The third annual Gleason Fest in downtown Spokane on Saturday may have been a block party with music, food and beer, but it was a block party with a purpose.
The event was started by the family of Steve Gleason as a way to have fun and raise money to help those with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Gleason, an alumnus of Gonzaga Prep and Washington State University, was diagnosed with the progressive disease in 2011 after an eight-year football career with the New Orleans Saints.
“When my brother got sick, we were thinking about the things we love in life, one of which is music,” said his brother, Kyle Gleason. “Let’s throw a party we would want to go to.”
In addition to raising awareness of ALS, the event is also a thank-you to the community of Spokane for its support of his brother, Kyle Gleason said.
There was a new feature at this year’s Gleason Fest – an entire pallet of ice for those who wanted to take the Ice Bucket Challenge. The challenge has been sweeping the nation, with people making donations to the ALS Association after buckets of ice water are dumped over their head.
Kyle Gleason said he’s pleased to see the increased awareness of the deadly disease, which has no cure.
“It’s just so ubiquitous right now,” he said of the Ice Bucket Challenge. “It just does so many good things in terms of raising awareness of the disease.”
A stage was set up in the middle of Main Street just east of Division for a lineup of bands that included The Rustics, Hey! Is for Horses and Old Man Canyon. Sod was placed on the pavement to provide a place for people to lounge while listening to music or eating food from the nearby food trucks.
The headliner of the event was Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real. Nelson is the son of legendary musician Willie Nelson. “He’s been groomed by his father to be an amazing frontman,” Kyle Gleason said.
Not everyone at Saturday’s event knew Gleason, but they were happy to support the ALS cause while listening to music. Arlene Downie, in town visiting relatives, said she and her husband just happened to be across the street when the music began to play.
“We’re big music fans,” she said. “We travel around a lot and go to different music festivals.”
Steve Gleason made an appearance at Gleason Fest, though getting around is difficult for him. He is dependent on a feeding tube and ventilator. He uses his eyes to communicate using computer software.
“It takes a lot of courage every day,” Kyle Gleason said. “He uses more courage in a single day than most people do in their entire life.”