Joey’s Song is for Champions

Features 21 Dec 2021

Joey’s Song is for Champions

All five CD compilations produced by Joey’s Song have sold out all physical copies. However, digital versions are still available and can be purchased here.

The next Joey’s Song extravaganza will take place at the Sylvee on January 8th, 2022. More details and tickets can be found here.

Joey’s Song online auction is open now.

Donations to Joey’s Song can be made here.

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If you look at the document that details the history of Joey’s Song it gives credit to the sponsors, donors, artists, collaborators, etc. that are responsible for the nonprofit organization’s growth since its inception in 2010. While all of this is most certainly true, Joey’s Song remains the result of the tirelessly sincere efforts of Michael Gomoll with a supporting cast that is as impressive as it is extensive.

By now, anyone familiar with Joey’s Song knows the impetus for it. Gomoll’s son Joey, having a rare form of Epilepsy called Dravet Syndrome passed away in 2010 just before his fifth birthday. Joey was nonverbal but his love of, and response to, music brought special meaning to him and his family. Even a few years before Joey’s passing there were thoughts as to what action could be taken to lend support to research for the cure as well as aiding families and patients.

The Roots

Great things can happen when a person’s work and life experiences become central to a completely new endeavor. One might say it’s a calling but Gomoll doesn’t characterize it in that way. “I’ve never thought of this as a calling or something I was destined to do,” says Gomoll. “I never thought it would go this long or become what it has. To me, it’s a responsibility I have to other families who are going through this.” Even a short amount of time around Gomoll reveals his passion and his commitment to this effort.

Hearing him speak in the countless audio and video bites that have accumulated over the years exposes his ability to speak publicly in a confident, informed radio-friendly voice. When he talks about all of the artists who have contributed to the effort over the years, his knowledge of them is equally impressive. None of this is by accident.

Gomoll’s musical roots are deep. He worked with the Church Key and with Madison’s renowned club Headliner’s (now occupied by Liquid Lounge and other businesses) as a VJ but also helping out in the front office with promotion.  Ask anyone about Headliner’s who was there in the day and you’re likely to be regaled with tales of Madison music’s golden age. Not only did they propel local bands to heights they never would have obtained otherwise, Headliner’s hosted regional, national and even international groups, many of whom would become stars and some who would become superstars.

“Sitting across the desk from Shane (Todd) and hearing him negotiate, not only with locals but with these touring acts taught me a lot about the music business,” says Gomoll. It also offered him the opportunity to make connections.

In the 90’s Gomoll moved on to Chicago where he worked in computer systems, first with a local company providing disaster recovery options, then with IBM. This is where his public speaking and presentation skills were honed. In this marketing and presentation capacity he made trips to London where he befriended the band Del Amirti.

Mike Gomoll

The Seeds

A few months after Joey had passed in 2010, the seeds of Joey’s Song were being sown. Gomoll’s original idea of producing compilation CDs might seem rather modest in hindsight but the complicated mechanics of doing so are not quite as apparent. “The effort that goes into getting the tracks is quite time consuming,” Gomoll says. “You have to get the go-ahead from the songwriters, the band, the publishing and the record label.”  Gomoll thought of the artists he liked and whom he felt were underappreciated. He made the gutsy calls, asking for B-sides, demos, alternate versions, anything to help promote the cause. All of these factors were compounded by the fact that there was not one CD in the offing but two; one being a children’s collection.  The first pair of CDs were released with a plethora of indie firepower: Del Amitri, Neko Case, Ed Harcourt, Crash Test Dummies, Cowboy Junkies and that’s just naming a few.

Around this same time, and back in Madison, Gomoll became friends with Freedy Johnson, also living in Madison. Now Gomoll had an advocate who could really help him reach out to the artists he respected and bring real cred to the effort.

Another pair of CDs was released the following year and then a country music release followed. All of these releases were followed with live music release events. The first two were in Chicago. In January 2011 the lineup was Freedy Johnson, Michael McDermott and Ralph Covert. In September of 2012 the lineup was Freedy Johnson, Robbie Fulks and Sam Llanas. In 2013 the live event moved to Madison’s High Noon Saloon with Rhett Miller, Miles Nielsen and Wynn Taylor performing.

There were a few things at play that changed the course of the Joey’s song organization. CD sales were tanking. The live show events were bringing in more money for the cause and a shift was in the wind. A new group in Madison was also formed, the Know-It-All Boyfriends which included Gomoll’s friend Freedy Johnson, Garbage members Duke Erikson and Butch Vig and a host of notable Madison locals like Jay Moran and James Cowan. This led to another significant event when Johnson invited Gomoll to the Pandemonium gig at the Mallard’s stadium in Warner Park in August of 2012, a major event featuring Garbage, the Flaming Lips and the Dum Dum Girls. This is where Gomoll met Vig and made his case for Vig to help out with Joey’s Song. Vig agreed. The next High Noon Saloon event in September 2014 featured the Know-It-All Boyfriends and another Madison legend, the recently re-formed Chaser.

