Light of Day BenefitFriday, Jan. 5, 8 p.m.
Presented by the Outpost in the Burbs, in partnership with the Light of Day Foundation
Raising money and awareness to defeat Parkinson’s disease and related illness. Featuring Willie Nile, Jeffrey Gaines, James Maddock, Joe D’Urso, Emily Grove; with Isabella Rose, Jon Caspi and Adam Falcon opening.
By GWEN OREL
When Bob Benjamin’s 40th birthday party became a “pass the hat” for the Parkinson’s Foundation in 1998, Benjamin was the only person with the disease that Joe D’Urso knew.
Twenty years later that’s no longer true for the Jersey shore/Americana roots rocker.
“Since then, my cousin and uncle were diagnosed,” D’Urso said. “It’s in my family now.” He has also seen musicians with the disease perform, including Arlon Bennett, who has someone else hold the guitar for him.
Two years after his party, Benjamin’s informal fundraiser turned into a charity, the Light of Day Foundation, Inc.
The name of the foundation links it with music: “(Just around the corner to the) Light of Day” is a 1987 Bruce Springsteen song. And Springsteen has often appeared at the concerts Light of Day presents to raise money.
The center of those concerts is Winterfest, in January. This year, more than 150 acts will perform in 30 venues in New Jersey, New York and Philadelphia. Last year the organization raised almost $600,000.
And Montclair kicks off the 10-day festival on Friday, Jan. 5.
For South Side Johnny band member-turned-concert promoter Tony Pallagrosi, watching his mother’s long decline from the effects of Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP), seeing her spirit trapped inside “a dead shell of a body,” only strengthened his resolve to “defeat Parkinson’s disease and related illnesses, such as PSP and ALS [Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis], within our lifetime,” as the Light of Day’s website states.
Pallagrosi is the organization’s executive director, and D’Urso is vice president and treasurer.
The Outpost in the Burbs will present headliners Willie Nile, Jeffrey Gaines, James Maddock, Joe D’urso and Emily Grove. Isabella Rose, Jon Caspi and Adam Falcon will open the show.
All are singer-songwriters.
Pallagrosi said that the people who run the Outpost are “great supporters of original acoustic, Americana form of music. They’ve been supporting these artists for the last 25 years.” The artists who play at Winterfest are “folk artists, telling stories. The story and storyteller are two of the most important parts of it. The third most important part is the audience.
“Without the audience reacting, the story never gets told. Whether it’s Bruce Springsteen to 80,000 people, or Willie Nile to 300 people, it’s still a story about America.
“These artists really exemplify that.”
ARTISTS UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL
The Montclair audience can expect to hear some new songs and maybe even some unreleased ones.
Willie Nile put out a studio album called “Positively Bob — Willie Nile Sings Bob Dylan” this
past summer. English rocker James Maddock released in 2017 “Insanity vs. Humanity,” described as a “return to his politically charged roots.” Early 2018 will see the release of Jeffrey Gaines’ first studio album in 15 years, “Alright,” and Joe D’Urso’s new album, “Jersey Diner.”
The show is billed as presenting “artists up close and personal,” and the singers will interact with one another, as well as the audience, as they trade songs onstage.
Taking part in Light of Day itself is a personal act and a labor of love. Fees are donated.
Willie Nile, who has been praised by Rolling Stone and BBC
Radio, and sung with Bruce Springsteen, said he would do “anything to help Bob.” Like Pallagrosi, Nile was at that original birthday party, when Benjamin, whose diagnosis was early onset Parkinson’s, asked for donations instead of gifts. Nile knew Benjamin as a young critic at the University of Buffalo, when he’d just put his first album out. Benjamin went on to work in promotion, PR, radio and different aspects of the music business.
The point of Winterfest is that “whatever inspires people initially to take up an instrument and write songs, to be able to play with other musicians, for a good cause, is a meaningful, beautiful thing. I’ve been doing it for years and will continue doing it.
When they find a cure for Parkinson’s, we will find something else.”
It’s not just the artists that he plays with but also the audience that Nile considers friends: “It’s a beautiful thing to see. Everyone donates their services for a good cause. It’s music at its best, people rising up to a challenge. Initially, it was helping out a friend, now it’s the whole Parkinson’s community.”
Wall native Emily Grove said, “It’s a way to celebrate life with music.” Grove, still in her 20s, has won three Jersey Acoustic Awards as well as four Asbury Music Awards. She has been performing with Light of Day in Asbury Park, and this is the first time she will perform in Montclair. “I feel like I’m hanging out with my buds again,” she said.
Joe D’Urso, too, was at the original Benjamin birthday party. Before he became a full-time rocker, D’Urso was part of a music agency, and worked on a lot of the tours of musicians he revered.
D’Urso had just returned from three weeks touring with Light of Day in Europe, a tour that he oversees, when he spoke to the Montclair Local. There were 16 shows in nine countries, in venues that included opera houses, ballrooms, listening venues and one “converted barn on the border of Germany and Denmark, that replicates Asbury Park,” complete with a model Stone Pony.
It’s a lot of work, but, he said, “It’s very easy to get your tanks refueled when you meet other folks who work in this endeavor who have Parkinson’s.”
A TRIBUTE TO TOM PETTY
Including a tribute to Tom Petty in the Montclair show was D’Urso’s idea.
“It’s a personal one for me,” D’Urso said. In high school “my four guys were Tom Petty, John Mellencamp, Bruce Springsteen and Bob Seger.
“He was the first of my guys to die.”
D’Urso would buy a record the first day it came out, read the liner notes and lyrics.
When Petty died suddenly after his tour ended this past October, “it was almost like losing a high school friend,” D’Urso said. There isn’t a songwriter around who can write as “cleverly, succinctly and melodically as Tom Petty,” he said.
On his last day of work in his music business day job, he received a package in the mail that came from Tiffany’s: it was a pocket knife, from Petty and his manager, saying “always stay on the cutting edge.”
When the knife was taken away from him at an airport, D’Urso retrieved his bags and packed it. “I didn’t want to lose that.
“I’m not sure if Tom realized how loved he really was I hope he did.”
Pallagrosi said Petty’s death “was a shock to all of us who love this kind of music.” He described Petty as “one of our great Americana artists.”
Nile said that “to celebrate his life as part of the evening will be good fun.”