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Gleason Fest: A Q-and-A with the festival’s namesake, Steve Gleason

Since 2013, Steve Gleason’s hometown of Spokane has been home to Gleason Fest, and indie rock festival that seeks to entertain and raise awareness about amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and other neuromuscular diseases. Gleason, a former NFL player who was diagnosed with ALS in 2011, has attended every Gleason Fest, including the 2017 edition. (Myk Crawford / Team Gleason)
Since 2013, Steve Gleason’s hometown of Spokane has been home to Gleason Fest, and indie rock festival that seeks to entertain and raise awareness about amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and other neuromuscular diseases. Gleason, a former NFL player who was diagnosed with ALS in 2011, has attended every Gleason Fest, including the 2017 edition. (Myk Crawford / Team Gleason)

In 2012, just a year after former NFL player and Gonzaga Prep standout Steve Gleason was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Gleason could be found in his hometown of Spokane, attending a music festival dubbed Gleason Gras West and listening to bands such as B Radicals, Hey Marseilles and Hey! is for Horses.

A year later, the festivities moved to a parking lot at Main and Division and gained a new name: Gleason Fest. The new festival with a two-pronged goal: to provide an entertaining day of music as well as to raise awareness and funds in support of those with ALS and other neuromuscular diseases. Since then, Gleason Fest has welcomed Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real, Nahko and Medicine for the People, Grouplove, Portugal. The Man and regional favorites Pickwick, Mama Doll, the Rustics and Lavoy.

Oh, and in 2016, the festival moved from that parking lot downtown to the the Lilac Bowl stage in Riverfront Park. This year, that stage will host indie darlings Joseph and Blind Pilot, as well as the Shook Twins, who now live in Portland but hail from Sandpoint, Seattle’s Deep Sea Diver and the Cincinnati rock trio Electric Son.

In an email interview, Gleason talked about the festival’s impetus, what he loves about it and talks about a big change coming for him and his wife, Michel, and son Rivers

Q: Where did the idea for a music festival come from?

A: My brother, Kyle, hatched the idea to have a music festival in Spokane. I loved the idea, so we teamed up with John Blakesley, who was producing some events and festivals in the area. Essentially, our goal was to have a family friendly party, with indie and alternative music, and hang out with the people of Spokane.

Q: Your love of music is well established. Do you see it as a natural fit to mix music with education and activism?

A: When I was diagnosed with ALS, I told our family and friends that I wanted to continue doing the things I love, with the people I love. Gleason Fest is a great example of how, with the help from family and friends, we’ve been able to keep doing things we love.

Q: How much of a role do you play in selecting the lineup.

A. That is mostly my brother’s arena. He’s the engine behind the booking. He’s developed relationships with managers, bands and agents. He’ll send me some ideas for bands, and we’ll go back and forth on what we think. He’s done great work over the past several years.

Q: Obviously, the festival has a two-pronged mission to be a fun time and be educational when it comes to ALS awareness. Are you satisfied with how that mission is progressing?

A: In my opinion, the best way to raise awareness, or be an activist, is to do epic things you love, with such passion, that people can’t help but notice and get involved. I feel like that aspect of our mission going quite well.

Q: You’ve been to all of them. Is there a favorite memory that sticks out?

A: I love that we moved the venue to Riverfront Park. That is a jewel in Spokane, so the past couple years have really stood out to me, from an emotional and visual perspective. Our Team Gleason NW crew, led by Rian Emmerson, has done a fantastic job with the logistics of that.

Q: Finally, congratulations on your and Michel’s big news: A baby girl in October! I can’t help but think of the post you have pinned on your Twitter page: “Today marks the six year anniversary of my ALS diagnosis, and I love my life. I feel purposeful and fulfilled with where I am. I’m excited about what is ahead.” Was this feeling part of what made you both to decide to have another child?

A: I definitely think that Michel and I feel like we have less chaos in our lives, compared to say four or five years ago. That is not to say that our lives are easy, or that we feel completely comfortable with the decision, but I don’t think any reasonable couple feels 100 percent comfortable with making such an important decision. I certainly feel purpose and meaning in my life, and part of that feeling is the result of being engaged and influential as a father.


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