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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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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STEVE FORBERT: HONORARY SHORECAT IN THE BIG LITTLE CITY

Published in The Coaster, Asbury Park NJ, August 2, 2018 (photo by Alan Messer)

There it was again, just the other day — descending from the supermarket store speakers like a friendly angel; adding a subconscious spring to each shopper’s step with its perky piano-driven promise of “southern kisses” and sneak-on-out romance; blessing each purchase of Entenmann’s Glazed Pop-Ems and Plumpy’s Frozen Calamari with the same cheerful upbeat plea for love beneath sun and stars (or back there“behind the chandelier”) that took it to the Billboard Top Twenty chart in 1979.

Even those patrons of the Neptune Shop-Rite who immediately matched “Romeo’s Tune” with its composer and performer Steve Forbert might not have realized that not only is the veteran music maker “Alive on Arrival” and deliriously active on multiple creative fronts — he could very well be the next guy in the checkout line, having become a full-time Neptune resident some 17 years ago (and prior to that, a frequent flyer to our fair Shore, thanks to the presence of a longstanding Juliet to his Romeo).

For the Grammy nominated native of Meridien, MS who’s a proud inductee of the Mississippi Music Hall of Fame — and whose voice retains its honeydrip willow-weep drawl in conversation (and its fine-grain belt-sander blues-grit in concert), the area served by The Coaster is more than just a place to hang one’s figurative hat. Having written and recorded hundreds of songs since the release of his debut LP a full four decades back, he’s seen his works covered by the likes of Rosanne Cash, James Maddock, Carolyne Mas, Marty Stuart, and Keith Urban — and his established presence on the Asbury Park scene has granted him the local-dude cred to put forth such tunes as “Strange Names (North New Jersey’s Got ‘Em),” “My Seaside Brown-Eyed Girl”— and “Sandy,” a 2013 single that name-checked the communities devastated by that selfsame superstorm (and ended on a hopeful note of rebuild and restore).

Then there was Highway of Sight, the 2011 exhibition (and its 2015 sequel) that commandeered Cookman Avenue’s Art629 Gallery for a intriguing look at an altogether different facet of the musician’s art — a first-rate collection of photographs, showing people and places from one man’s ongoing road trip through the space and the spirit of a blacktop-laced continent. And it was Asbury Park that played a significant part in one of Forbert’s most famous extracurricular endeavors, when he took the stage at the old FastLane to sing Little Richard songs with Cyndi Lauper, then fronting the band Blue Angel — a lark that led to his appearance as Cyndi’s tux-clad beau in the mega-heavy rotation video for “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.”

While he still practices his “glorified hobby” as a lensman, Forbert harbors no illusions about a pursuit in which “you’ve gotta be William Eccleston to be able to do a proper photo book” — and it’s the pursuit of his first and foremost muse that brings him back to the Asbury stage on Friday, August 3, when he pays a visit to the Circuit-side staple Wonder Bar in the midst of a northeastern tour with his band, The New Renditions.

It’s actually a rare full-combo gig on the home front, for a performer whose local appearances in recent years have ranged from duo sets at McLoone’s Supper Club and featured spots at Light of Day concerts, to holding down the Stone Pony SummerStage all by his lonesome, as an opener for Johnny and the Jukes. Backed by an “all Jersey people” organization — Jesse Bardwell (mandolin, guitar), Caleb Estey (drums), Todd Lanka (upright bass), and George Naha (lead guitar) — Forbert promises a retrospective that ranges from the earliest times of his 40-plus years as a troubador, to a preview of his latest album.

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1/31: It’s a Regular Life, for Carol(yne) Mas

Carol Patricia Mas of Pearce, Arizona — better known as singer, songwriter and rockonteur CAROLYNE MAS of New York, Nashville, Asbury Park and many other coordinates on the GPS — has some songs for sale, a smile for her faithful fans, and a slew of stories for the asking.

A few weeks ago we let slip in this space the fact that Carolyne Mas had floated the idea to her Facebook friendbase that she was “looking to sell my portion of my publishing for all of my songs…all of them.”

“I am ready to walk away from music for good and get on with my life at this point,” said the singer best remembered for the rollicking, sax-driven minor hit “Stillsane” and the eponymous 1979 album it hailed from. “Perhaps my music can provide me with one last parting gift.”

It was a bolt from the blue as regards the veteran singer-songwriter (and onetime Jersey Shore resident) — one that elicited a strong “don’t do it” response from a lot of her musical brethren and sistren, and a report that left her “appalled” that we would share her public-forum post in such a fashion.

While we hadn’t spoken personally to the diminutive rock diva since her original, largely strugglesome tenure in and around Asbury Park in the 1980s, we reckoned it warranted a conversation — a chance to reboot and catch up; a forum in which the singer (who prefers to be called Carol Mas these days) could update everyone back here on the upperWETside as to her current whereabouts and activities, as well as her reasons for putting the fruits of her creative labors up on the block.

