WHOLE LOD OF LOVE, AT 20th ANNUAL WINTERFEST IN ASBURY

It’s still just scratching the surface…but some of the faces of this weekend’s 20th anniversary Light of Day Winterfest schedule include (top row) Marc Ribler, Sandy Mack, Deseree Spinks, Marc Muller, Jarod Clemons, Sara Aniano (New Narratives), Bobby Mahoney, Quincy Mumford, Stella Mrowicki, Pat Guadagno; (2nd row) Lisa Bouchelle, Taylor Tote, Cranston Dean, Billy Hector, Christine Martucci, Rachel Ana Dobken, Tara Dente, Avery Mandeville, Stringbean, Dr. Geena; (3rd row) David Ross Lawn, Bob Egan, John Easdale (Dramarama), Richard Barone, Jo Wymer, Poppa John Bug, Mary McCrink, Joe D’Urso; (4th row, hidden) We’re Ghosts Now, Shady Street Show Band; (5th row) James Dalton, JT Bowen, Stormin’ Norman Seldin, Chuck Lambert, Jo Bonanno, Billy Walton, Keith Roth, Emily Bornemann (Dentist), Paul Whistler, Reagan Richards (Williams Honor); (6th/ bottom row) Anthony “Remember Jones” D’Amato, Glen Burtnik (The Weeklings), John Eddie, Joe Rapolla, Anthony Krizan, Joe Grushecky, Vini Lopez, Jeffrey Gaines, James Maddock, Willie Nile.

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), January 16, 2020

It’s a milestone menu of musical movings and shakings that was appetized by several local and regional events in the past week — one that lays out its spectacularly sprawling spread over the next four days; a benefit banquet that involves some 34 separate sites, dozens of distinct events, and enough performers to populate one little but LOUD, gloriously music-mad city.

Where to even begin to get a handle on Light of Day Winterfest, the fully soundtracked fundraising vehicle whose landmark 20th annual edition achieves climax this mid-January weekend? For perspective’s sake, it might behoove us to start at the very beginning — in this case the original Downtown Cafe in Red Bank; scene in November 1998 of a tune-filled 40th birthday party thrown by Bob Benjamin. Having received a diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease two years earlier, the music promo/ management pro asked his guests to forego the birthday presents in favor of donating toward Parkinson’s research — and it was there that Jean Mikle found herself on the ground floor of a thing that the Asbury Park Press journalist and Bruce Springsteen specialist says “has grown beyond anyone’s imagination…something that’s had such a positive impact on the community.”

The thing is the Light of Day Foundation, of which Mikle serves as president, and whose other board members include co-founder and premier promoter Tony Pallagrosi, as well as veteran music makers Joe D’Urso, Joe Grushecky and Rob Dye. As a year-round nonprofit endeavor with an international footprint, “LOD” has raised millions toward the goal of a cure for Parkinson’s — in addition to Joan Dancy & PALS, the ALS-focused charity founded by the late Terry McGovern — although the casual observer might be forgiven for first thinking of the organization as the planners and purveyors of a most auspicious party.

An ever-evolving affair that’s expanded its reach to several continents, major North American cities, and various satellite events throughout the calendar year, Winterfest commandeers the stages, storefronts and saloons of Asbury Park (as well as one sympathetic site in next-door Ocean Grove) in a manner that’s guaranteed to disturb the long winter’s nap of most other “off season” Shore locales. It’s a phenomenon that manifests as a natural outgrowth of the event’s symbiotic relationship with the city, where it first established base camp at the Stone Pony in 2000 — and to which it returned in 2008, after several years at surrogate homes in Sayreville and Sea Bright. By that time, Asbury Park had re-asserted itself as a music city that competed head-on with places many times its size — a “spiritual home” that finds Mikle “just amazed by the diversity and the depth of talent we have here.”

That deep bench will be on full active roster between tonight, January 16 and Sunday, January 19; represented by multiple generations of homegrown heroes, honorary local legends, and transplants to our music-friendly Shore. As Mikle (who recently accompanied D’Urso on the Fests’s European jaunt for the ninth time) explains it, “the fact that we have access to so many different musicians on this scene…and our out-of-town friends look forward to coming back each year…means we grow bigger each time out.”

