Take a moment, please, and look at the photo above. I mean, really look at it.
Anyone familiar with the local music scene will recognize an astounding array of talent gathered at the Outpost in the Burbs in Montclair, Jan. 10, for the first show of the 2020 Light of Day festival. (Events continue through Jan. 20, mostly in Asbury Park; see the complete schedule here.)
The show had an acoustic, “in-the-round” format. In the main set, five acts, onstage together, performed four songs each: Willie Nile; James Maddock; Joe D’Urso with pianist Seth Saltzman; Jill Hennessy with guitarist Robbie Ghersoe; and Weeklings partners Glen Burtnik and Bob Burger. Before that, four acts played three songs each: Danielia Cotton; Williams Honor (Reagan Richards and Gordon Brown); Emily Grove; and Rick Winowski.
That’s 32 songs, overall, by nine acts — just a taste, really, of what each one could offer in a show of their own, but, taken together, a show that added up to an amazing, unique experience.
Of course, it was all for a cause (with the artists performing for free). As Light of Day executive director Tony Pallagrosi reminded us in a brief speech, Light of Day has raised $5.5 million to fight Parkinson’s disease and related disorders in its 20 years. Bob Benjamin, who founded the festival after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s, attended the show, and Nile spoke eloquently about his long friendship with Benjamin, and how Benjamin’s life and work has been inspirational to him, personally.
An Outpost kickoff to the Light of Day festival has been an annual event since 2015, and developed traditions of its own. Nile and D’Urso have performed at all six shows, and Maddock at five. Everyone on the Jan. 10 bill, in fact, had been at at least one prior Light of Day show at the Outpost except for Burtnik and Burger. And they had no trouble fitting in. They were, in fact, responsible for the song that, for me, was the evening’s high point: A deeply emotional duet by Burtnik and Grove (with Burger on guitar) on “Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough” (see video below), a song co-written by Burtnik and Patty Smyth that was a Top 10 hit as a duet by Smyth and Don Henley in 1992. It was dedicated to Anjelia Pelay, a Shore musician and friend of the performers whose death they had learned about earlier in the day.
In keeping with the charitable theme of the event, there were many uplifting songs in the course of the evening. Nile saved his rousingly inspirational “One Guitar” for the last round of songs, and D’Urso performed two heartfelt songs of hope, “Hold On” and “Let It Go,” as well as a cover of Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle” (see video below). Hennessy covered one of Bruce Springsteen’s most powerful anthems, “No Surrender.”
I’m not sure if it was intentional, but Maddock paid tribute to an artist who was in the lineup of Montclair’s first Light of Day show, Garland Jeffreys, with a cover of his atmospheric “New York Skyline” (see video below). Maddock and Nile sat next to each other throughout the set and often performed on each other’s songs. They also worked out a great segue when Maddock followed Nile’s moving piano ballad about immigrants, “The Crossing,” with his similarly themed “The Mathematician.”
Besides performing “Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough,” Burtnik and Burger added some acoustic power-pop to the evening with three Weeklings songs: “Breathing Underwater,” current single “I Want You Again” and the winsome “Melody.”
In the opening set, Williams Honor didn’t perform their hit “No Umbrella” but their songs — “I Can’t Wait to Be Ashamed,” “First Comes Love, Then Comes Damage” (see video below) and “Send It to Me” — had plenty of big hooks and benefited from Richards’ big voice and theatrical delivery. Grove stunned with the purity of her voice on the a cappella “Johnny Lee,” Cotton conveyed a sense of stately drama on her three songs, and Winowski brought some complex guitar riffs and a rock-like sense of energy to the mix.
Most of the artists have at least one more Light of Day appearance to come this week. For information on the organization and the shows, visit lightofday.org.
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