Now in its 19th year, the annual Light of Day Winterfest is not only a tradition, but something that has developed traditions of its own: The centerpiece concert at Asbury Park’s Paramount Theatre, for instance, and the Asbury Angels concert at the Stone Pony, and the “Boardwalk Crawl” series of songwriters shows.
In 2015, the Winterfest got under way with a concert at Montclair’s Outpost in the Burbs, and this has continued to happen every year since then. This year’s show took place on Jan. 11, with Willie Nile, James Maddock, the duo Williams Honor (Reagan Richards and Gordon Brown), Danielia Cotton and Joe D’Urso in the main set, and an opening set featuring Jon Caspi, Laura Crisci and Rick Winowski.
As always, this was a high-spirited affair —a Songwriters in the Round-style show with lots of impromptu collaborations among the musicians, including a final group encore of the Bruce Springsteen rocker, “Light of Day,” that gave the festival its name.
In its 19 years, Light of Day has raised millions of dollars for programs and research fighting Parkinson’s Disease and related disorders. Adding some poignancy to this year’s Montclair show was the presence of Bob Benjamin, who has Parkinson’s Disease himself and created Light of Day in order to do something about it. Willie Nile — a Buffalo native whose friendship with Benjamin goes back to the early 1980s, when Nile was just starting out and Benjamin interviewed him as a student at the University at Buffalo — spoke about Benjamin at length, and dedicated the rollicking “Les Champs Élysées” to him.
As an added twist to this year’s show, everyone was asked — in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ White Album — to play a song from it, or another Beatles song. This resulted in lots of great moments — if I had to pick one, I’d probably go with Cotton’s “Here, There and Everywhere.” This has never been one of my favorite Beatles songs; I’ve always seen it as kind of a sentimental throwaway. But Cotton turned it into something exquisitely sad and yearning. (see video below)
Nile opted for “Revolution,” with most of the other performers joining in. Maddock played lead guitar on Williams Honor’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” and also cleverly dedicated “Fool on the Hill” to President Trump, adding a new layer of meaning that worked surprisingly well. D’Urso turned in a rough-edged but still deeply moving version of “Julia.”
The openers did Beatles covers, too. Winowski skillfully negotiated the tricky turns of “Blackbird,” and Crisci had fun fast-talking her way through the verses of “Rocky Raccoon.” Caspi was join by his son, Ezra (who recently released his first album), for “I’ve Just Seen a Face”; they sounded great together, though I didn’t understand why they capped it with a bit of “Happiness Is a Warm Gun.” The songs seem like an oil-and-water mix to me.
Getting back to the main set … it was studded with uplifting anthems, including Nile’s “One Guitar,” D’Urso’s “Hold On” and Maddock’s “Calling My People” (see video below). But perhaps my favorite moment of the night was Williams Honor’s debut of a new song, “I Can’t Wait to Be Ashamed” (see video below), a catchy, playful ode to bad behavior that will probably be a staple of their concerts for years to come.
Adding to the sense of community, pianist Seth Saltzman came to perform with D’Urso and ended up helping to create a fuller, richer sound throughout the evening by backing many other artists as well, and Outpost president and soundman David Amlen (on piano) and Light of Day board member Rob Dye (on guitar) helped out on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Caspi returned to the stage to sing on D’Urso’s “Let It Go,” which was dedicated to the late Lou “Mr. Lou” DeMartino, a close friend and bandmate of both men.
Light of Day continues with shows in Asbury Park, New York and Ocean Grove, Jan. 13 and 16-21 (most of them will take place in Asbury Park, Jan. 17-20). Visit lightofday.org or download the free Light of Day app through the iTunes app store, for more information.