Naturally, a big draw (and a focal point for some tantalizing will-he-or-won’t-he buzz) is the potential participation of Benjamin’s long-time friend Springsteen — whose soundtrack song “Just Around the Corner to the Light of Day” directly inspired the organization’s name, and whose frequent presence has made him de facto ringmaster for the majority of those all-star Bob’s Birthday concerts. 

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DECEMBER IN MUSIC-MAD ASBURY PARK IS A SONIC SAMPLER!

Performers appearing in holiday-themed concerts this month include top row, L-R: New Narratives (Asbury Lanes, Dec. 6), Rachel Ana Dobken (Stone Pony, Dec. 6), Brian Kirk (Stone Pony, Dec. 7), Rev. Horton Heat (Asbury Lanes, Dec. 7), Jody Joseph (Stone Pony, Dec. 8), Layonne Holmes (Paramount Theatre, Dec. 8; McLoone’s Supper Club, Dec. 20); bottom row L-R: Jo Wymer (The Saint, Dec. 15), Chris Pinnella (McLoone’s, Dec. 15 & 21), La Bamba (Stone Pony, Dec. 20), John Eddie (Wonder Bar, Dec. 21), P-Dub (Langosta Lounge, Dec. 22), Happy Fits (House of Independents, Dec. 20 & 21)

Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), December 5, 2019

 While it’s maybe a tad too early to anoint Asbury Park as a regional Capital of Christmas, try telling that to any of the multitudes who lined up outside Convention Hall this past Saturday, when some of the scene’s favorite makers of locally sourced, certified organic music (highlighted by Remember Jones, following up a big Back to Black Friday gig at the Pony) flipped the switch on another souped-up Santa sleighload of seasonal sounds, here in this historic city of summers.

Of course, nobody hits the latter-day circuit here in this music-mad town expecting such a thing as a Silent Night — and the holiday interlude is no exception, as the season’s traditional hymns, choral cantatas and orchestral chestnuts are given a Santa-run for their money by a set of signature sounds that boast a decidedly more jingle-bell raucous bent. It’s an eclectic advent-calendar countdown that begins in earnest this weekend — and, as becomes abundantly clear, doesn’t necessarily let up when the tree hits the beach dunes or curb.

THE BIG ONE

Back for a second annual go-round as The Hottest Ticket in Town, the all-Shore/ all-star jinglejam known as A Very Asbury Holiday Show commandeers the Paramount Theatre proscenium on Sunday, December 8 for a 2019 sequel to last year’s sold-out inaugrual edition. Produced by those most proactive preservers and promoters of the city’s principal export — that is, The Asbury Park Music Foundation — the early evening extravaganza convenes another jukebox Justice League of performers whose Asbury roots run deep. It’s a multi-generational mashup that boats some of the living-legend linchpins of the SOAP scene (JT Bowen, Billy Hector, Layonne Holmes, Lance Larson, Lisa Lowell), next-wave singer/ songsmiths (Emily Grove, Anthony Krizan, Williams Honor), and some of the true master entertainers of the Shore clubscape (Pat Guadagno, Jillian Rhys McCoy, Pat Roddy, Deseree Spinks, Eddie Testa).

All this, plus a special set by the “Grooveangelicyulegasmicfunknsoulicious” force that is Everett Bradley’s Holidelic; the debut of the new song “Gonna Be Christmas” by The Weeklings, members of 60s heavyweights Vanilla Fudge and The Rascals; a big house band (led by music director Tony Perruso) boasting veterans of such acts as the Jukes, Joe Jackson and Patti Smith; plus returning co-hosts Lee Mrowicki and WABC-TV newscaster Michelle Charlesworth (joined by 107.1 The Boss deejay Michele Amabile Angermiller) handling the play-by-play. It’s dedicated to the memory of Asbury scene stalwart Kerry Layton, with proceeds going to benefit the community programs of the APMF, Mercy Center, Jewish Family and Children’s Services, and Boys & Girls Clubs of Monmouth County (there’s also an invitation to donate new unwrapped items to the Asbury Park Toy Drive). Info on available tickets can be had at asburyparkmusiclives.org.

