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It’s good to see normalcy come back to parts of the Jersey Shore. The latest welcome return was Asbury Park’s annual Light of Day festival, which filled the seaside city with music fans this past weekend.
Light of Day started 13 years ago as a single concert to benefit Parkinson’s disease research. This year’s event was a five-day extravaganza featuring more than 100 performers at nine venues. The Light of Day Foundation, which also stages international tours, takes its name from a song written by Bruce Springsteen, a frequent surprise guest at Light of Day shows.
The heart and soul of Light of Day is Bob Benjamin, a music industry veteran and New Jersey native who was stricken with Parkinson’s in 1996. The $2 million raised since 1998 by Light of Day—fondly referred to as “Bobstock”—is testimony to Benjamin’s determined fight against the disease. New Jersey Monthly honored Benjamin in 2009 with the Seeds of Hope Award for his foundation’s achievements.
This year’s main event was Saturday night’s sold-out concert at the Paramount Theatre, the classic venue at the north end of the Asbury Park boardwalk. Although some of the businesses on the boardwalk await repairs and remain shuttered after Hurricane Sandy, the boardwalk and the venerable old Paramount stood firm against the storm.
Like the boardwalk, the lineup at the Paramount show was solid. In the tradition of an early rock show, the acts appeared in rapid succession, with none getting more than about 25 minutes to perform. Acoustic acts performed at the front of the stage while the bigger acts set up behind the curtain, so there was never a moment without music in a show that ran from 6:30 pm until almost 2 am.
This year’s main attractions were Light of Day regulars Jesse Malin, Joe D’Urso, Garland Jeffreys, Willie Nile and Joe Grushecky & the House Rockers. But the showstopper was the ageless Darlene Love, whose energetic set included oldies made famous by Marvin Gaye, Roberta Flack, the Righteous Brothers and Tina Turner, as well as “He’s a Rebel” and “Da Doo Ron Ron”—chestnuts from Love’s days with 1960s girl group the Crystals.
There was no surprise appearance this year by Springsteen—he earlier sent best wishes in a message posted online indicating that he was vacationing with his family. But Springsteen’s presence was felt during the grand finale, when all the players took to the stage for ragged renditions of “Light of Day” and “Thunder Road.” Amid the onstage crush of at least 50 musicians and supporters, Benjamin sent the crowd home with a final optimistic note, declaring: “Hopefully, we won’t have to do this much longer.”