IT’S JUST AROUND THE CORNER: LIGHT OF DAY KEEPS THE AP HOME FIRES LIT

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, January 17 2019

To hear the man tell it, “Longevity is a benchmark of greatness” — and given that the speaker is Tony Pallagrosi, the words are no mere fridge-magnet platitude. After all, this is the veteran music scene mover ‘n shaker whose unimpeachable cred extends from his days as one of the cats in the band (The Shots, The Asbury Jukes), to host of some much-missed Shore nightspots (The FastLane, Xanadu), to co-founder of major concert venues and promotion entities (Starland Ballroom, Concerts East), to manager of The Weeklings — and quite possibly all the way to “the other side,” thanks to Asbury Angels, the musical memorial initiative that he chairs.

Pallagrosi, however, isn’t referring to himself, or to any of those aforementioned feathers in his cap, but to the endeavor that may ultimately stand as his most lasting legacy: Light of Day, the music-driven fundraising vehicle that’s  illuminated some of the darkest winter days and nights in this City of Summers for well nigh two decades.

Co-founded by Pallagrosi with music promo/ management pro Bob Benjamin as an awareness resource for Parkinson’s Disease research — and inspired by Benjamin’s own diagnosis with the disorder — the annual slate of star-studded happenings grew out of a 40th birthday party for Bob at the Stone Pony; taking its name from the Springsteen soundtrack song “Just Around the Corner to the Light of Day” on its way to becoming a sprawling affair that’s spanned several continents, major North American cities and additional satellite events throughout the calendar year.

Of course, along the way Light of Day became indelibly identified with the stamp of Benjamin’s long-time friend Bruce Springsteen — not just via the organization’s name, but in the very real presence of The Boss as an onstage participant and de facto ringmaster for the majority of those all-star Bob’s Birthday concerts. As an undeniable draw (and a focal point for some tantalizing will-he-or-won’t-he buzz each year), the Bard of the boardwalk has generously shared the stage with a core cast of frequent-flyer performers (including Joe Grushecky, Willie Nile, and Steve Forbert), as well as drop-in guest stars that have ranged from Southside Johnny, Darlene Love and Gary US Bonds, to Light of Day movie star (plus high-profile person with Parkinson’s) Michael J. Fox, and  The Sopranos’ Vincent Pastore.

While the nonprofit Light of Day Foundation is a year-round entity upon which the sun never sets, the heart and soul of the positively charged enterprise remains LOD Winterfest, the mid-January jamboree of activity that commandeers the stages, storefronts and saloons of Asbury Park during the post-holiday “off season” interlude when most other Shore towns are deep into a long winter’s nap. Having offered up a couple of preliminary pace-setter events on January 13 (see the feature on Bob Burger in last week’s Coaster), the circus comes to town in full force for a long weekend that begins tonight, January 17, with a choice of tuneful entertainments that includes a “Hall of Fame Jam” featuring veteran Bruce drummer Vini Lopez (Langosta Lounge), a special edition of Sandy Mack’s Wonder Jam at the Wonder Bar, and an official kickoff concert at downtown’s House of Independents that spotlights such next-gen talents as Williams Honor and Anthony “Remember Jones” D’Amato.

“No other town this small has such a vibrant music scene,” says Pallagrosi. “And at the end of the day, I want everyone involved.”

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STILL THE KING: BURGER GETS BUSY, BY NIGHT ‘N LIGHT OF DAY

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, January 10 2019

For a self-described “working musician with a day job,” Bob Burger has always seemed a bit devil-may-care about the impact on his workaday grind, from those many long weekends, out-of-town jaunts, and late nights spent in the company of  folks who like to raise a glass and have themselves a rocking good time.

But as a special counsel in the Newark offices of the prestigious law firm McCarter & English, the Eatontown resident is all business; an award winning attorney with go-to specialties in the fields of intellectual property/ copyright law, NDAs, and software-related issues.

