Bob Benjamin was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1996. In 1998, his 40th birthday party turned into a modest Parkinson’s fundraiser that evolved into the Light of Day Foundation. Benjamin, a longtime New Jersey resident, has struggled for 22 years with Parkinson’s, a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system. The foundation he inspired and cofounded has also endured and grown into a New Jersey institution.
The Light of Day Foundation celebrates its 20th anniversary this month as it has always celebrated—with music. The foundation’s first official event in November 2000 was held at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park and featured mostly area bands. There was a surprise guest: Bruce Springsteen, who previously had befriended Benjamin, an artist manager and marketer.
Springsteen “ripped the roof off the place,” recalls singer/songwriter Willie Nile, who performed at that initial show and every Light of Day show since. (The foundation takes its name from a Springsteen song.)
The Light of Day concert became an annual event in Asbury Park, with a revolving cast of performers who donate their time and talent. “Everyone who does it is in it for the love of Bob,” says Nile. That includes Springsteen, whose unannounced appearances (11 in 19 years) have made the show a hot ticket.
“I had no idea a small DIY organization like this would last this many years,” says cofounder and executive director Tony Pallagrosi, a promoter, manager and producer who started his career playing trumpet with Southside Johnny and later built and ran the Starland Ballroom in Sayreville.
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Several years ago, the annual event expanded into a multiday festival. This year’s Winterfest, January 10–20, will include concerts in Montclair (January 10 at Outpost in the Burbs), Philadelphia, New York City and Stony Point, New York, plus multiple events in Asbury Park, including the main event, January 18 at the Paramount Theatre.
Performers at the various events will include Light of Day regulars Nile, Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers, Joe D’Urso and Stone Caravan, James Maddock, and Jesse Malin. Special guests were not announced by deadline.
The foundation has raised more than $5.5 million for Parkinson’s, as well as ALS and progressive supranuclear palsy. This year, the organizers hope to surpass the $6 million mark. In addition to the Winterfest, Light of Day has spun off a CD, a DVD and global concert tours.
Benjamin, a 2009 New Jersey Monthly Seeds of Hope honoree, will surely be on stage for the finale at the Paramount. Will Springsteen be on hand?
“I can never officially announce that,” says Pallagrosi, adding with a hint of mischief, “He hasn’t been at the show in four years, so who knows?”Click here to leave a comment