January 21, 2024
It was all cold down along the Asbury Park, NJ boardwalk this weekend, and that meant it was Light of Day Foundation's Winterfest time again. As has been the case for several years, however, last night's "Main Event" (aka "Bob’s Birthday Bash") took place in nearby Red Bank, NJ’s Count Basie Center for the Arts.
The temperature hovered in the low twenties outside, but inside, the atmosphere was warm and celebratory. The 24th-anniversary event was high-energy and fast-paced, and the music menu leaned heavily on R&B influences and sixties/seventies classics, with just a dash of eighties indie rock.
The lineup included two of the artists who kicked off Winterfest 2024 last Thursday night: Williams Honor and Fantastic Cat. Williams Honor also crossed paths onstage with Light of Day (LOD) President Joe D'Urso, who in addition to contributing musically to the evening, helped to sell some fundraising LOD merch with former LOD President (and current Asbury Park Press reporter) Jean Mikle, as well.
Most artists thanked the audience for supporting LOD, and made sure to mention the reason for the benefit, reminding them that for those who live with these illnesses, ALS, PSP and Parkinson’s are not abstractions. They are people’s reality, and not something to be taken lightly. Indeed, this year, the show opened with a brief set of classic rock standards from ParkinSINGs, a “therapeutic choir” of individuals with Parkinson’s that uses vocal performances as both physical therapy and social/emotional support. The innovative program was developed by the Hackensack Meridian JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute in Edison, New Jersey.
Also on the minds of many of the performers was longtime Light of Day artist Jesse Malin, who suffered a spinal stroke that resulted in lower body paralysis early last year. Malin, who has undertaken an intensive rehabilitation program in hopes of regaining mobility, has been a stalwart performer with Light of Day, often heading overseas for European events.
Remember Jones - complete with flashing neon sign as a backdrop - was his usual ebullient self. Stalking the stage in high heeled sneakers and a lime green and magenta lamé suit, he and his band played with an unabashed joy and freedom that dared the audience not to join in the festivities. Jones’ sets usually include a well-chosen cover, and this year it was a spirited version of Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now,” during which he reminded the audience not to forget the mission of Light of Day.
And then there was Dramarama and its enigmatic lead vocalist John Easdale. Prowling the stage in a cowboy hat and long black coat like a Wild West villain, he was a menacing and mesmerizing presence, belting out the anthemic “Anything Anything” as though his life depended on it.
Next came the barely controlled mayhem of Low Cut Connie, with lead singer Adam Weiner bounding from the top of his piano to the lip of the stage and back, jumping into the audience to terrorize unsuspecting attendees and generally whirling like a dervish for much of his twenty-minutes set.
Supported by the magnetic Johnny Pisano on bass, Light of Day veteran Willie Nile brought attendees to their feet as always, closing out his set with “One Guitar,” and founding LOD artists Joe Grushecky & the Houserockers turned in their usual crowd-pleasing set of blues-based rock’n’roll, the highlight of which was a rousing cover of The Animals” “We Gotta Get Out of This Place.”
Acoustic acts were solid throughout the evening, with the effervescent Lisa Bouchelle and LOD newcomer Joe P (Joe Parella, of the now-defunct Deal Casino) turning in lively solo sets that kept folks engaged during breaks between the bands.
Closing out the night was Max Weinberg’s Jukebox. (In this instance, Max's supporting band was another group of local heroes, The Weeklings.) The Mighty One had the Jukebox going strong, with the usual audience selections leaning heavily on chestnuts from The Beatles and The Rolling Stones before rounding out the evening as the “house band” for the celebration of LOD founder Bob Benjamin and the traditional all-hands-on-deck concluding performance of the event’s Springsteen-penned "theme song."
This year's group-sing of "Light of Day" was preceded by an additional ensemble performance: Jesse Malin's "Brooklyn," as one more way of sending some extra love and support in his direction, too. Check out this video of the moment, courtesy of longtime Light of Day supporter and publicist Sammy Steinlight, followed by videos of several other highlights of the evening, also courtesy of Sammy:
The evening as a whole felt like a bit of a throwback to an era when rock’n’roll demanded both your full attention and your physical participation, when people actually had to go to bars to socialize and listen to music, when seeing a band in person really meant something. The unbridled joy with which the bands performed last night was truly infectious. Indeed, many of them came up when performing was never about “likes” or “views,” but putting on a good show, about the power of music to heal. For an evening that, perhaps more than usual, seemed to be about driving out of the darkness and towards the light, it was a perfect fit.
All photographs by Mark Krajnak; used with permission. Click here to follow Mark and his work on Instagram.