About 10 minutes into the annual Robin Hood Foundation benefit at New York’s Javits Center on Wednesday night, Bruce Springsteen took the stage following an introduction by host Cecily Strong. The crowd of around 3,000 had just taken their seats in a room roughly the side of an airplane hangar for a three-course meal, and even by the standards of the New York charity-gala scene, this was a ritzy bunch.
It included Paul McCartney, Alicia Keys, former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, probable next New York mayor Eric Adams, Diane Sawyer, Stacey Abrams, Roger Goodell, Eli Manning, and two people who were either Jeff Bezos and his girlfriend Lauren Sánchez, or their exact clones. (We only caught a fleeting glimpse of the pair when they were whisked through the cocktail party.)
“Good evening, everybody,” Springsteen said before kicking into a solo acoustic “Working on the Highway. “How are those appetizers out there? Is anyone fuckin’ alive out there? Is anyone fuckin’ alive?”
To answer his questions, the mini hot dogs served during the cocktail hour were delicious, and we were very much alive, even if only a few of us were familiar with the deeper cuts from Born in the U.S.A. The crowd perked up when he broke into “Dancing in the Dark” and “Thunder Road.” (It should be noted that he very clearly sang “Mary’s dress sways” this time, adding even more fuel to the recent “waves”/”sways” debate.)
“For over 30 years, Robin Hood has been finding, fueling, creating, impactful solutions to lift families out of poverty here in New York City,” he said. “The funds raised tonight translate into real results for New Yorkers living in poverty. We appreciate your support.”
During those 30 years, the Robin Hood Foundation has thrown some of the biggest charity rock events New York City has ever seen, including the Concert for New York City in 2001. Wednesday happened to be the exact 20th anniversary of that legendary night at Madison Square Garden, and Robin Hood celebrated it by presenting Paul McCartney, who helped make it happen, with a special award. And after an incredibly moving rendition of “Let It Be” by Alicia Keys and a speech by Robin Hood board member John Sykes, McCartney walked out to reminisce about his love affair with New York City.
“I love New York,” he said. “Many years ago, when I was a little kid in Liverpool, we saw New York in the movies. I never dreamed that I would be here getting an award like this from you fantastic people. But then years later, we did show up at JFK with my buddies, the Beatles. We went on The Ed Sullivan Show and, boy, that was something. … It is fantastic that Robin Hood helps people in need. In fact, the other day we were going through the city and this guy comes up. He’s got no shoes on, he’s got grey hair, a scraggly beard. I said hi to him. I found out later it was Rick Rubin.” (The very scattered laughter in the audience seemed to suggest that few people got the joke.)
After an intermission where a main course of beef and potatoes was served, and a grinning Eric Adams worked the room like a man who knows he’s days away from becoming mayor, Cecily Strong brought out Bowen Yang to very lightly roast some of the more high-profile people in the room. “Thank you for all you’ve done,” he said to Diane Sawyer. “White Oprah.” They then turned to Michael Bloomberg. “We love you so much, Mikey,” Strong said. “Three more terms! Three more terms!”
Speeches by Roger Goodell, Eli Manning, and Justin Tucker (along with a tasty s’more-like chocolate dessert) closed out the dinner portion of the night, which raised $77.5 million for charity. The crowd was then guided back to the cocktail party room where the Jonas Brothers were waiting to send everyone home with a nearly hour-long set on an arena-ready stage. This is not a group that’s used to following Paul McCartney and Bruce Springsteen, let alone playing to millionaires and billionaires at a convention center, but they were up for the challenge.
“This crowd looks exactly like our usual shows,” Nick Jonas sarcastically told the audience early on. “But I’ll tell you this, I know you all are here to party tonight. I know after Sir Paul McCartney received his award, there were a few drinks that were had, a few celebrations that were had. I sure had a drink or two, so I think we should celebrate tonight and have some fun.”
It was an odd scene where the younger attendees were crammed to the front and screaming along to songs like “Cake by the Ocean,” “Lovebug,” “Jealous,” and “Sucker,” while the older ones hovered in the back, sipping cocktails and eyeing the exit doors. The big-name celebs were nowhere to be seen, but it was nice to imagine Jeff Bezos singing along to “Toothbrush” somewhere in the darkness. And even though he makes $77.5 million every time he blinks, and Bloomberg spent that much in about two days of his doomed 2020 presidential campaign, that’s an extraordinary sum for a charity dinner.
Next year’s Robin Hood event could make even more money. But with all due respect to the Jonas Brothers, who put on a wonderful show, maybe next time the gala should open with Nick, Joe, and Kevin, and close with an extended Springsteen set, instead of the other way around. Just a thought.