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.”
“Light of Day is a thing that’s grown to what it’s become naturally, organically, and without pressure…it took us three or four years before we officially became a 501(c)(3) organization,” observes the music biz pro whose influence has spanned several eras of the regional soundscape. “And we do it without going the route of VIP parties, and other things that I never wanted for this event.”
“What’s most remarkable is that it’s one of very few grass-roots projects to have lasted as long as 19 years,” he adds. “I’ve heard from other promoters who started their own very ambitious festivals and fundraisers…I tell ‘em, if you’re still doing it in 15 or 20 years, give me a call!”
In addition to pitching a big tent that takes in many of the Asbury scene’s performing perennials (Jo Bonanno, Glen Burtnik, Pat Guadagno, Billy Hector, Christine Martucci, Mary McCrink, Stormin’ Norman Seldin, Bruce Tunkel) and latter-day faves (The Burns, Tara Dente, Dez and the Swagmatics, Emily Grove, Karen Mansfield, Quincy Mumford, Taylor Tote, Waiting On Mongo), Light of Day further features some favorite out-of-towners (Adam Weiner and Low Cut Connie; Jeffey Gaines) — and its genius is such that it folds in a variety of ancillary action that includes a special edition of the Cafe Artiste Songwriters shows at Ocean Grove’s Jersey Shore Arts Center, two nights of music programmed by veteran rock journalist Bob Makin at the AP Yacht Club, and Friday’s annual Asbury Angels induction ceremony at the Pony; a night headlined by instrumental rock icons The Ventures.
Then there’s Asbury Underground, producer Pat Schiavino’s Saturday afternoon Art and Music Crawl that once again finds an intriguing array of downtown retail shops, art galleries and off-beat spaces hosting a strolling/rolling smorgasbord of free acoustic mini-concerts (as well as a stand-up comedy cornucopia curated by Jess Alaimo). Check out the scheduled acts and locations, right here.
A roving ambassador for Light of Day since its earliest era, Joe D’Urso joins Joe Rapolla, his partner in the long-running Songwriters by the Sea series, for a Sunday set of Songwriters sessions that unfold within boardwalk-based locations that span such familiar musical haunts as McLoone’s Supper Club and the Langosta, to pinball palace Silverball Museum, where Stone Caravan, Kevin Mulvaney and Billy’s Fault set up at 7 pm.
Of course, the main event for Light of Day weekend remains the Bob’s Birthday concert at the Paramount Theatre, a celebration for which a stellar lineup of Winterfest evergreens (Grushecky, Nile, Forbert, John Eddie) are scheduled to be joined by Jesse Malin, James Maddock, Jersey’s own Dean Friedman (the quirky 70s hit “Ariel”), and, well, who’s to say? A sure sellout in its every annual edition, the show gets going under the Paramount proscenium at 8 pm.
“People really look forward to the event each year,” says Pallagrosi. “It’s probably created a lot of buzz for Asbury Park; it helps local businesses and the community at large…but for me, the real thrill is being able to actually help people and accomplish things through Light of Day.”
“When we turned the event into a festival, with combination tickets, we jumped in one year from raising about $85,000 to raising over $260,000,” he explains, citing the well-orchestrated operation that raised between $500,000 and $600,000 in its peak year.
“Funding research, establishing boots-on-the-ground programs, and creating things like Boxing For Bob (a reference to the boxing workout regimen for Parkinson’s patients, established by Light of Day in partnership with various NJ gyms)…those are what really matter to me.”
“Nothing good is ever easy, but one thing that’s made it a pleasure is the fact that we have a great board of directors…and one of the cool things about that is that we really like each other,” says Pallagrosi of the body whose other longtime members include D’Urso, Grushecky, Jean Mikle of the Asbury Park Press, and musician Rob Dye.
While he has every intention of remaining closely involved with LOD when the event marks its milestone 20th edition in 2020, the Foundation’s exec director has hinted at the possibility of taking on a smaller role as the institution enters its third decade; expressing the confidence that “if I step away, there’s a whole extended Asbury Park community ready to step in.”
That said, the promoter acknowledges that Light of Day remains “a musical experience” for the public — and despite a decades-long career that’s seen him meet, greet and work with many of the most awesome names in the record store racks, there have been moments when Pallagrosi can’t help but be that eternally starstruck fan.
“Standing on the stage, right next to Bruce…singing ‘Thunder Road’ into the same mic…well, how cool was that!”
Check the music listings in the January 17 edition of The Coaster for a day-by-day breakdown of events — and visit lightofday.org for full details on these and other ongoing programs of the Light of Day Foundation.