Glen Burtnik is a busy guy, always doing a million different projects, so it’s fitting that he will perform at this year’s Light of Day WinterFest in two different ways. On Jan. 19, he and his band The Weeklings will perform at the “Asbury Angels” concert at The Stone Pony in Asbury Park, in a set that will double as a release party for the new Weeklings album, appropriately named (for this show, at least) Raspberry Park. And on Jan. 20, he and fellow Weeklings Bob Burger and John Merjave will join E Street Band drummer Max Weinberg in the band known as Max Weinberg’s Jukebox for the headlining set at the festival’s main concert, at The Count Basie Center for the Arts in Red Bank.
Light of Day — which began as a birthday party for Bob Benjamin, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease — has grown into a multi-week, multi-city festival, with related activities at other times in the year. Over the years, it has raised close to $6 million in the fight against Parkinson’s disease and related disorders. Burtnik has played at many past festivals, in various ways.
For information on all Light of Day shows, visit lightofday.org
I talked to Burtnik by phone last week.
Q: So I’m talking to a bunch of people who are playing Light of Day and just kind of asking about their Light of Day experiences and what it means to them. Of course it’s primarily a charity event but it’s come to mean so much more to people, over the years.
A: It’s obviously a great charity, a worthwhile cause. But also, from my perspective, there’s camaraderie, and you get to see musicians that I might not see any other time of the year. I used to do a Christmas show (the annual Xmas Xtravaganza) and I would see Willie Nile all the time there. But now, it’s almost, this is the only time I see Willie, for instance.
There’s great camaraderie backstage, and we all feel like we’re part of a team. It’s not like when you’re separated, and everybody’s got their own shows, and they’re either promoting them or rehearsing for them or they’re doing these other shows. But it’s an honor and a pleasure playing with all of these other musicians. And there’s a pretty great variety of music: A lot of great singers, a lot of great performers and artists.
Q: I think it’s true that everyone involved kind of feels that.
A: Really, the charity does owe a lot to Bruce Springsteen, who has shown up, unannounced, from time to time. That, of course, helps draw people to the show, and Bruce is very generous in doing that. But also, he just likes to get up and play. And then there are these Bruce fans from all over the world that show up. So you meet these people from Italy who have gotten on a plane to see you play at The Stone Pony or something. It’s really quite a little party, and it’s a million shows. It’s a party that lasts a couple of nights.
Q: I think the Springsteen thing really helped establish Light of Day and make it a major event, but then it’s kind of developed its own identity, and now … it’s always great when he shows up, but I don’t think people are really expecting him to show up the way he used to. It’s kind of developed its own thing apart from him.
A: Which is nice. Yeah. And it’s given exposure to some acts that people now are getting to know. Williams Honor comes to mind. I’m a big fan, and a close friend of Reagan Richards. But that group has been plugged into Light of Day for a couple of years now, and I think it’s great. They get a lot of exposure because of it.
One sad shadow over all of this is Jesse Malin. In the past year, since the last Light of Day, Jesse Malin has had a medical emergency, and we’re not going to see him this year.
Q: Yeah, I know. I hope some people will do some songs of his or at least talk about him and kind of include him in that way, because he was such an important part of it, for so long.
A: Yeah, that’s actually a really good idea, Jay. (laughs). Now I’m thinking The Weeklings should do a Jesse song.
Q: I hope you do. The Weeklings debuted at Light of Day, didn’t they? I seem to remember the first show you ever did was a Light of Day thing at The Stone Pony. Is that correct?
A: I don’t know about that. Um …
Q: Maybe it was just the first time I saw The Weeklings. But I know you’re using Light of Day this year to do a release party for your new album.
A: Yes, both things are happening together.
Q: Are you going to play a lot of the album at the show?
A: Bits of the album. We’ve been releasing songs that are going to be on this album, as singles, for the past couple of years. We’ve just slowly been putting this album together. But yes, in addition to those songs, we’ll be playing some of the new songs off the album.
It’s a funny thing that we do, where we do cover songs but we rearrange famous songs by The Beatles or by Springsteen. This year, we put out a rearrangement of a Springsteen song, “I’m on Fire” (see video below). So we found a way to have one foot in the tribute market, which is so successful these days, and keep one foot in the songwriting door. So there are a number of originals, and there’s a single coming out, the song is ours (i.e., written by us), called “All the Cash in the World.” And we also have a video. (watch below)
Q: I’ve heard the album and I think people are really going to love “Mr. Soul Satisfaction” (a track that blends elements of Neil Young’s “Mr. Soul” with The Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction”).
A: Yeah, I hope so. I hope it doesn’t piss off Neil Young — that’s all I’ve got to say. We’ll see. Peter Noone sang on that. A really great guy, and still in good voice. The 9-year-old in me is just thrilled to work with him at any time because, as a kid, I used to pick up Herman’s Hermits singles.
Q: Are there any moments from Light of Day shows that kind of stand out for you, over the years?
A: It’s funny you say that because it’s Jesse Malin who I remember putting on really good shows. But everybody brings their A game. Remember Jones has done some great performances. Like I said, Williams Honor … I think they’re very good live. There’s nothing specific other than just images that come to my mind. But it’s always an exciting show, and because there are so many acts on most of the bills, everybody is kind of playing their A game. There’s a little competition — friendly competition. But it’s helpful. It’s a kick in the ass, you know.
Q: And in a way, the pressure is off, because the show isn’t just you.
A: Yeah, but you don’t want to suck, because on the side of the stage are these other really great acts watching (laughs). It reminds me a little bit of the Murray the K shows, which I never saw, but when I read about them and I talk to some of the people that were in the audience … you’d have like The Who and The Dave Clark Five and The Yardbirds, all of these acts on one bill, and everybody would play for about 20 minutes, and then they’d run offstage and another amazing act from the ’60s would get up. There’s a little bit of that. Shorter sets, but the show packs a punch for the audience. They just keep seeing artist after artist.
Q: And they would do, like, three or four of those (Murray the K) shows in one day.
A: That’s right. It was a very different world back then.
Q: So anything else planned for this year, beyond the album release?
A: No. I think that’s what’s going on.
So that Friday, I guess the 19th, we’re playing The Stone Pony. The next night, we play with Max Weinberg’s Jukebox, which is Max on drums and then three of the four Weeklings. That’s at the Count Basie theater. And then there’s a couple of Beatle conventions. We’re playing down at Delray Beach (Florida) later in the month, and then there’s The BeatleFest, which takes place at the TWA terminal where the Beatles landed 60 years ago. So that’s kind of an interesting thing. And then, more of the same.
I’m just a busy cat, thank God. We’re making videos, we’re writing songs and we’ve got an album coming out, so I’m staying busy.
Q: With Max Weinberg’s Jukebox, there will be so many other musicians in the house. Have there been any discussions yet about jamming with some of the people who are there, or kind of opening it up in that way?
A: You know, you’re full of great ideas (laughs). No, there has been no discussion. And that’s a great idea.
Q: They’ll be right there. You could have Willie Nile or Reagan or whoever come on and do a song or two.
A: Yeah. As long as they know the song.
I recently saw Low Cut Connie (at Asbury Lanes), who’s going to be at The Basie, I think, with us. A great live act. And he (Adam Weiner) does that. He brings on people to sing, and actually Williams Honor got up with him, as well as the guys from Fantastic Cat.
So Low Cut Connie does that, and that’s really a great idea. It kind of helps the show … it keeps your attention. Not that you’d lose your attention with Low Cut Connie. But variety is a cool thing.
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