This is a woman who’s been dealt more than her share of adversity in a public life of more than 30 years. It’s a run of lousy luck that’s ranged from the standard music biz chew-ups and spit-outs (misbehaving management, radio playlist politics, piss-poor promotion) to protracted financial/ legal woes, health issues, busted relationships, family illnesses, crazy stalkers and a 2009 controversy that landed her in the headlines in Florida’s Hernando County, where she and her husband then operated an animal rescue operation known as Our Animal Haus (the couple’s disputes with county Animal Control resulted in the seizure of most of the animals in their care; Mas lays out her side of the story in detail here on her blog).

Then there was the 1986 incident in which she was attacked and stabbed nearly to death inside her home (by an assailant who remains unidentified and uncaught to this day) — an event that served as a bad bookend to a Shore area tenure during which ongoing legal hassles with management kept her from performing as a professional musician, forcing her to make the nut by doing everything from waiting tables and stocking shelves, to dancing in some of the many lovely go-go bars that dotted the Monmouth County coastline in those days.

Now relocated to rural Arizona with her husband and son, 56 year old Carol Mas is nothing if not a consummate survivor — this is no hermit in exile or broken shell of her old self, but an outgoing, active parent and community member who’s worked hard to achieve what is anymore the only real promise of American life: the chance to reinvent oneself, in as many ways and as many times as you damn well please. She’s someone who has no problem reminiscing, discussing and laughing about her life as a next-big-thing pop star — while making it evident that she’s able to do all this because she’s succeeded in taking the pressure off herself.

In there somewhere, of course, there still resides the ambitious, stage-savvy performer who emerged out of the same NYC troubador scene that gave us Steve Forbert, Willie Nile, Garland Jeffreys and Cyndi Lauper’s Blue Angel; a songsmith who could pen a radio-ready original like “Quote Goodbye Quote” or deal an authoritative cover of Forbert’s “You Can Not Win if You Do Not Play.”

There was “mucho mas” to Mas of course than those early Mercury LPs (finally released to a double CD set just last year). There were several well-received live recordings, fueled by a strong following in Germany (apparently, one does not Hassel the Hoff OR the Mas). There were self-released, Europe-only studio albums in the late 1980s and early 1990s (one of which, Action Pact, teams her with the greatest garage/barband in the observable universe, the Missouri combo known primarily as The Skeletons). And there was her participation in the JAM (Jersey Artists for Mankind) project, joining the likes of Bruce, Clarence, Max, Southside and Glen Burtnik on the Band Aid-style single “We Got the Love” (catch her solo spot at 4:12 in the clip).

Carol/ Carolyne isn’t at all shy about hooking old and new fans up with her recorded works (in a variety of formats, including flash stick) on her official website — and as we found out when we rang her up at her Grand Canyon State getaway, she’s got a story or two to tell. Read on…

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ARCHIVE: Forbert Takes It to the River

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Riverside Romeo: Hopping a high lonesome train to Red Bank, Steve Forbert comes to Riverside Gardens for the first in the summer series of Songwriters in the Park events, this Friday night.

By DOROTHY CREAMER (First published on Red Bank oRBit July 9, 2009)

Come Friday night in Red Bank, the air down around the banks of the Navesink will be filled with the fragrantly thought-provoking poetry of some of the best songwriting minds of our generation, delivered over a gentle breeze of acoustic guitars — and with perhaps with the faint hum of a cicada chorus. Yes, it’s time once again for the annual Songwriters in the Park series, presented by Brookdale Public Radio/ 90.5 The Night.

It’s the fifth year for an event that brings seven weeks of name-act, outdoor concerts to the terraformed terraces and waterfront walkways of Riverside Gardens Park. The acoustic-based, singer-songwriter shows are free to the public, and will kick off at 7:30pm on July 10, and continue on Friday nights until August 21.

The series had its start in 2005, when The Night assembled a season that included hit recording artist Jeffrey Gaines to name just one. Since that inaugural year, the event has continued to draw an impressive mix of major, indie and unsigned talent — with last year’s lineup including our very own version of the Jonas Brothers, Manalapan’s own Val Emmich. The triple-threat singer/songwriter/actor (Ugly Betty) joined a group of musical veterans as well as some newer faces like Astrid Williamson — who returns this season in an appearance timed to coordinate with the American release of her debut solo album, Boy for You.

This year’s roster of acts mixes in some new faces with some who have been popular guests in previous years. The schedule includes Guggenheim Grotto andJoe Whyte (July 17),  John Wesley Harding and Cantinero (July 24), Astrid Williamson and Cara Salimando (July 31), Among The Oak & Ash and Keith Monacchio (August 7), Miles Hunt & Erica Nockalls and Wayne Hussey (August 14), and Ari Hest and Beth Arentsen closing out the series on August 21.

Before any of that, however, one of the most familiar faces (and voices) from seasons past inaugurates the 2009 Songwriters slate on Friday, when Steve Forbert comes to the Gardens with storywriting songteller Jon Caspi opening up. With his smooth-as-molasses drawl, Forbert had a huge hit in 1979 with “Romeo’s Tune,” and recently released a new album, The Place And The Time. The new album is a follow-up to his 2007 offering, Strange Names & New Sensations, and continues the Forbert tradition of presenting his musical message in an endearing way that often draws comparisons to Bob Dylan.

Red Bank oRBit managed to track Forbert down somewhere in the wilds of Tennessee —okay just outside Nashville — to talk about a career that has spanned thirty-plus years and is showing no signs of stopping.

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