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Bob Benjamin with Bruce Springsteen at a Light of Day concert in 2015. COURTESY JEFF ROSS

Light of Day North Jersey
Friday, Jan. 10, 8 p.m.
Outpost in the Burbs, First Congregational Church, 40 South Fullerton Ave.
Willie Nile, James Maddock, Glen Burtnik & Bob Burger of The Weeklings, Joe D’Urso, Jill Hennessy, Daniellia Cotton, Williams Honor, Emily Grove and Rick Winowski.

All proceeds benefit the Light of Day Foundation, Inc. raising money and

awareness to defeat Parkinson’s disease and related neuro-degenerative diseases, specifically Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP) and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS).

For information about Light of Day Foundation, visit lightofday.org.
For tickets and more information, visit outpostintheburbs.org.

By GWEN OREL
orel@montclairlocal.news

Reaching 20 is a milestone for most organizations.

It’s one the Light of Day Foundation hoped never to reach.

TONY PALLAGROSI

“It’s a number to us,” said co-founder and executive director Tony Pallagrosi. “I wish we’d never had to reach the 20th anniversary. Every year we have to go is another tear in my eye.”

The organization was founded not long after a birthday party for music manager Bob Benjamin, who turned 40 in 1998, shortly after having been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

Instead of presents, Benjamin, who had his own label, asked people to pass the hat to raise money for a cure.

Benjamin was a music manager, and his friends were musicians: it was natural for them to perform.

The first Light of Day concert, the foundation taking its name from a Bruce Springsteen song title, was held two years later. It has grown to be a series of more than 80 events in 14 countries on three continents, and it has raised more than $5.5 million.

This year Light of Day would like to push that number over the $6 million mark.

Light of Day North Jersey kicks off the Winterfest on Jan. 10 in Montclair. Other concerts continue through Jan. 25.

Willie Nile, Joe D’Urso, James Maddock and many more will all sing and rock at Outpost in the Burbs, for a good cause. 

“The bottom line is, we hope we don’t have to do it the following year,” said Pallagrosi. 

A promoter and a trumpet player when Light of Day began, Pallagrosi has performed with Springsteen and his E Street Band, as well as Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes.

Linda Ronstadt, featured in the recent CNN movie “The Sound of My Voice,” suffers from Parkinson’s disease. Pallagrosi pointed out that Parkinson’s disease can impact life immensely but is not necessarily a terminal illness, like progressive supranuclear palsy and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease).

Benjamin is surviving with Parkinson’s 20 years later, though he is now in a wheelchair. 

But the disease can lead to life-threatening issues. Because Parkinson’s freezes the muscles, there were times when Benjamin was almost unable to stop himself from walking into a street full of moving cars.

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Joe D’Urso has performed with Light of Day since it began. COURTESY RANDEX PR

MUSIC AND HEART

Rocker Joe D’Urso has recently returned from a three-week Light of Day tour in Europe. Like Pallagrosi, he was at that 1998 birthday party for Benjamin. In fact, Benjamin was his manager. D’Urso has performed for Light of Day every year. He’s vice president of the board, and treasurer of the foundation.

Rocker Willie Nile was not at the birthday party, but has played every Light of Day Foundation concert. Everyone has some connection to the disease, Nile said.

“It’s rewarding,” Nile said. “And it’s always fun.” 

Benjamin was a student at the University of Buffalo who interviewed Nile when Nile’s first album came out in 1980.

“I remember it like it was a couple of weeks ago,” Nile said. “We went to a bar-restaurant called ‘The Library,’ then went back to the dorms. 

“Time goes by, for all of us. While we’re here if there’s something we can do to pick each other up, Hell yeah, let’s do it.”

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LOOK: PHOTOS; LIGHT OF DAY WINTERFEST AT OUTPOST IN THE BURBS

READ: LIGHT OF DAY COMES TO THE OUTPOST IN MONTCLAIR

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D’Urso too is inspired by “watching Bob not take it lying down. His physical struggles over the last five-six years have mounted. It’s a progressive disease.”

Two members of his family have been diagnosed in the last decade.

What keeps him going is partly the audience, and the feeling he gets when playing these events. 

“The older I get I play very few ‘regular concerts.’ Given a choice I’d have something tied in to every night I perform. Sometimes I walk out of doors and the kids say ‘what’s tonight for,’ and I say, tonight’s to feed you, to pay the mortgage,” he said with a laugh.

In 2000, Springsteen showed up as a surprise guest at the Stone Pony concert. He has shown up several times over the years.

And music can be a good catalyst, D’Urso said. “Every year Bob Benjamin speaks to the audience. One year he was pretty banged up, having a hard time walking and standing. I was holding him up. Bruce began playing an acoustic version of ‘Thunder Road’ to end the night. I could literally feel Bob’s spirit gain strength, and then he was standing and singing on his own. I wasn’t holding him.”

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Willie Nile, who will perform at Outpost in the Burbs on Jan. 10, met Bob Benjamin when Benjamin was a college student. COURTESY RANDEX PR

A SPECIAL VIBE

One of the best parts of the Light of Day concerts, for Pallagrosi, is the core group of attendees that have been coming for 20 years. 

Because the Outpost show kicks off the festival, it’s close to the heart of the organizers and performers. It’s a singer-songwriter show, and while there can be rock-’n’-roll from the energy onstage, it’s less raucous than some of the other shows in Light of Day Winterfest.

“There’s a special vibe,” Pallagrosi said. 

Outpost is run by people who love music, and that makes a difference, he added. For him, the audience is a “Light of Day family,” stretching from Australia to Europe.

Doing the show in Montclair, in a church with pews, a house of worship, is special for Nile. “We are raising our voices to help our fellow man,” he said. “The audience knows why we are there. It’s heartening. Life is tough. These days this is not the most  joyous planet to be on. This is a small but worthwhile organization doing good. It feels good to be a part of it. You will leave feeling better than when you came in.”

When the audience sings Nile’s song “One Guitar,” he said, “It’s joyful, full of love. It’s based on what one guitar and one voice and one person can do to make things better on the planet for themselves and others. It’s a song about unity, promise, possibilities… and the goodness of what music can do to help make this a better world.”