Profile: Bob and The Boss, Working in Concert for More Than 15 Years

Hank Kalet | January 14, 2015 | Profiles
Bob Benjamin, founder of the Light of Day Foundation, has attracted some of the top names in music to play for his charity

Bob Benjamin, founder and president of the Light of Day Foundation, onstage with Bruce Springsteen at a concert to raise money to help cure Parkinson's disease.
Name: Bob Benjamin

Age: 56

*Where he lives: Highland Park

Family: Benjamin is single and does not have any children.

What he does: Founder and president of the Light of Day Foundation, which uses music to raise money for research into Parkinson’s disease and other nervous system disorders, like progressive supranuclear palsy and Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease). It also gives money to families and caregivers who take care of someone who suffer from these disorders.

How much does the foundation raise? Light of Day has raised more than $2.5 million since its first concert in 1998.

The main New Jersey event, which will take place Saturday at the Convention Hall in Asbury Park, is held every year on Benjamin’s birthday. There have been several related shows in Asbury Park and elsewhere in the state over the past week, including one in Montclair.

La Bamba’s Big Band, the studio band for Conan O’Brien, is this year’s headliner. The main event is sold out, but tickets are available for many of the other concerts.

Who else has played the shows: Bruce Springsteen, Lucinda Williams, Darlene Love, Pete Yorn, Jakob Dylan, John Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls, Dave Alvin, Nicole Atkins, and others.

Springsteen, who has been a repeat performer, usually plays unannounced.

Most memorable LOD moment: In 2012, during the 12th Light of Day show, Springsteen told the story of how he met Benjamin in 1978. The Boss was in Buffalo touring to support Darkness on the Edge of Town and Benjamin was a college student – “stalking him,” Benjamin says. They ended up sitting down at a restaurant, where Benjamin asked Springsteen about a nasty remark Elvis Costello had made about him. They have been friends since — or as Springsteen said, Benjamin “has been stalking him” for 30-something years, giving stalking a “good name.”

More moments: When Michael J. Fox — who has Parkinson’s –appeared onstage with Springsteen in 2002 to play “Twist and Shout.”

Benjamin called Springsteen, who has played at nearly every Light of Day show, “incredibly generous.”

Aside from Springsteen, his favorite LOD performers have been Joe Gruschecky, Southside Johnny, Willie Nile, Garland Jeffreys – the “artists I grew up listening to.”

“It has been very gratifying,” he said. “They are very generous with their time and talent and I love them for it.”

Recognition: Benjamin was given the Humanitarian Award during the 2014 Billboard Touring Awards presentation in November.

Music in his blood: Benjamin has some history in the music industry, doing marketing and sales for labels, working as a liaison to record stores, and managing artists.

His first job was as a buyer for the UB Record Co-op, a student-run, nonprofit record store in the student union on the Main Street campus of SUNY Buffalo.

Why he started Light of Day: Benjamin went to the doctor in 1996 because of what he thought was a sports injury, but was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. He was 38. Two years later, in 1998, he decided to throw himself a 40th birthday party but, instead of gifts, he asked that guests make donations for Parkinson’s research. The foundation was formed from he party and the first concerts were held in 2000, featuring Joe Grushecky and the Iron City Houserockers, a band Benjamin had managed.

Did he expect LOD to grow to its current size? “I never could have dreamed of that,” he says. The foundation now organizes 65 shows a year, with 30 in the United States, 30 in Europe, and another five in Canada featuring artists with local and national profiles.

Hobbies: Watching sports and movies and traveling. He has been to most of the Light of Day shows, both in the United States and abroad.