SPECIAL SOMETHINGS

The December yesterdays when the likes of Bing Crosby, Perry Como, Andy Williams, and The King Family aired their annual Christmas TV specials have a modern-day corollary in Asbury town, with the ever-expanding selection of special live sets hosted by performers from within and without the local scene. First out of the box (and returning to the Stoney stage on Friday, December 6) is Quincy Mumford, who joins his band The Reason Why for a 2019 Holiday Show that further features Mike Pinto and another of QM’s contemporaries among the exciting new generation of Asbury-based solo artists, Rachel Ana Dobken. Another one-to-watch act on the present Shorescape, the duo New Narratives, is among the performers helping to raise donations for the AP Toy Drive effort during a Friday evening multi-band bill at Asbury Lanes — while over at Little Buddy Hideaway (that tropic-island-nest annex to downtown AP’s Brickwall), another best-kept-secret set aims to keep the beachy vibe alive, with a tinsel-garland twang. Hosted by the folks who bring you the annual surf/ tiki/ cocktail fest Hi-Tide Weekend — Magdalena O’Connell and Vincent Minervino— Friday’s Hi-Tide Holiday session offers chestnuts from DJ Hi-Tide’s private stash of swingin’ sides, plus live and languorous sounds by Philly’s foremost purveyors of party music with a Hawaiian punch, Slowey & the Boats.

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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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JOHN EDDIE: FROM JUNGLE BOY TO DAD HUMOR & DIRTY OL’ BANDLEADER

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, September 13 2018

We’ve said it before in this space, but if there ever was such a thing as a Mount Rushmore of Honorary Shorecats… those “veteran rockers whose wall-of-sound work ethic has allowed them to make themselves entirely at home among the stars and bars of the Jersey Shore, despite being rooted in other states/ other scenes”…then surely the chiseled features of Mr. John Eddie would be right up there alongside the likes of Pittsburgh pirate Joe Grushecky, New England patriot John Cafferty, and New York giant Willie Nile.

Of course, the singer, songwriter, bandleader, ace live entertainer and self-described apostle of “Dad humor” is much too humble to be “taken for granite” as some sort of living-legend local monument — but when John Eddie returns once more with his Dirty Ol’ Band to the stage of the Wonder Bar this Friday, September 14, he’ll be coming up the coast in direct and defiant competition with a front of potentially wild weather; the unspoken challenge being who can best blow the roof off the joint.

“I commute just about every weekend to Jersey, and I’ve got the routine pretty much down,” says the native Virginian who’s made his home base in Nashville for much of the new century — and whose ownership of a house in Highlands keeps him keenly aware of the more delicate points of life on the coastal frontline.

“I have very rarely missed a gig; maybe once or twice with a snowstorm…I pride myself in making sure the show goes on, but when you come up against the power of nature, everything else takes a back seat!”

To say that the Grand Ole Opry-to-Garden State route is a well-trodden one is hardly an exaggeration for the “Front Street Runner” who emerged out of South Jersey in the early 80s; quickly staking a claim to fervent fanbases up and down the NJ Turnpike corridor — and getting himself signed to Bruce Springsteen’s record label in the process. While the 1986 John Eddie album (and its Gary Glitter-ish stomper of a single, “Jungle Boy”) won him some decent airplay, MTV exposure, and prime opening spots for Bob Seger and The Bangles, the follow-up Columbia LP saw a set of potentially strong songs thwarted by 80s-era production values — and a move to Elektra Records yielded little more than an unreleased third album and a lot of litigation; a fate that might have dispatched a less focused musician to a bitter post-stardom career as that “mean old cop in the Burger King lot.”

“The Elektra debacle just hit me at a time that knocked me for a loop,” says Eddie of what would become a prolonged absence from the recording studio — an interval during which the graduate of the music-biz mangler machine hunkered down and honed his room-rocking craft to a diamond-stylus point inside the working-dude clubs, casino lounges, and blues-brews-BBQs bars of an ever-expanding territory.

“I figured out pretty early on…and this was way before things like GoFundMe and Kickstarter…that my entire career could be fan-funded,” he explains. “I found people, fans, musicians who believed in me, and who really gave me the confidence to keep it going.”

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