Asked where he got the inspiration for what has become one of the most successful amputee fundraisers on the planet, Billy Brimblecom harks back to a benefit concert five winters ago. The stage was packed, the audience was standing, and he was leading the crowd in a rendition of Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” while bawling his eyes out.
“It’s the end of the show, so everybody comes out on stage,” says Brimblecom, a 44-year-old drummer who lost his left leg to cancer in 2005. “It’s two nights before Christmas. I know and love everyone who’s up there with me. We’re playing this music that everybody in the room knows the words to. And it’s all for the common good—it’s all to help other people. It was just so beautiful.”
That event raised several thousand dollars for Brimblecom’s nonprofit, the Steps of Faith Foundation, and it got him thinking: What if he could bottle the magic of that “Tiny Dancer” moment and scale it up?
He could, and he did. The result is ThunderGong!, a star-studded music and comedy bash that rakes in six-figure sums every November. Since the inaugural show in 2017, ThunderGong! has raised more than $1 million for Steps of Faith, which helps amputees afford prosthetic limbs and other adaptive technology. Hosted by Ted Lasso star Jason Sudeikis (one of Brimblecom’s old improv buddies), the event draws the sort of talent that headlines arena tours and piles up Emmy and Grammy awards. Last year’s show featured Foo Fighters, Will Forte, Lyle Lovett, Wynonna Judd, Brandi Carlisle, Fastball, and Blake Shelton, all of whom helped ThunderGong! reach audiences who might otherwise never learn about limb difference.
Why, we asked Brimblecom, do so many big acts want to be part of this?
“The special sauce is that we’re doing something that’s authentic,” he says. “It’s friends coming together with friends to make music and do some comedy, and it feels homegrown and real. People have said to me, ‘You leave [the show] knowing exactly why you were there.’ That’s the thing I love the most.”
Sudeikis will return as host for the 2021 ThunderGong!, which will stream live on Saturday, November 20. The lineup was still being settled as Amplitude went to press, so visit thundergong.org to get the latest information about who’s appearing, where to stream it, and how to donate. Read more of our conversation with Brimblecom later this month on Amplitude’s website.