Light of Day Winterfest brings awareness and music to Asbury Park

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    One night featuring a single concert to raise awareness and funds for Parkinson’s disease evolved over 20 years into a festival that spans 10 days in the tri-state area, an internationally recognized tour and shows that take place around the world in 13 countries on three continents. 

    Light of Day Winterfest 2020 celebrates its 20th anniversary in the city where it all began, Asbury Park, after jumping leaps and bounds from its beginning. 

    START OF LIGHT OF DAY 

    “Well, I think that when we started this we never had any idea that it would become what it has become, where we have shows, basically, I think we’re at 13 or 14 countries now,” shared Jean Mikle, president of the Light of Day Foundation Inc. in regard to this year’s 20th anniversary.  “We actually have a Light of Day in Australia, believe it or not, that an Australian group does. And I just came back from the three week tour that we do in Europe every year where we bring some artists over there and we tour, it’s just a songwriter’s circle and we tour for three weeks.

    “So it’s just kind of really amazing that it’s become this,” she added. “The sad part, on the other hand, is that we went into this hoping that we would find a cure for Parkinson’s in our lifetime and help raise money for that and that has not happened. Although there have been a lot of advances which are encouraging.” 

    The Light of Day Foundation, Inc. was founded in 2000, a few years after music industry veteran Bob Benjamin had been diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s disease. After celebrating his 40th birthday party in Red Bank and asking friends to make donations to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation in lieu of gifts, the generosity spurred the creation of the Light of Day charity. 

    The name was taken from a Bruce Springsteen song and the foundation utilizes the power of music to raise money and awareness in its continuing battle to defeat Parkinson’s disease, and related illnesses PSP and ALS, within our lifetime. 

    “Yeah, the first major Light of Day was actually in Asbury Park at The Stone Pony in 2000 and it was one day,” explained Mikle. “It was just one concert with Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers as the headliner and we were very lucky that Bruce Springsteen decided to show up and play that night. 

    “It was actually the first time he had come back to The Stone Pony since it had reopened in 2000.” This initial concert took place in November because that is when the birthday is of the movement’s founder, Bob Benjamin, but they ended up moving the concerts to January to avoid competing with any other cause, according to Mikle.  

    Twenty years after that first official concert and even those that were there from the start didn’t dream of this. ”I don’t think Bob ever thought 20 years later we would be doing this and I don’t think any of  us did,” she said. “I mean … we were just a group of friends of Bob who kind of got together and this happened.” 

    THE ASBURY PARK LINEUP 

    “But what’s cool about this event, I think, is people come from all over the world and it’s really kind of fascinating,” shared Mikle. “We have people, a big group of people, that come from the UK every year with a group called Badlands that runs tours, rock ‘n’ roll tours, and we have a lot of people from Norway, people from Spain, Italy, Sweden and obviously people from the U.S. and lots of parts of the U.S. in addition to our local people.” 

    “ … And in addition to raising money to fight Parkinson’s, they just really love coming to Asbury Park in the middle of the winter,” she added with a laugh. ”And I think it speaks not just to, you know, we have a bunch of artists who have been very dedicated to us over the years like Willie Nile, obviously Joe Grushecky has been there every year, Joe D’Urso and Stone Caravan, Joe’s on our board, he’s our vice president. Jesse Malin has been another longtime supporter, he’s going to be there. James Maddock, another one who’s been there for a while. So we have all these artists, but also I think this is kind of a celebration of the local music scene, too, because people get to see a lot of local artists play and they kind of fall in love with them.”

    Head to The Stone Pony, the place where it all began, on Sunday, Jan. 12, for Cover Me: Best in NJ Cover & Tribute Bands with doors at 1 p.m. and the show at 1:30 p.m. Light of Day Winterfest concerts will continue to utilize music to illuminate Asbury Park from Thursday, Jan. 16 through Saturday, Jan. 25 with performances all over town. For a complete list of scheduled performances, performers and venues, visit lightofday.org. 

    While Mikle admits she doesn’t get to watch many of the shows because she’s running around working, she notes that some of the shows she is most looking forward to  include the first night kickoff show at House of Independents as well as the three shows at the Paramount Theatre and, of course, the Saturday night show. 

    “And then our big show of course would be Saturday night with all our artists like Jesse Malin and James Maddock and Joe Grushecky will be the headliner, so for the 20th anniversary as he was the first time, so it’s kind of like come full circle,” said Mikle. “And Joe D’Urso, Stone Caravan will be playing there so, yeah, it’s kind of going back to our roots, I guess.” 

    “And one of my very favorite shows is the last night, what we call the Last Note, which is at The Saint and that would be Sunday night after we’ve all hung out at McLoone’s, everybody goes and parties there,” she added. “I’m not sure yet who Scotty has playing there so I can’t tell you, but it’s always fun.”

    20 Years of Light of Day 

    “We’ve raised, I guess, about $5.5 million dollars so far,” shared Mikle. “We’re hoping to go over $6 million this year. … In addition to giving money to various organizations, including, we give money to Joan Dancy and Pals, which is people with ALS, and also to cure PSP, which is another neuromuscular disease, and we give money obviously to the Parkinson’s Foundation and to the Michael J. Fox organization, but we also fund, kind of our boots on the ground thing, is we pay for over 100 people a week to take boxing classes in our Boxing for Bob program. Boxing is really good for people with Parkinson’s because it helps with their balance and core strength.” 

    All of the money raised during Light of Day Winterfest will get distributed to those various organizations to continue the foundation’s mission. “And … our next move is we’re hoping to start a speech therapy program,” added Mikle. “Hopefully within the next year because that’s another thing … people with Parkinson’s have difficulty talking and it really kind of shuts them off from the world in a sense because they can’t communicate. So we’d like to do that. We’ve been working on that for a while so hopefully within the next year we’ll do that.” 

    While the Light of Day Foundation works hard all year to raise money and awareness by hosting other fundraisers and holding board meetings, the biggest events of the year for them are the Light of Day shows. It’s truly a passion project as the grassroots organization only has one salaried employee and everyone else works as a volunteer and has been for the past 20 years. 

    According to Mikle, all of this really comes down to Bob’s vision. After being diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s at the age of 38 and working as a music manager for Joe Grushecky and Joe D’Urso, he decided to do something instead of feeling sorry for himself. 

    “‘Let’s try to raise money and awareness for this disease’ and that’s really where this all comes from,” said Mikle, explaining what he decided to do. “Cause we were all friends with Bob and we just kind of joined into it, but he’s the inspiration. He’s 61 now. He’s had this disease for a very long time and he’s not doing as well as he was in the past, but he remains probably the bravest person I know.”