After Jake Sfraga performed at a renowned music festival last January, he knew he wanted to do it again this year.
On Jan. 20, Sfraga, 13, will perform at the Light of Day Foundation festival at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park, where the benefits go towards curing Parkinson’s disease.
Sfraga, currently in 8th grade at Bordentown Regional Middle School, has grown a passion for various types of music since he entered grade school. “In first grade, I was really interested in the piano and decided to take it up, and have been playing it ever since. In third grade, I got into a musical in my the high school, and I discovered that I really like singing.”
The same year, Sfraga realized he was a natural at performing. “One day in third grade, without even planning, I just got up in my class and started singing one of the songs that I used for tryouts, ’ Radioactive’ by Imagine Dragons.”
Since then, Sfraga has continued performing and practicing. He has performed in nine school musicals, in roles such as Lord Farquaad in Shrek Jr., Kassim in Aladdin Jr., and George Banks in Mary Poppins Jr. Outside of musicals, Sfraga has also begun performing at concerts and open mics.
During one of his performances, Jake’s father, Richard Sfraga, was approached by someone with an opportunity.
“While Jake was performing in school, a police officer came up to me and introduced himself, and he was quite emotional,” Richard said. “He mentioned that his family runs the suicide prevention walk in Hamilton, Out of the Darkness, and asked if Jake would want to perform there.”
At Out of the Darkness, hosted at Veterans Park in Hamilton, Sfraga performed “1-800-273-8255” by Logic, a song about suicide prevention, along with “Let It Be” by the Beatles, in front of about 900 people. Through this venue, Sfraga realized how much he enjoyed performing for causes. So, when the Light of Day festival’s organizers reached out, he was immediately interested.
The Light of Day Foundation, Inc. uses music to raise funds and awareness for curing Parkinson’s disease. The goal of the foundation is to cure Parkinson’s, along with related illnesses such as progressive supranuclear palsy and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, within this lifetime. Since its establishment in 2000, the Light of Day Foundation has fundraised over $4.5 million.
‘I like performing at Light of Day because I really like the cause, along with the location of Asbury Park.’
As the foundation website explains, “the concerts and the organization began as a birthday party in November 1998 at the Downtown Cafe in Red Bank to celebrate the 40th birthday of artist manager and music industry veteran Bob Benjamin. Benjamin had recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and in lieu of gifts, asked that donations be made to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation.”
Since then, the event has grown into their signature fundraiser, a series of concerts held in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. in January, including performances at Stone Pony, the legendary performing venue at Asbury Park. Famous artists have included Bruce Springsteen, Michael J. Fox, and John Rzeznik. Over 150 artists will perform at 30 different venues over 10 days. This year, the festival’s organizers hope to surpass the $5.5 million donation mark.
The last day of performances, Jan. 20, begins with “Kids Rock,” where the stage is given to children and young adults, such as Sfraga. Last year, Sfraga’s first time performing at Light of Day, he played “1-800-273-8255,” along with “Welcome to the Black Parade,” by the band My Chemical Romance, to a crowd of around 300.
While many have a fear of public speaking and performing, Sfraga has overcome this with his early introduction to the field. “I have such a big passion for performing, and love the crowd’s reaction so much so that I don’t even consider it a challenge anymore,” he said. “I just go up there, get on the piano, start singing, and by that time, the nerves are already gone.”
In fact, his favorite part is seeing how the crowd interacts with the music. “I love seeing how the crowd reacts to the songs, their smiling faces, and seeing that they’re really enjoying the music I’m making.”
He says he thoroughly enjoyed his first performance, which is what motivated him to perform again this year. “I like performing at Light of Day because I really like the cause, along with the location of Asbury Park, specifically Stone Pony, because it’s really a great place,” he said.
For this year’s performance, Sfraga began practicing around two months ago. He has decided to keep his song selection a secret, as he wants to witness the audience’s reaction.
Sfraga has a personal connection to the festival—his great-grandfather was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. This, he said, makes him appreciate the Light of Day festival and the power of music even more. “Music, especially rock music, is such a powerful way to bring people together, especially for something like Parkinson’s disease. People just love music, and want to show their appreciation for it,” Sfraga said.
Not only is Sfraga excited for his own performance, he is eagerly looking forward to seeing the performances of other children and plans on watching every act. “I’m looking forward to seeing the younger children that have so much talent. It’s so much to handle at the age, since you’re trying to balance music with learning new things everyday.”
Sfraga’s favorite artists include The Beatles, Logic, Post Malone, Tyler, the Creator and Kendrick Lamar, “who stands for peace, love and equality, which I love.” He enjoys performing works from these artists, “along with rock music, because a lot of people think that you can’t do rock on the piano, so it’s fun to show them that you can.” In the future, Sfraga hopes to become a professional musician and singer.
Aside from music, Sfraga enjoys skateboarding in the summer, performing in theatre, painting and drawing, and spending time with friends. Along with his father Richard Sfraga, and mother Lisa Sfraga, Jake has two brothers, Michael Mascari, 26, and Matthew Mascari, 23.