It's common for musicians in New Jersey to donate their time and perform at benefit concerts for good causes, but there's nothing like the annual Light of Day concerts. What began as a birthday party to celebrate the 40th birthday of Bob Benjamin, who had been diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease, has turned into a worldwide movement to raise money to help find a cure. In addition to raising millions of dollars, Light of Day has become its own music community, spreading the sounds of the Jersey Shore across the globe.
New Jersey Stage spoke via email with Joe D'Urso, one of the founders of the Light of Day Foundation, while he was on tour with Light of Day in England. All total, Joe will play shows in thirteen countries on three continents for Light of Day, returning home for shows in New Jersey and New York in January.
As some who has been with Light of Day since the beginning, does it amaze you how Light of Day (LOD) has grown and become a force throughout the world?
Absolutely without a doubt. Light of Day started as a birthday party in Red Bank in 1998, two years before the first official LOD Stone Pony show. Bob raised $2,000 that first year as he asked people to make a donation for Parkinson's research instead of giving him gifts. The first LOD show raised $10,000 at the Pony. This year there will be around 80 events in 13 countries before the "Light of Day Season" ends and we will surpass three million dollars raised for research in finding a cure. It reconfirms my faith in the goodness of people and what hard work, resolve and great music can do. We are a small group of folks but it never ceases to amaze me what Tony Palligrosi, Jean Mikle, Rob Dye, Mike DeGeorge, Cheryl and Ron Streich, Joe Grushecky, Mark Harrison, Gary Schiavone and Bob Benjamin do year in and year out all in the name of Parkinson's research.
How and when did you originally meet Bob Benjamin?
It was somewhere in the early 90's as I was Barry Bell's assistant at Premier Talent Agency working on Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty tours. Barry and Bob knew each other as Bob was a big fan of Bruce's and worked at Billboard magazine. We then started working together in 1996 on my 4th record Mirrors, Shoestrings & Credit Cards as that release was a joint venture between Bob's label (Schoolhouse Records) and my label (SCR Records). We have since put out 10 more Joe D'Urso & Stone Caravan releases to date.
Bob become my manager around 2000/2001 when my manager at the time left the music business. It was just a natural progression to have him become my music manager as we were friends and worked very well together. We also had some interesting common threads as we both lost our Mothers to breast cancer, grew up along the Hudson River (Bob in Westchester and me in Rockland) and both attended college in and around the warm paradise of Buffalo! We also love rock and roll.
Do you think these shows have helped Bob deal with Parkinson's and remain hopeful? How's he doing these days?
Funny enough, as I am typing this, The Hollies "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother" is playing on the radio/BBC as I am in a hotel room near Birmingham, England on the Light of Day Europe tour. These shows over the years have certainly helped to keep Bob's spirit up and he has kept our spirits up just the same. He has pushed himself and continues to do so, and when those of us closely involved see that it motivates us to keep our eye on the prize. The prize is a cure. I am personally not that interested in better medication, though I certainly understand the upside of that. I want to see a cure. Not just in my lifetime but within 5-10 years so all these folks I have met through our work can hopefully return back to a lifestyle that they led before having Parkinson's disease. I so look forward to that day and can't wait to celebrate in that scientific stride as I believe other neurological ailments will follow suit. It will happen. I know it will.
There have been so many great performances and guest spots over the years. What are some of your favorite LOD memories?
They are so, so many. One of my favorite days now is on Sunday when we have all the songwriter shows along the boardwalk. Seeing so many talented friends and artists in one day never ceases to amaze me. Singing with Patti and Bruce Springsteen on "Twist and Shout" at LOD 1 at the Pony sticks in my mind and there is a cool photo that I have of that. Southside Johnny playing guitar at The Paramount was a trip for me to see! Bob being "interviewed" on stage during his cake presentation at the Paramount was classic.
The list of great performers who have taken part in LOD is staggering but what I love to see is how many folks from Europe come over. I get to see folks from many areas of my life mingle and become friends and then continue those friendships outside of Asbury Park and Light of Day. There is no way that Bob could have imagined the "waves" that he has created after throwing a "pebble" in the water.
What's more fun for you: performing your set at L.O.D. or the jams at the end of the night?
More fun? That's a tough one. The jams are great fun but getting to bring folks on stage with myself and Stone Caravan (Sam LaMonica, Greg Lykins and Mr. Lou DeMartino) is really a blast as we recently had Mike Peters from The Alarm, Peter Elkas from Canada, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Vini Lopez and a slew of European musicians join us on stage as well as some local Jersey shore artists. That "brotherhood" is something that you cannot go into a store and purchase. It's magic.