Gomoll excels at promotion and having such recognizable celebrities like Vig, Johnson and Erikson making video spots is a big help. Big Dreamers United has lent a hand in many of these promotions, produced by the ever-expanding heart of John Urban. Some of these are quite entertaining.

Growth

Joey’s Song (officially the Joseph Gomoll Foundation) is an all-volunteer nonprofit organization. There is a Board of Directors and all are unpaid. These volunteers are acquaintances and even neighbors that Gomoll has known over the years. The participating artists have donated their performances and lent their songs for use in fundraising. Generous sponsors provide funding and assistance. The expenses are extremely low allowing for nearly all of the monies raised to be granted to organizations working on Epilepsy research. There are fundraising efforts that Joey’s Song carries out and the monies for some of these go directly to the research organizations. There are auctions and merchandise sales which include CD sales. Joey’s Song has partnered with Gio’s Garden and this has broadened the research grants.

But it’s the caliber of performers that have truly vaulted Joey’s Song to success. Here Freedy Johnson has been instrumental and has also appeared in every live event save one.

Here is a rundown of the performers who have appeared at Joey’s Song events:

Jan 2011:             Freedy Johnston, Michael McDermott, Ralph Covert

Sept 2012:           Freedy Johnston, Robbie Fulks, Sam Llanas

Sept 2013:           Rhett Miller, Miles Nielsen, Wynn Taylor

Sept 2014:           The KIAB, Chaser

2015:                    Two non-concert events

Dec 2016:            The KIAB, Stop The Clock, Kelly Hogan, Cory Chisel, Dave Schelzel

Dec 2017:            KIAB, Chaser, Mascot Theory, Spooner, Elektro Luv Kit, Dan Navarro, Cory Chisel

Dec 2019:            KIAB, Chaser, The And, The Cheeters, Kyle Henderson, Brian Ray, Miguel Cervantes, Chris Collingwood, Miles Nielsen, Trapper Schoepp

Sept 2020

(Remote):            KIAB, Jewel, Glen Phillips (Toad The Wet Sprocket), Brian Aubert (Silversun Pickups), Laura Jane Grace (Against Me!), Marshall Crenshaw, Justin Currie (Del Amitri),Jesse Malin, Scott McCaughey (Minus 5), Ken Stringfellow (Posies), Zach Williams (Lone Bellow)

Jan 2022:             The KIAB, Rick Nielsen & Daxx Nielsen (Cheap Trick), Dave Pirner (Soul Asylum), Jody Stephens (Big Star), Tanya Donelly & Gail Greenwood (Belly), Chris Collingwood (Fountains of Wayne), Laura Jane Grace (Against Me!), Miles Nielsen & Kelly Steward (The Rusted Hearts), Kay Hanley (Letters to Cleo), Cory Chisel, Sam Gomoll and more. With special appearances by Charlie Berens (Manitowoc Minute) and Joel Hodgson (Mystery Science Theater 3000)

The Fruits

Since 2010, Joey’s Song has participated in raising significant amounts. The numbers below are taken from the Annual Report that includes 2019.

JOEY’S SONG
COMMUNITY GRANTS
Cumulative
2011$      33,650$    33,650
2012$      23,750$    57,400
2013$      86,150$  109,900
2014$    122,750$  208,900
2015$    167,850$  290,600
2016$    130,740$  298,590
2017$    199,350$  330,090
2018$    140,240$  339,590
2019$    280,401$  420,641

In 2020, the pandemic forced a virtual event. Despite that, another $65,000 was raised.

Gomoll chalks up the willingness of people to get involved with Joey’s Song to two things: The hearts and souls of the musical artists, sponsors and donors; and the fact that epilepsy affects one in 29 people. “If it hasn’t affected them close to home, it’s affected someone they know,” says Gomoll. “A friend, a cousin, an in-law….” In 2019, for instance, Miguel Cervantes, best known for originating the role of Alexander Hamilton in the Chicago production of Hamilton, appeared after losing his four-year-old daughter to epilepsy a mere eight weeks prior. He played a song he wrote for her in a heartbreaking performance while somehow maintaining his composure.

But surely another factor is Gomoll himself. His effort is inspiring and his ability to pull all of this together is simply a monumental achievement. Gomoll is 60 and is retired. How long he’ll be able to lead Joey’s Song is a valid consideration. Finding another Gomoll would be difficult to say the least. In the meantime however, the number of people he’s surely been able to help must be exponential.

That makes him a champion.

But there are also all of the families that are struggling with a similar situation: a pediatric patient and family member afflicted with epilepsy. These people, too, are champions. As Gomoll as noted numerous times, you can’t plan any family outings when that fear of a seizure looms. You can’t plan anything. The heroics become everyday events.

As stated at the beginning of this story, Gomoll would be the first to point out all the performers, sponsors and help he has had in this effort. But deep down, something says that Gomoll’s true champion is Joey’s Song’s namesake, the son to whom he has paid such loving tribute.

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About the author

Rick Tvedt

Rick is publisher of Local Sounds Magazine, formerly Rick's Cafe, Wisconsin's Regional Music Newspaper. He is also the Executive Director for MAMA, Inc., a non-profit organization that produces the Madison Area Music Awards and raises funds to promote youth music programs.

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