Light of Day Shines Brightest with The Boss

Dispatches from Light of Day’s “big show” — a multi-artist concert held annually at Asbury Park’s Paramount Theatre that closes a weeklong, statewide music festival — generally center around a single burning question: Did Springsteen show up to play?

Before we go any further with this particular dispatch, about the 15th edition of the “big show,” held Saturday night, let’s get the answer out of the way. Yes, he did.

And before we get into the specifics of Springsteen’s roughly 90-minute performance alongside some of his old Asbury Park cronies on the Paramount stage, let’s forgive ourselves for caring so much.

Because while it’s true that Light of Day, launched by Jersey Shore denizen Bob Benjamin in 2000, is a charity to benefit Parkinson’s disease (the organization, as of this year’s installment, has raised $3 million), it’s also true that Springsteen, being Springsteen, lends the proceedings an air of humility, hope and swollen spirits that might be less pronounced without him.

In other words, would the show, which this year included the rock and roll veterans Willie Nile, Southside Johnny, the James Maddock Band and Pat DiNizio alongside a handful of others have been great if Springsteen, who is never formally on the bill, didn’t pull one of his now-familiar pop-ins?

Unquestionably. The four times he hasn’t played, the concerts have been successes. But would hundreds of music fans of a certain age have stayed out till 1:30 a.m. raising their voices, and their iPhones, to capture a moment with a rock star if he wasn’t onstage? Doubtful. That he dials up the Light of Day magic is undeniable.

The Paramount show ran six hours, with Springsteen taking the stage alongside the New York punk hero Nile for his closing song, “One Guitar,” after the show’s halfway mark.

From there the Boss reappeared with La Bamba’s big band for “This Little Girl,” and with Southside for the Jackie Wilson classic “Higher and Higher.”

But it was with his old buddies Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers, the gritty Pittsburgh band he’s collaborated with in the past, that Springsteen played longest. The set list held some similarities to last year’s: “Adam Raised a Cain,” “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” the newish “Frankie Fell in Love,” “Because the Night,” “Light of Day” – the song the event was named for – plus the kickers “Thunder Road” and “The Promised Land,” with the full complement of talent onstage, plus Benjamin, who scattered thanks across the stage.

A highlight was “Still Look Good (For Sixty),” a song that clearly resonated with the Boomer-heavy audience.

Springsteen will be 65 this year, a senior citizen by some measures. But he looked and sounded none the worse for his considerable rock-and-roll wear. Seniority, though, has always suited him. In addition to the power of a group of music guys from New Jersey to make a huge dent in fighting an awful disease, Light of Day 2015 proved there’s no age limit on being the Boss.

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