“I’m having such a good time listening to everybody play tonight,” said Willie Nile after singing his earnest social-change anthem, “Let’s All Come Together,” at The Outpost in the Burbs in Montclair, Jan. 20. “It’s all so beautiful. Different magic, different heartbeats. I love every one of them.”
As if on cue, Guy Davis then performed, as the show’s next song, “It Was You” (watch video below), a protest song of a totally different nature: bouncy, humorous and mildly bawdy at times. The polar opposite to “Let’s All Come Together,” in terms of its approach.
The show was the Outpost’s annual Light of Day benefit concert — and the last offering of this year’s Light of Day WinterFest, which began on Jan. 7 — and featured 12 acts, performing in “Songwriters in the Round” style. There were two sets, by groups of six: Every musician stayed onstage throughout the entire set, sometimes helping others out with acoustic guitar or harmonica accompaniment, or backing vocals.
Nile and Davis were joined in the main set by James Maddock, Jill Hennessy (accompanied by guitarist Scott Martin), Joe D’Urso (accompanied by pianist Seth Saltzman) and Jeffrey Gaines. The opening set featured Danielia Cotton (accompanied by guitarist Kareem Devlin), the duo Williams Honor (Reagan Richards and Gordon Brown), Adam Ezra, Jon Caspi, Rick Winowski and Jake Thistle.
The performers in the main set did three songs apiece; the openers, two. Plus everyone joined together for the encore, Nile’s rousing “One Guitar” (watch video below). So there were 31 songs, overall, making for three hours of consistently engaging music.
Also making for a show that’s tough to review, because you want to write about every artist, but have to limit yourself to a few moments that stood out. For me, these included:
• Davis’ “Early in the Morning,” a song as gentle and ethereal as “It Was You” was blunt and earthy.
• D’Urso’s “Groundhog Day” (watch video below), a clever, not-yet-released song written during the pandemic and evoking the emptiness of days on end with nothing to do and nowhere to go. “I have so much time on my hands, I can’t get anything done,” D’Urso sang.
• Ezra’s “Pocket Full of Seashells” (watch video below), another new song, but a poetic and soul-searching one, inspired by being apart from his newborn daughter while living the life of a touring musicians.
• Nile’s intense, slow-burning “Love Is a Train,” a piano ballad with a Dylanesque stream of images and ideas: “Love is a train to carry me home/Love is a train to the great unknown/Love is a rainbow, love is a gift/A treasure to be shared till the sands of time shift.”
• Nile’s wryly philosophical “God Laughs.” What an amazing songbook he has accumulated over the last 40-plus years. (By the way, he’ll be back at the Outpost for a show of his own, with his band, on March 10; visit outpostintheburbs.org.)
• Also, Gaines and Cotton sang with explosive power on “Hero in Me” and “Good Day,” respectively, and other songs as well … Williams Honor performed their defiant party song, “I’ll Be Damned,” and Caspi, his celebratory anthem, “Raise ‘Em High!” And check out Rick Winowski’s gorgeous “Falling,” below.
Light of Day — which has raised more than $6 million for the fight against Parkinson’s disease and related disorders over the last 23 years — has been presenting shows annually at the Outpost in the Burbs since 2015. But previously, they have all been at the beginning of the WinterFest, not the end.
Referring to the change, Light of Day executive director Tony Pallagrosi said, when introducing the main set, “I think, judging on the number of people that are here tonight, that was a good idea.”
The Outpost was, indeed, significantly fuller, though this also could have been partially due to the bigger lineup and Nile’s presence on the bill — he was not at last year’s Outpost show, and was probably this year’s biggest draw — and the fact that COVID isn’t keeping as many people away as it did a year ago.
The move from the beginning to the end of the festival may also have changed the flavor of the show, a little bit. The musicians had, in many cases, done shows together in other cities since Jan. 7 — the festival has taken place mostly in Asbury Park, but also included events in Red Bank, New York and Philadelphia, before the Montclair closer — and that seemed to create more of a sense of community among them.
“It is just such a unique thing, I think, to be surrounded by such incredible musicianship, and such amazing (attendees), from all over this area, but all over the world, as well,” said Ezra. “It’s rare, I think, for any of us to be surrounded by so much love and positivity, all in the same place.”
For more information on Light of Day, visit lightofday.org.
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