By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Oct 13, 2023 at 12:26 PM

While Woody Guthrie’s guitar famously took aim at fascists, these guitars are weapons in the fight against epilepsy.

These are the guitars of Grammy Award winners and Rock and Roll Hall of Famers – guitars that have fueled the likes of The Bangles, Belly, Cheap Trick, Garbage, Portugal. The Man, Soul Asylum, and others, and they are pitched in an epic battle of the bands that is just one phase of the ongoing war against epilepsy, a brain disorder that causes seizures.

The event is the annual Joey’s Song benefit concert, taking place at The Sylvee in Madison on Saturday, Jan. 6. Wisconsin comedian Charlie Berens will also make a special appearance at the event.

Tickets are available now and are $39.95. You can order them here, but note that the concert has sold out every year since 2014, so don’t wait to order.

There is also a $350 VIP package that includes a meet and greet with the performers at which you can take selfies and get autographs and special drink and food options in an exclusive VIP section.

Joey Gomoll
Joey Gomoll.

The event honors Joey Gomoll who had a rare, severe form of epilepsy known as Dravet Syndrome, and is the result of passion and hard work on the part of his dad, Mike Gomoll, along with a slew of amazing volunteers.

Joey loved music and could dance and sing in his own way, and when passed a week before his fifth birthday, the Gomoll family channeled their grief into efforts to support epilepsy education and fundraising in support of other families battling this disease.

Since 2010, the non-profit Joey’s Song foundation has helped raise nearly $1 million in that fight.

“One of the best parts of last year’s show was when the bands joined each other on stage to play crowd favorites such as Cheap Trick’s ‘I Want You to Want Me’ and Portugal. The Man’s ‘Feel It Still’,” says Mike Gomoll about the upcoming concert’s new spin.

“So, we’re taking it a step farther this year and the musicians will perform rock ‘n’ roll classics in a battle of the bands.”

At the time of writing, the show’s confirmed performers include members of Against Me!, The Bangles, Belly, Big Star, The Cowsills, Fountains of Wayne, Garbage, Letters To Cleo, Lunachicks, The Minus 5, The Nielsen Trust, Portugal. The Man, The Posies, Silk Sonic , Silversun Pickups, Soul Asylum and ZuZu’s Petals.

"One of the great things about Joey's Song is it's kind of an open palette for us as artists to play our own original songs and interpret them in any number of ways or play crazy covers that we always want to play and never have the opportunity to," says Butch Vig, a member of Garbage and a record producer whose credits include Nirvana's "Nevermind."

"You're sort of off the clock in a way. I tour with Garbage all the time and Joey's Song's a completely different vibe for me. It's really fun."

Vig – who has performed at many of the Joey's Song shows – says that the opportunity to collaborate with other musicians is a draw for him, too.

"I think last year we had about 70 different performers, multiple drummers, multiple singers, guitar players – a lot of people who never would've had the chance to probably meet even, but they get on stage and play together, and they all jump with the chance to do it," he says.

"It becomes a really great bonding experience for everyone, and it's getting bigger every year. We keep asking more people every year. I don't know how Mike manages it, but I look forward to it because it is so much fun. We literally set the whole night together the day before, and then a lot of the things we kind of wing, we don't rehearse everything a lot, so it's kind of crazy. But that is in itself what makes it fun, and I think the audience appreciates that, too. They know they're seeing something special."

When I speak to Vig, he's in the car picking up Silversun Pickups' Brian Aubert.

"What can people expect at Joey's Song," Vig asks.

"Magic," says Aubert. "Magic and danger."

Proceeds from this concert will benefit CURE Epilepsy, selected Epilepsy Foundation affiliates and Wisconsin Badger Camp, which provides summer camp programs for adults and children with special needs.

Of course, a good cause is a draw for performers, too.

"My sister-in-law battles epilepsy and the best man in my wedding battles epilepsy," Vig says, "so it's a cause that's very close to my heart."

OnMilwaukee is a media sponsor of the Joey's Song concert.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He has be heard on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories, in that station's most popular podcast.