That same scrupulous attention to detail is evident in Burger’s myriad musical projects and live gigs, whether he’s performing in solo, duo, or combo contexts at any of a number of favorite watering holes up and down the Shore — or even jetting off across the pond with The Weeklings, that sublime salute to The Beatles co-founded by Burger with fellow paladin of the pop playbook (and original Beatlemania cast member) Glen Burtnik. And for validation, look no further than that time that Paul McCartney himself hit the dance floor to Bob’s rendition of “Back in the USSR” at a star-studded private party.

If anything, the bespectacled Burger has long stood as a “thinking man’s” version of the stereotypical Guy in the Corner with a Guitar; an impression based not so much on those signature specs (or on the fact that he was valedictorian of his class at Penn State), as it is on his very evident knowledge of and facility with a panorama of pop music styles — an encylopedic, but never dryly academic, mastery of the music that shook the world in the latter half of the last century.

“I do know a lot of songs,” says Burger in what might prove to be one of the understatements of the current millennium. “But you have to be really versatile to survive in the music business these days.”

That quality of versatility has been the special sauce that’s set apart such Burger projects as a full-length Fleetwood Mac tribute show, as well as a heartfelt homage to the One Hit Wonders that defined the 1970s — and it’s a big part of the reason that, when it came time for Max Weinberg to recruit a band for his crowd-pleasingly interactive Jukebox live shows, he called upon Burger and his Weekling mates Burtnik and John Merjave.

Max Weinberg’s Jukebox plays Schenectady, NY this Friday, January 11, as one of the affiliated events in Light of Day XIX Winterfest, the  annual slate of benefit concerts for Parkinson’s Disease research that has burst the borders of its Jersey origins; expanding into satellite events at venues in NYC, Philadelphia and other North American cities, as well as several well-received whistlestops in Australia and Europe. On Saturday the 12th, The Weeklings reconvene for a set of Beatles deep cuts and inner grooves (as well as some celebrated Burtnik/ Burger-penned originals) in another Light of Day barnstormer, this time at the World Cafe in Philly.

Then on Sunday, January 13, Bob Burger switches fab gears once more, as he returns to Asbury Park to perform the music of Tom Petty in a special Light of Day “Cover Me” program at the Stone Pony.

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IT’S WHAT’S UP FOR WEEK OF JANUARY 10-16

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ,January 10 2019

SOUNDS: Big Man’s Birthday at the Headliner 

The old Big Man’s West nightclub may have long predeceased the iconic signifier of the sax who presided over the party, but over on Route 35 South in Neptune, The Headliner keeps said party proliferating, with a seventh annual salute to the enduring spirit of Clarence Clemons — who would have been 77 years old on January 11 — on that selfsame Friday evening. A collection of Jersey’s fave jam-masters is highlighted by the Dead-on interpretations of Splintered Sunlight, with Secret Sound, Woodfish, the Pat Roddy Band, and — in a too-rare local appearance — next-gen bandleader Nick Clemons (pictured). Special guests are rightly promised as well, for the event that floats its first note at 4 pm. Proceeds benefit the Monmouth County SPCA, as well as the nonprofit CFC (Coming Full Circle) Loud  N CLEAR Foundation for recovery support and relapse prevention — and tickets ($25) can be reserved online at bigroad.ticketbud.com.

THEATER: GODSPELL at Jersey Shore Arts 

Long before he composed the songs for the Broadway mega-hit Wicked, Stephen Schwartz gifted America’s great big community stage with Godspell, the youth-powered 1971 perennial based on parables from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. The show that birthed the hit “Day By Day” puts forth and Age-of-Aquarius message of love and tolerance via an eclectic score that ranges from folk-infused pop to vintage vaudeville — and it’s back on the local stage for one weekend only, in a 2012 revised version that boasted new songs from the award winning composer. Presented January 11-13 at the Palaia Theater inside Ocean Grove’s Jersey Shore Arts Center, it’s a guest production of The Ashley Lauren Foundation Theatre Ensemble, a traveling performance arm of the non-profit organization “dedicated to bringing hope and help to children throughout New Jersey who suffer from cancer.”  Performances are Friday and Saturday at 7:30 pm, with a 2 pm Sunday matinee closing out the engagement, and tickets ($20 adultys; $15 seniors and students) can be reserved online at k4k.booktix.com.