There are many songs that are becoming traditional jams at LOD. What are your favorite songs to play?
I personally love Steven's "I Don't Want To Go Home" and Willie Nile's "One Guitar" which I recorded and released on my latest record "Sway" and sing every night I perform except when Willie is on the same bill as me! Bringing Mike Peters out for "Rockin in the Free World" last year was a blast and I certainly get very emotional each time Bruce "serenades" Bob with "Thunder Road". I mean come on, really?
How much time of the year are you on the road for Light of Day these days?
It adds up between LOD Canada in November, LOD Europe in late November through mid December, LOD Asbury (I live in North Jersey so I leave home for 4/5 days for this event) and then wraps up with LOD Canada once again in April. It adds up to over 1 month of the year on the road/not being home which is tough as I have young school age kids but I feel the work we are doing is important and I talk to my kids about it as I want them to understand what we are trying to do. I am lucky I have a wife who holds down the fort and makes our children's lives smooth in my absence. I tell my kids how small cogs in a wheel add up to make something happen. How one guitar may get lost in all the noise out there but if you can get many folks with one guitar then you can create a big sound and get some attention and get something done. I talk about that every night when I sing Willie's "One Guitar". It's not just about my one guitar that night, it's about the guy sitting next to me and the guy sitting next to him and maybe the girl in the audience who goes home and picks up her guitar/instrument or gets involved on a local level. I take Harry Chapin's motto of "Do Something" very seriously and feel good when I see his message passed along. At the same time I get very frustrated when I see folks who just don't get it but all I can do is try and get them to move it along. I know that I won't get everyone to do something but it won't be without trying.
What do you think of the community of artists who are regulars at LOD? The show itself has become a way of branding artists with music fans. Many are introduced to artists they love at these shows.
I have always said that there is no music community in the world like the Jersey Shore music community. None. Zero. Nada. Zilch. There are some good ones in Texas and New Orleans and other places around the world. Some great ones in fact, but the constant humanity and caring that comes from the Jersey Shore is second to none in my not very humble opinion when it comes to this topic. And by far and large many of that family is not from the Jersey Shore directly, but for whatever reason, be it musical or personal relationships, they call this wonderful area/family we have…home. Just between Light of Day and Holiday Express it is staggering at the amount of shows and musicians (Rob Dye does both!) who give of themselves and the fans who support it all. Plus all the other benefits (WHYHunger, Sandy, someone in trouble or sick) that occur year in and year out. Absolutely incredible. I may have been born in the Bronx and raised in Rockland County, NY but I take great pride in calling myself a Jersey Shore musician. I wear it proudly everyday and Light of Day is a big part of that for me.
Are you ever surprised that so many artists are willing to donate their time?
Again, coming from this community, this is a place where people care about someone who has slipped between the cracks or needs a helping hand. You would also be very surprised at how many musicians involved have a direct connect with someone who has Parkinson's be it a family member or a friend. There are many of us where Bob Benjamin is that person. But I also cannot disregard the many performers who don't have any reason beside just wanting to be a good person in this life and help out folks who need a helping hand. There are many of those folks that we are fortunate to have in our LOD family.
What do you hope attendees get out of the experience of Light of Day each year?
Besides great music, talent and songs I think folks truly get the sense of the real Light of Day community that has organically grown to what it is today. I am not sure there is another music festival in the world that hosts as many shows, has as many artists involved and is all put together and run by a full volunteer board of directors like Light of Day. I certainly have never seen or heard of one and I take great pride in being part of something that special. It all started with Bob Benjamin, a small birthday party and a selfless act of not asking for gifts but instead to donate to Parkinson's research. It makes great sense to me that something so selfless should turn into something very wonderful over these past 15 years. As a very wise man once said: "from small things mama, big things one day come". They certainly do.
Gary Wien has been covering the arts since 2001 and has had work published with Jersey Arts, Elmore Magazine, Princeton Magazine, Backstreets and other publications. He is a three-time winner of the Asbury Music Award for Top Music Journalist and the author of Beyond the Palace (the first book on the history of rock and roll in Asbury Park) and Are You Listening? The Top 100 Albums of 2001-2010 by New Jersey Artists. In addition, he runs New Jersey Stage and the online radio station The Penguin Rocks. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.