No matter how many times the healing power of music is lauded, it sometimes takes a night of pure joy and expression to drive the world’s darkness into a corner. Like Joey’s Song at the Barrymore Theater last night (December 6, 2019), a superb evening of talent and generosity. Joey’s Song, founded by Madison’s Mike Gomoll, is an all-volunteer nonprofit organized to fight epilepsy by funding research. It has a tragic origin, as many of these things do. Gomoll lost his son Joey to epilepsy and his efforts are a reflection of his abilities as a promoter (he was involved with Madison’s legendary Headliners club) but his positivity and a drive to make a difference. Last night Gomoll and company made a difference to the tune of over $75,000.
This event had some major-league stars, some of whom originate from Madison, but it was the locals – the organizers, the volunteers – that truly inspired.
I was fortunate to be asked to be a part of Joey’s Song this time and the people I talked to throughout the day and evening reinvigorated me. Maybe it was just a hug of congratulations, maybe it was a conversation about the guitars (wow there were a lot of cool guitars!) or maybe it was a deeper discussion about the passions that drive us but underneath it all was pure, untarnished compassion. Truly a beautiful thing. The ready area in the lower level of the theater was a sea of people most all of the day but amidst the chaos there was no doubt about the underlying spirit; it was like one large organism of individuals united in unspoken purpose.
There was an abundance of catering dotingly attended to by volunteers which was brought in (I heard Gomoll’s mother made the several crockpots of sandwich fixings). There wasn’t a rock left unturned by Gomoll who kept the event running like a clock along with Roy Elkins who wrangled everyone into position at the anointed time. There was Greg Ginter (Ginter Guitars) who stood in the wings taking care of everyone’s axes and manning the changeovers. But it was Jay Moran who left in indelible impression on me. As the de facto musical director for the Know it All Boyfriends, the task of assembling these diverse musicians – some of whom were very late adds to the program – his task was herculean. Anyone who has attempted an undertaking of this kind knows the stress this can bring. Yet he looked calm as the evening waters while playing guitar with almost every single act in the second and third sets.
Chaser opened the show and graciously provided the backline for our group, the And while accompanying guest slots by the Cheeters, and Kyle Henderson. The Cheeters’ guitarist Tom Cobb put out more heroic efforts, filling in on short notice for Mike Ripp with Chaser, playing some sensational guitar in the Cheeters’ three-song set and backing up Kyle Henderson who wowed the crowd with his vocal talents on the Producers’ hits “What’s She Got” and “She Sheila.”
After a short video presentation providing background on the charity and the reason everyone in the sold-out Barrymore was there, Gomoll’s son Sam came on. His first time playing in front of a real audience, he was accompanied by Freedy Johnston on John Lennon’s “Beautiful Boy,” a moving and fitting tribute to his brother Joey. He also played with Brian Ray (guitarist with Paul McCartney) and members of the KIAB to play the Beatles’ “Don’t Let Me Down.” What a way to inaugurate a performing career!
Chris Collingwood (Fountains of Wayne) upped the cool factor considerably, tossing the Byrds into his set. A vibrant and heartbreaking section from the lead in Chicago’s production Hamilton, Miguel Cervantes was a definite highlight, opening with smash from the musical, “My Shot” on just an acoustic guitar. Cervantes lost his four-year-old daughter to epilepsy a mere eight weeks ago, just before the Chicago musical production began. It was clear he hadn’t been afforded enough opportunity to grieve. He played a moving tribute to her with a song he wrote, a performance that must have been incredibly difficult. He then ended on another high-note, bringing out around sixteen teenage women to join in on a modified version of the Jackson Five’s “I Want You Back.” As joyous as that was, there was an added poignancy.
Brian Ray’s set was sensational. Not just because he’s Brian Ray but because the backing local musicians were on fire at this point. The Phat Phunktion horn section added extra punch. It would go unnoticed to the casual onlooker just what goes into pulling this off; a late-add to the show, the band had to learn the parts of course, but only had a short run-through in the afternoon with bumps that needed to be smoothed out. The same was true for Collinwood’s set. Both came off flawlessly from the audience and here is where the professionalism really stood out.
The Know it All Boyfriends took it from there. Featuring Butch Vig and Duke Erikson from Garbage along with Freedy Johnston, Wally Ingram and a host of other players, they ran through a fun set of covers with Dave Benton joining in on a Spooner flashback.
Yes, it was really cool to meet and talk to all the musicians and to talk to Joey’s Song Executive Director Kevin Baird. And it was a true honor and a privilege to be involved and to play a couple of songs with my brothers in the And for the first time in thirty years. We all have our stories and as Baird says it’s usually no more than three people removed as they are talking to folks about Joey’s Song. I lost a cousin to Epilepsy and a brother to ALS and throughout I thought about everyone’s stories, some of which were shared, many of which were not. None of us gets through life without loss. But it was the effort that brought this all together – from the Barrymore and its staff to Moran and Gomoll and to Butch Vig, who refuses to let Joey’s Song languish, committing himself to its effort and to ensuring the lineup totally rocked, which it did. I’ve never heard the KIABs and the backing musicians sound better. This gives me an overwhelming sense of pride in the talent level of our great city but also in the humanity of it. There is hope.