 

SOUNDS: Anthony Krizan Band at the Wonder Bar 

Arriving back in town with the calling cards of his mid-90s tenure in jam-scape hitmakers The Spin Doctors — and a songwriterly sidegig that’s seen him pen successful tunes for Lenny Kravitz, John Waite, and others — Jersey-fresh singer/guitarist/producer Anthony Krizan takes the Wonder Bar stage this Friday evening, January 11, with a band of buddies that includes Asbury’s own Sandy Mack (see last week’s profile in this space). Krizan kollaborator/ ko-headliner and Hammond B3 ace John Ginty — himself a road scholar whose credentials include The Dixie Chicks and The Allman-Betts Band — bolsters the bill, with special guest Marcus Randolph (of his cousin Robert’s Randolph Family Band) keeping it all in the jamily via sit-ins with both bands.

SOUNDS: “Cover Me” at the Stone Pony

It’s “just around the corner” to Light of Day Winterfest,the annual mega-slate of musical benefits that commandeers NJ’s most music-minded municipality next weekend — and on Sunday, January 13, the 2019 edition of LOD sounds an advance keynote with an afternoon event that spotlights some of the region’s top talents on the bar-band and tribute-act circuit. Taking the Stone Ponystage are The Carl Gentry Band (2:30 pm), Clapton tribute Bell Bottom Blues (3:30), Moroccan Sheepherders (4:30), The Weeklings’ Bob Burger (paying homage here to Tom Petty at 5:30), CSN Songs (pictured) performing the sonic signatures of Croby, Stills, Nash AND Young at 6:30, and a 7:45 headline set by Best of the Eagles. Check stoneponyonline.com for available tickets ($18 in advance) — and check back here on January 17, for much MORE on Light of Day activities all around Asbury ACTION Park!

SCREENS: SPRINGSTEEN ON BROADWAY at Monmouth U

The Bruce Springsteen Archives and Center for American Music presents a FREE public screening of the film based on the Boss’s super-successful Broadway solo show, recorded live at the Walter Kerr Theatre and streaming currently on Netflix. It’s a chance to experience the acclaimed production on the big screen of the Pollak Theatre at Monmouth U, with Emmy winning producer and director Thom Zimny appeaing in person for a special extended introduction. The one-time screening event takes place this Sunday, January 13 at 4 pm, with ticket reservations available online and required for entry (limit two reservations per guest). Admission of registered guests begins at 3 pm on a first come/ first served basis (seats are not guaranteed), and non-perishable food items will be accepted in support of The Nest, Monmouth’s food pantry for students in need.

SOUNDS: Albert Lee Band at Tim McLoone’s 

Even if you’ve never heard Albert Lee play, you might have encountered some monumental praise and awe-struck odes to the Brit-born country/ blues “guitarist’s guitarist” from a number of people who are considered guitar-gods in their own right. To watch this veteran best-kept-secret at work is to be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt — and this Sunday night, January 13, Asbury Park receives an exceedingly rare audience with the lightning-powered picker, as Lee and band take it topside at Mr. McLoone’s Supper Club. It’s one of the opening salvos of the 2019 Light of Day Winterfest (about which much more to come in this space) — and it’s an occasion further illuminated by one of our own fave best-kept-secrets of the Shore scenescape: Michael Patrick, ace frontman of the Cash tribute Ring of Fire Band and a savvy songsmith who’s gigging behind his latest, John Wayne Movies. Available reservations for the 7:30 pm show ($25-$35) at timmcloonessupperclub.com.

ANGRY ORCHARD: SECRETS, PAIN RIPE FOR THE PICKING AT NJ REP

Kersti Bryan and Christopher M. Smith co-star in APPLE SEASON, the play by E.M. Lewis making its world premiere at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch. Photo by New Jersey Repertory Company

The Russian master Anton Chekhov had his Cherry Orchard and its group portrait of a fast-fading aristocracy, rotting from the inside out as it falls to the axe of social change. In the latest drama to make its world premiere at New Jersey Repertory Company, it’s Apple Season in the Pacific Northwest’s Willamette Valley — and it’s there where the low-hanging fruit of past behaviors and secrets threaten the members of one local family with a one-way trip into a wormhole of regret and suffocating grief.

