money to give away one piano and one college scholarship, a goal they hope to reach through the proceeds of their upcoming benefit concert on Monday, March 12.
With guest artist Foreign Figures slated to perform a full set, including a special tribute piece to Wes, Asay and Buckner said they hope this year’s concert will be the biggest yet.
Although the previous concerts have featured classical pianists as guest artists, the organizers explained that the indie-pop band fit surprisingly well with Wes’ legacy as well as the foundation’s mission.
It was the video for Foreign Figures' song “Hey Love,” which the band wrote as a tribute to their friend Landon Lowry who took his own life last year, that caught Asay and Buckner’s attention.
Asay explained that both she and Buckner connected with the song because it focuses on many of the same issues they are hoping to address through the work of the foundation. Additionally, Foreign Figures works regularly with the nonprofit Stand4Kind, a sponsor for the concert that focuses in working with schools to promote messages of kindness and anti-bullying, so both Buckner and Asay felt the band would be a perfect fit.
“I’m very passionate about helping people realize their self-worth,” said Foreign Figures lead singer Eric Michels. “As the lyricist of the band, I just like to speak on very vulnerable and honest messages.”
And while not all of their songs have strong messages of self-worth or kindness, Michels explained that the band believes in promoting kindness — which is one of the reasons they perform with Stand4Kind in school assemblies all over the state.
“We like to think that being kind is actually cool,” Michels said.
In the upcoming benefit concert, Michels will perform a tribute to Wes. To prepare, he has learned and recorded a song that Wes wrote, which, he said, has allowed him to feel a unique connection to the young musician.
Quoting a lyric in Wes’ song, Michels said, “He says, ‘I hope that someday you will see all that I can be,’ and it just breaks my heart to think that this talented person that had an amazing, bright future ahead of him was kind of stuck in a way and lost. Yet in that song, you can tell he had a good heart and that he wanted to break free from his depression and anxiety. But I think, in a way, even though we have lost Wes, his music is kind of carrying on his legacy, and I can feel that by learning his song and playing it.”
Michels explained that for him, music is something that has helped him through dark times as well, and that it continues to be something that helps him wake up with a sense of purpose each day.
“It makes me want to keep living through anything hard that I’m going through,” Michels said. “And I think they’re trying to give that to another person.”
If you go …
What: J. Wesley Foundation Benefit Concert
When: Monday, March 12, 7 p.m.
Where: Maple Mountain High School, 51 N. 2500 East, Spanish Fork
How much: $10 for adults, $5 for student