Bruce Springsteen brought back an Asbury Park tradition on Saturday night, taking the stage at the Paramount Theater for the big finale of Light of Day’s Winterfest. It had been five years since the “real governor of New Jersey,” as Springsteen was introduced, attended the annual event, a week-long musical celebration which raises money to fight Parkinson’s Disease and other related illnesses. This 20th year milestone also doubled as a birthday celebration for the organization and its founder Bob Benjamin.
Springsteen appeared early in the night, joining rocker Jesse Malin for a pair of songs. “I’m going to bring out a guy, local guy,” Malin said from the stage. “He sings pretty good.” Springsteen lent his vocals for a duet of “Broken Radio” and added guitar licks to “Meet Me at the End of the World” from Malin’s new album, “Sunset Kids.”
The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer was just warming up, later joining New York rocker Willie Nile for the stomper, “One Guitar,” again adding tasty licks and texture to complement Nile’s pristine vocals.
He completed his hat trick joining Pittsburgh rocker Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers for a ten-song set that included such favorites as “The Promised Land,” “Atlantic City,” “Darkness on the Edge of Town” and a rollicking “Light of Day,” the song the foundation is named after.
Songs from Grushecky’s catalog got their due as well, kicking off with “Talking To The King” and the gritty “Pumping Iron, Sweating Steel.”
Dressed in black jeans, a plaid checkered shirt and a cap, Springsteen got Boardwalk randy with a playful “Pink Cadillac,” delivering the lyrics in a comical cadence — with guest harmonica player and photographer Danny Clinch adding to the laughs. The good vibes continued with “Saving Up,” which Springsteen joked was about the cost of living, and closed the show with a poignant, acoustic version of “Thunder Road” followed by a birthday singalong for Light of Day’s Benjamin, who is suffering from Parkinson’s.
Springsteen has appeared unannounced in 11 of 19 Light of Days, which was founded in 1998 by music manager Benjamin, with the help of concert promoter Tony Pallagrosi and Jean Mikle. “Bob started this 20 years ago, it’s hard to believe,” said Springsteen, who met Benjamin in the 1970s. “It’s done an incredible amount of good.” The foundation has since raised over $6 million fighting the disease.
The evening was packed with highlights, from Dramarama’s rowdy performances of alternative rock hits “Last Cigarette,” “Work For Food” and “Anything, Anything,” to the Fab Four stylings of The Weeklings, celebrating the release of their new record “3” with a spirited set that ended with a cover of “I Am The Walrus” by The Beatles (and bassist Glen Burtnik doing windmills on his Hofner bass). Jersey country duo Williams Honor, who previously opened for Bon Jovi at Madison Square Garden, gave a short preview of their forthcoming album with a sly and sexy performance of the song “Can’t Wait to Be Ashamed.” And original E Street band drummer Vini Lopez joined Joe D’Urso and Ben Arnold for a touching, acoustic performance of the inspiring “Hold On.”