Opening this weekend at the company’s downtown Long Branch playhouse, the play by E.M. Lewis represents NJ Rep’s first staging of a work by the the Oregon-based playwright who, by her own admission, is “the kind who goes back and forth between smaller, personal stories and bigger political plays.” Describing this one as “an intimate little three character play,” the award-winning dramatist declares that its themes of “the danger of secrets and the importance of truth telling” operate within her desire to “write about rural people…the ones who are less visible on most theatrical stages.”

“Sam Shepard wrote about non-urban people in a way that captured the largeness of human questions,” she observes. “People who live in ‘small’ places are people who are still wrestling with some big issues.”

In the production under the direction of Zoya Kachadurian, a funeral brings a sister and brother (Kersti Bryan, Richard Kent Green) back to the family farm that they turned their backs on years ago — leading to an encounter with a neighbor (Christopher M. Smith) who shares a history with both of the siblings, and a situation in which “a legacy of violence” puts an indelible stamp on the here and now. It all unfolds within “the season when the apples are hanging and ready…with no one there to pick them.” Continue reading

HERE’S WHAT’S ON SHORE STAGES IN JANUARY

Broadway director Sarna Lapine comes to Red Bank in January, teaming with Two River Theater on a new staging of Michael Frayn’s frantic farce NOISES OFF.

Published in the Asbury Park Press, January 4 2019

No sooner have we shoved Tiny Tim back up into the attic for another year, and stuck that shedding Ebenezer out at the curb, than the folks who bring live theater to our local stages get busy once again. And if January’s offerings are any indication, there’s going to be plenty to laugh and smile about in 2019, sometimes even in double doses.

With its disaster-prone play-within-a-play “Nothing On,” its inside-out perspectives on the process of making theater, and its bracingly modern approach to the physical laws of timeless farce, Noises Off is about as entertaining an example there is of a “meta” theatrical experience. But when two distinct productions of the Michael Frayn comedy occupy the same basic patch of turf at the same moment in time — well, that’s a sci-fi scenario that veers dangerously close to a fraying of the space/time fabric. That said, Shore-based aficionados of fast and furious stage comedy have a choice later this month, thanks to the good graces of rights licensors and to the hardworking teams at Red Bank’s Two River Theater Company and Manasquan’s Algonquin Arts Theatre. The professional playhouse takes the first pratfall with the popular backstage burlesque; going up in previews on January 12 in a production that sports a diverse young cast of players, wrangled by Sarna Lapine (who made her Broadway directorial debut with the 2017 revival of the Sondheim musical Sunday in the Park with George with Jake Gyllenhaal). The play opens officially on January 18 and continues through February 3; call 732-345-1400 or visit tworivertheater.org for tickets — and watch this space for more on Two River’s Noises Off.

Then for two weekends beginning Friday, January 26, the 2018-19 Broadway Series schedule at Algonquin Arts gets back into gear in hyper-kinetic style with a production of Noises Off that promises the “complete pandemonium” of “lines being forgotten, love triangles unraveling, and sardines flying everywhere” — and for which tickets ($32-$40, with discounts for seniors and students) and full schedule details can be found at 732-528-9211 or algonquinarts.org. Continue reading

MACK DADDY: THE ‘JAMILY’ PATRIARCH’S AT THE HEAD OF THE TABLE IN JANUARY

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, January 3 2019

For a couple of generations’ worth of Shore music fans, he’s a scene stalwart and a living landmark whose presence remains every bit as reassuring as a favorite club or neighborhood watering hole. To his fellow music makers, he’s the go-to man for all manner of sessions and sitting-in situations; a blues harp ace who can stake out harmonious common ground with acoustic old-schoolers, supercharged axslingers, roots rockers and alt-Americana songsmiths alike — or as local radio linchpin Rich Robinson said, “he could sit in with anybody like he’s played with them forever.”.

