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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ARCHIVE: Ventures are ALIVE at Asbury Lanes

bogle_loOriginally published in the Asbury Park Press, March 24, 2006

There’s classic rock — and then there’s The Ventures.

A band that dropped its first record when Ike was still using the Oval Office as a putting green, The Ventures hail from a time when instrumental pop combos were not uncommon on the jukeboxes of a still-young nation; an era when a wordlessly workshopped single like “Walk, Don’t Run” could pick up a head of regional steam and seemingly come from left field to take the country (or, in this case, the world) by storm. With most of its pedigreed lineup intact, the only band to have ever landed an instructional album on the Billboard charts is approaching a jaw-dropping fifty years as a touring, recording, boundary-busting force of musical nature — a fact that adds an extra layer of meaning to the title of their latest release, “A-Live Five-O” (on the classically-inclined Varese Sarabande label).

There’s Big In Japan — and then there’s The Ventures.

With an instantly familiar guitar-based sound that crosses cultures as effortlessly as it does continents, The Ventures have a special something that never gets lost in translation — witness Japan, where the band first played in 1961 (and to whose shores they’re said to have introduced the electric guitar). Boasting over 50 million records sold to a fanbase that spans three generations — and an official tribute band based in every city — the group has made the land of the rising sun their own “Venture Capital” away from home; writing and releasing songs geared specifically to the Nippon market (where, with Japanese lyrics added, several have gone on to become absolute “standards” in every karaoke bar in the country), touring and issuing releases twice a year, and being honored by Japan’s Foreign Ministry for their important contributions to Japanese-American relations (the only pop performers so recognized).

There’s trend versus tradition — and then there’s The Ventures.

A pop-cultural institution that simply renders moot any notion of Hip or Square — with a massive catalog that not only features titles like “Ventures Play the Carpenters” and “Hollywood Metal Dynamic 3000;” but includes “Joy” (an album of classics by Bach, Beethoven and company) and “Rocky Road” (a disco platter that they’d probably like to erase from history) — The Ventures have kept their famous chops razor-sharp by investigating and mastering every fad, every flavor, every fleeting permutation of the rock blueprint; turning it around into something timeless by dint of their own indisputable imprimatur. They’re the guys that rightfully proclaim themselves “America’s musical ambassadors to the non-English speaking world;” the traveling kings of a seemingly never-ending road — a road that takes them back to New Jersey for the first time in eight years, for a weekend whistle-stop at the Asbury Lanes.

It’s the first jaunt to the Shore in some time for these popularizers of the surf sound (their last Jersey gig took place at Sayreville’s now-defunct Club Bene), and, according to rhythm guitarist Don Wilson, “ We don’t want to get too far from our Sixties thing…we’re out to prove to the younger crowd that Sixties music is always fun; always enjoyable.”

At 73 years young, California-bred, Seattle-based Wilson is one of two septuagenarian founding Ventures playing on the current domestic mini-tour (the other is legendary lead guitarist Nokie Edwards). With fellow charter member Bob Bogle having retired from touring, longtime “fifth Venture” Bob Spalding — himself a vital part of the band for over thirty years — anchors the rhythm section on bass and provides the much-needed “Bob” factor. At a mere 50 years of age, drummer Leon Taylor would seem to be the odd man out — until you consider that he assumed his place at the kit from his father, original Venture Mel Taylor; thereby carrying the group’s proud bloodline in a world that’s too full of impostor “oldies” acts.

Declaring that “we like to diversify…not just for the audience’s sake but for ourselves,” Wilson imparts that fans can expect to hear the hits (including the aforementioned “Walk,” “Pipeline,” “Apache” and the theme from “Hawaii Five-O,” now newly familiar to fans of “Madagascar”) along with some surprises during Saturday night’s show at the Lanes — which, by the way, is one of the last major events booked by Meldon Von Riper Stultz (who recently resigned as manager at the 60’s-vintage circuitside bowl-o-drome) since the venue’s transformation into an atom-age alternative cultural center.

No stranger to bowling alley bandstands, the frequent flyer recalls the early days of drive-ins, Moose lodges and other golden-age gigs as a genuine proving ground for the combo that “launched five thousand garage bands.”

“You tend to remember the tours when you had car trouble,” the guitarist laughs. “Six guys in a car, pulling a trailer for 400 miles…still, with over 400 albums out there, we must be doing something right.”

Another thing they’ve done right across the decades is maintain a solid friendship and professional partnership that Wilson maintains is based on a policy of “no bickering…we don’t step on each other’s toes, we don’t push each other’s buttons…although after 47 years, we know where all the buttons are!”