'It just gives you a joy': Milwaukee Tool Band seeks to make unique music -- and also find a cure for ALS
CASCADE, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Its roots are in business, but over the past decade, the Milwaukee Tool Shed Band has grown in terms of both its size and its reach.
The band hopes that bigger platform will help it also make more of an impact on a cause that's personal for its founder, Timothy Brasher.
Brasher, Milwaukee Tool's vice president of brand marketing, launched the band in 2011. It mainly played shows as a way to entertain clients and customers.
"What better way to demonstrate the strength of your relationships if you're willing to sing in front of them?" Brasher said. "So, that's kind of why we started the band."
Over the years, the band has developed a distinct rhythm. Its membership a hybrid of Milwaukee Tool workers, like Brasher, and full-time musicians.
The band's 'secret weapon' is a Milwaukee Tool Hackzall that's been fitted into a bow, which creates an appropriately ominous sound during the satanic solo of 'The Devil Went Down to Georgia.'
On this scorching August day, the band was preparing to headline a charity event at SoLu Winery, a scenic spread of hills and greenery in the southwest corner of Sheboygan County. The fundraiser aimed to raise $100,000 for ALS research.
While the band has played more than 400 shows over the last 12 years, these fundraiser events are particularly significant. That's because Brasher, himself, has a very personal connection with ALS.
"Got a phone call from my brother who lives out-of-state," Brasher recalled. "And he said, 'hey, I've got some news for you. I'm sick.'"
Brasher said he still vividly recalls the details of the 2018 call with his brother, Philip.
"He said, 'yeah, I hit the lottery.' That was his comment; he hit the lottery," Brasher said. "It's like, there's no getting out of this one, and it was ALS, and I'm like- you go into fighting mode, and it became a point of- sorry."
At that moment, Brasher paused to compose himself.
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or ALS, is a nervous system disease. There's no known cause, other than about 10% of cases are genetic. There's also no cure.
"It is essentially where the brain and the muscles stop communicating," ALS Association Director of Development Ashley Yoder said. "So, people lose the ability to walk, talk, eat, and eventually, breathe."
The average life expectancy for someone diagnosed with ALS is between two and five years. Philip Brasher died in 2021, nearly three years into his battle.
Philip's story inspired the band to start playing ALS fundraisers in 2019. This summer's event drew donations for ALS research.
Brasher said he still questions whether the band is hitting the right note with its fundraising efforts. He had to compose himself as he described being conflicted over where the band should direct the money it raises.
"I don't know if the right thing is just to focus on research or just to focus on raising money to help those that are directly impacted," Brasher said. "What I do know is that doing nothing is not an option."
Yoder said it's all important: research to find treatments, and eventually a cure, as well as helping the approximately 600 people in Wisconsin currently living with an ALS diagnosis.
"We have a long ways to go," Yoder said. "But there's hope."
Yoder said that hope comes in the form of three medicines the Food and Drug Administration has now approved for treating ALS, as well as the clinical trials underway to find more.
Andy Weyker said he hopes to be accepted into those trials. The Appleton resident first noticed symptoms in January 2022.
"If I tried to tap my foot, my left one just wouldn't respond," Weyker recalled. "It was, like, out of sync, and it's like my brain couldn't talk to my left foot."
A loss of feeling turned into a loss of balance.
"Last summer, I fell about 10 times," Weyker said. "I fell down the stairs at American Family Field, out in right field, right down the concrete steps."
After seeing doctors at Froedtert, then the Mayo Clinic, Weyker said he was diagnosed with ALS last November.
Diagnosed with a disease that has no known cause and no known cure, Weyker said he decided he's going to use his time to help find new treatments, even if that means dealing with harsh side effects from clinical trials, should he be accepted.
"I had to sell my financial planning business when I got diagnosed, so I don't work anymore," Weyker said. "So, I thought, in the time I have left, how can I be useful?"
On this night, Weyker was able to sit near the stage and clap along with the concert. In the end, the fundraiser blew past its goal of $100,000, raising a total of more than $120,000.
For Brasher and his bandmates, it's not just about the money; it's also about the message it sends.
"When you help others, it just gives you a joy that will surprise you at times," Brasher said. "Just seeing the smiles on their faces is payment enough."