But perhaps above all else, Sanford “Sandy” Mack is the keeper of a weekly ritual that rivals any family’s most cherished Sunday-sauce tradition. At 4 pm, during every so-called “day of rest” on the calendar, an extended “jamily” of musical regulars, guest players, fans, friends, and drop-in passersby convenes inside the lobby lounge of the Asbury Hotel for a little gathering known as Sunday Jam— a lovably loose but enviably organized afternoon-into-evening that offers up a sonic smorgasbord of danceable Dead, concise classics, and some often wild workouts on things you’d least expect. All of it presided over by Mr. Mack, the patriarch of this Jamily and the founder of the feast that’s been an Asbury Park fixture for the better part of a decade.

“I’ve been doing Sundays around town for about eight years now,” says Mack, speaking amid the game tables, ultra-designey bar and conversation pit of The Asbury’s Soundbooth Lounge. “I started at Asbury Blues, and continued there when it became The Press Room…it was the first place where I ever did Grateful Dead music…and then (Stone Pony honcho) Kyle Brendle asked me if I would do a Wonder Jam event each week at the Wonder Bar.”

Those Sunday sessions at Lance and Debbie’s Circuit landmark became the stuff of latter-day legend in themselves; happenings that generated their own momentum, drew a fairly fervent fanbase, and soon had a whole lot of top-shelf talents expressing a desire to sit in. But when it came time once again to relocate the moveable feast, Mack was momentarily at a loss as to where to go next.

“I was curious about The Asbury…it didn’t look like my kind of place;; kind of upper crusty, you know…but I reached out to them,” he recalls. “They originally gave me three dates, to see what happens…that was a year and a half ago, and as you can see we’re still going strong!”

Sandy Mack will once more sit at the head of the figurative table this Soundbooth Sunday, January 6 — but before that, the harpist and a crew of his fellow Jam-mates will be performing a very special gig that’s required an unusual degree of rehearsal: a set paying tribute to The Allman Brothers, scheduled as part of A Celebration of Jam Bands.

Going up this Friday, January 4 at Asbury Lanes (where Mack and company were one of the first acts to play the reborn bowl-a-rama in a “soft opening” event last spring), the program further features the Grateful channelings of The Cosmic Jerry Band, as well as a Phish tribute featuring members of Secret Sound.

It also represents a return to the Duane/Gregg catalog for Mack, who teamed with Marc Ribler for a classic Allmans tribute a couple of years back. Joining in for the occasion will be Jam standby Mike Flynn, key man Arne Wendt, guitarist Big John Perry,  plus bassists Mike Caruso and Mike McKernan, drummers Kevin Johnson and Dan Donovan, and special guest Matt O’Ree. Stu Coogan of 90.5 The Night Brookdale Public Radio hosts the tenpins taproom throwdown, with doors at 7 pm and admission a positively spit-take-inducing five bucks.

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LOOKING BACK ON THE BEST OF LOCAL STAGES, 2018

El Chupacabra terrorizes the alternate reality of a cartoonist turned comic book hero, in the 2018 Two River Theater production EL COQUÍ ESPECTACULAR AND THE BOTTLE OF DOOM. Photo by Richard Termine

Published in the Asbury Park Press, December 28 2018

Star-powered casts — and a set of new and diverse voices — set the pace for the live theater stages of Monmouth and Ocean counties in the calendar year 2018. The area served by the Asbury Park Press continued to draw the attentions and the talents of some top-shelf pros, even as its many creative crannies proved that the most interesting things can occur in the most unlikely of venues. Here are a handful of the Great Performances and all-around Good Things that we happened across in the year that was.

New dramas

Bemoaning the fact that comic book characters seem to be hijacking the entire mass culture? Well, get over it, because back at the top of the year, Red Bank’s Two River Theater set the pace with a “superhero play” of supercharged energy: the intriguingly titled El Coquí Espectacular and the Bottle of Doom. Emerging from Two River’s annual Crossing Borders festival of new Latinx plays, the play by Matthew Barbot succeeded where the mighty Spidey and Superman fell short in their respective musical misadventures; investing its story (of a young unemployed Puerto Rican-American artist turned self-styled costumed crimefighter) with a choreographed visual verve that played, under the direction of Jose Zayas, like a musical minus the music. Throw in a layered plot that segued smoothly between the alternate realities of the dual-identity protagonist, with projected images that heightened the shift between parallel worlds, and the result was a dazzling cultural satire that compared favorably with the company’s trailblazing premiere production of the musical phenomenon “Be More Chill.”

