Light of Day: Joe Grushecky debuts impromptu ‘Asbury Orchestra’ at Paramount Theatre

Light of Day Paramount 2019 review

PHOTOS BY JOHN POSADA

Joe Grushecky and Reagan Richards sing “Gimme Shelter” at the Light of Day concert at the Paramount Theatre in Asbury Park.

“We made all this stuff up at soundcheck,” said Joe Grushecky, Jan.19 at the Light of Day Winterfest’s main concert at the Paramount Theatre in Asbury Park.

The festival, which raises money for Parkinson’s Disease research and programs (and fights against related diseases, as well), is now in its 19th year. And Grushecky and his band The Houserockers have played at most if not all of the festival’s main concerts. The Houserockers were supposed to join him at this show, too, but they got stranded in their hometown of Pittsburgh, due to the storm, and so Grushecky put together another group that he called the Asbury Orchestra.

His son Johnny Grushecky, a Houserocker, was there, having played the festival the night before with his own band, Milly. Others in the impromptu band included guitarist Marc Ribler, bassist Kenny Aaronson (who was at the show to play in John Eddie’s Dirty Ol’ Band) and harmonica player Danny Clinch. They played Grushecky’s angry political anthem “That’s What Makes Us Great,” as well as The Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” (with Reagan Richards of Williams Honor contributing electrifying duet vocals) and “Miss You,” and capped the short set with the show’s high point, a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” (see video below) featuring lead vocals by Grushecky, Ribler, Jesse Malin, James Maddock, Steve Forbert, Adam Weiner of Low Cut Connie, and Joe D’Urso.

Over its 19 years, this festival hasn’t just raised money. It has built a community of musicians, willing to help out in any way they can. And this number really underscored that point.

Willie Nile at the Paramount Theatre.

Willie Nile headlined the five-hour show with a rousing set of songs such as “One Guitar,” “Heaven Help the Lonely” and “Hell Yeah.” After a speech by Light of Day founder Bob Benjamin, who has been battling Parkinson’s Disease for 22 years, the show ended with “Light of Day,” a group version of the Bruce Springsteen song that gave the festival its title, with Nile, Grushecky and original E Street Band member Vini “Mad Dog” Lopez singing the verses. (Lopez also had sung backing vocals on Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World” with D’Urso during D’Urso’s set with his band Stone Caravan, early in the evening, and harmonized with D’Urso on his uplifting “Hold On,” during a brief acoustic set, later.)

As usual, this festival-centerpiece concert featured a lot of artists who are very familiar to Light of Day regulars. One band that many attendees may not have seen before, though, was Philadelphia-based Low Cut Connie, who have a retro, rockabilly-tinged sound, and a piano-pounding frontman, Cherry Hill-raised Weiner, who seemed like the second coming of Jerry Lee Lewis. Twice during the band’s set, he acrobatically played his piano with one foot on his bench, and the other high in the air.

There were eight band sets in the show (by Malin, Maddock, Forbert and John Eddie, in addition to Nile, Grushecky, D’Urso and Low Cut Connie) and five shorter acoustic sets (by D’Urso, Dean Friedman, Anthony D’Amato, Ben Arnold and Williams Honor). That’s a lot to pack into five hours, and I’m not going to attempt to describe it all except to say that virtually everyone rose to the occasion, and made this one of the most consistently first-rate Light of Day shows.

I did want to mention, though, Eddie’s “Free” (see video below), a funny, good-naturedly obscene ode to personal freedom and the spirit of America that got the entire crowd singing along. Eddie said he hopes “Free” will replace Lee Greenwood’s ubiquitous “God Bless the U.S.A.,” and I couldn’t agree with him more.

Another full day of Light of Day events is scheduled for today. For information, visit lightofday.org.

Here are my reviews of …

Light of Day: Remember Jones, Marc Ribler’s Red, White and Brit Tribute to Who, Williams Honor and Johnny Pisano’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Pizzeria at House of Independents, Asbury Park, Jan. 17

Light of Day: “Songwriters Stripped’ with Willie Nile, James Maddock, Williams Honor, Danielia Cotton, Joe D’Urso and others at Outpost in the Burbs, Montclair, Jan. 11.

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