Over at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch, some new faces arrived in town with April’s production of Chloe Hung’s Issei, He Say — and those newcomers had a compelling story to tell, in the Chinese-Canadian TV writer’s semi-autobiographical account of an immigrant family’s struggles with assimilation, aspirations, and the next door neighbor, an elderly gentleman of Japanese descent. As the play’s 12 year old central character, Christina Liang headed a superb cast in a drama that placed a perfectly constructed, intimately scaled frame around the big issues of blinding prejudice, national tragedies, home-front secrets, and the things people use to forge alliances in the darkness. Continue reading

STRICTLY BALLROOM: KEITH ROTH MARKS AN ELECTRIC ANNIVERSARY

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, December 20 2018

“The thing about those years before the internet, is that it was so much more fun seeking out the info instead of finding it online,” observes Keith Roth of the crucial interlude that straddled the heyday of the arena-rock goliaths, and the rise of the scrappy punk bands who dared to topple the big guys to earth.

“You would read CREEM Magazine, you would see what your classmates and your older brother had in their collection…and every Friday, you went to the local Korvettes store, where they had a punk rock wall in their record department!”

“I grew up in the Bronx…I mean, the first album I bought with my own money was The Dictators Go Girl Crazy,” says the 52-year old resident of Tinton Falls, in reference to the 1975 masterpiece of cheerfully offensive outer-boroughs wrestle-punk slobrock. “And when I moved to New Jersey, I kind of assumed that everybody knew who the MC5 was!”

As it turned out, not everyone in the suburban Jersey milieu could automatically name the band who did “Kick Out the Jams” on demand. And so, the aspiring rock star and record mogul Keith Roth became a man on a self-appointed mission; a calling to elucidate, illuminate and educate his new neighbors as to the rich legacy of rock and roll music’s most frantically fertile period — that beyond-the-Beatles/ way-after-Woodstock moment when classic tour-gods traversed the skies in custom jets and landed luxury automobiles in hotel pools; when the glittering stars of “glam” gleefully pushed at every pop-culture boundary of gender roles and sexual identity; when the music’s gigantic tent simultaneously housed symphonically inclined artistes, meat-and-potatoes traditionalists, and those lords and ladies of mischief who wanted nothing more than to see that big top come crashing down.

The vehicle for Roth’s supercharged passions was The Electric Ballroom, a weekly blast of words and wax that marked its twentieth year on the air (Sunday nights on 95.9 WRAT-FM out of Lake Como) this past October — and that celebrates the milestone with a special Anniversary Party next Sunday, December 30; a ringing out of the fast-fading year that finds its brick-and-mortar Ballroom inside the all-purpose auditorium of downtown Asbury’s House of Independents.

Scheduled to get underway at 7 pm, the multi-band blast is a presentation of Pat Schiavino’s Asbury Underground brand, one that represents an expansion of the twice yearly free festival of storefront music and art (returning in January with an edition keyed to Light of Day 2019, about which more to come in this space) into the realm of special concert events. As such, it’s a showcase for Roth, his own band Frankenstein 3000, and some of his favorite regional or international acts — a chance to take stock, before sprinting ahead to the next waltz on the dance card.

“This event is going to be run pretty tightly and quickly,” observes Roth of the live show; contrasting the onstage action with the Sunday-sauce studio affair that, after all these years, “follows no format…we could have (legendary Dolemite star) Rudy Ray Moore one week, and one of the Sex Pistols the next. It’s whatever’s cool; we don’t bother with playlists…so the format is that there is no format!”

All in a night’s work for an endeavor that represented “a baptism of fire” for its host back in the late 1990s; a project in which “we did everything wrong the first night…and for our first guest, we had a vampire. An actual vampire.”

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