Despite Springsteen’s absence after COVID diagnosis, American Music Honors was a joyful event


Performers in the American Music Honors jam session included, from left, Marc Ribler, Steve Earle, Darlene Love, Sam Moore, Steven Van Zandt and Southside Johnny.

Soon after the American Music Honors awards show — a fundraiser for the Bruce Springsteen Archives and Center for American Music at Monmouth University in West Long Branch — got underway at the university’s Pollak Theatre, April 15, there was a jolting announcement. Bob Santelli, the Archives’ executive director, told the approximately 700 people in attendance that he had received a phone call at 6 a.m. that morning informing him that Springsteen and Patti Scialfa, who had been planning to participate, would not be able to be there, because they had been diagnosed with COVID-19.

“Don’t overreact!” added the show’s host, Jon Stewart. “They’re fine.”

Indeed, Springsteen seemed fine, on two video segments, taped earlier in the day, in which he gave induction speeches for Darlene Love and Steven Van Zandt. “Bruce with COVID looks better than me,” Stewart joked, adding, later, that Springsteen seemed “eerily healthy … aren’t you supposed to have the sniffles or something?”

Even with this disappointment, the event was a great success, with thrilling musical segments featuring the evening’s four honorees — Love, Van Zandt, Sam Moore and Steve Earle — plus Southside Johnny (who inducted Moore). All were backed by the show’s house band, Van Zandt’s Disciples of Soul, with guitarist Marc Ribler serving as musical director. Moore and Love, both octogenarians, were particularly impressive, proving they are both still capable of singing with awe-inspiring power.

This is the show’s rundown, as originally envisioned, according to a page in its printed program.

Here’s a blow-by-blow rundown of the evening:

Opening set by Disciples of Soul

Without Van Zandt, who watched and listened from a seat in the first row, they played four songs associated with the inductees, starting with Love’s hit “A Fine, Fine Boy” and “Soul Sister, Brown Sugar” (a hit for Moore’s group, Sam & Dave). Both were sung by Jessie Wagner, Sara Devine and Tania Jones, who usually sing backing vocals for Van Zandt. Ribler then sang Earle’s “Hard-Core Troubadour,” and Wagner, Devine, Jones, Ribler, keyboardist Lowell “Banana” Levinger and percussionist Anthony Almonte shared vocals for Van Zandt’s “I Am a Patriot.”

Intro by Jon Stewart

Very funny, as expected, with jokes about subjects such as the lack of songs about Monmouth (“nothing rhymes with Monmouth”) and living in Red Bank (where it’s “illegal to go 15 feet without finding a restaurant with a caprese salad … how much mozzarella do you guys eat?”)

Speech by Santelli

Including the Springsteen news.

Speech by Gov. Murphy

Introduced by Stewart as the “second in command in New Jersey” (after Springsteen). “I know many of you hoped that I was the guy who came down with COVID,” Murphy joked. He declared non-New Jerseyans Love, Moore and Earle honorary citizens of the state, and held up a proclamation declaring Sept. 23 (Springsteen’s birthday) Bruce Springsteen Day in the state.

“It’s not a rest area … it’s not like taking a whiz to ‘Livin’ on a Prayer,’ but it’ll do,” said Stewart, referring to the Garden State Parkway’s Jon Bon Jovi Service Area.

Speech by E Street Band member Garry Tallent inducting Earle

Earle acceptance speech

He said the honor means a lot to him, particularly because of the Springsteen connection. “He is the singer-songwriter of our generation … and the greatest performer, as far as communicating with an audience, that rock ‘n’ roll ever produced.”

Performance by Earle with Disciples of Soul

“Copperhead Road.”

Taped speech by Springsteen inducting Love

Including memories of going with Van Zandt to see Love perform in Los Angeles in 1982 and becoming a friend of hers and a supporter of her career.

Love acceptance Speech

Says she was basically out of the music business before Van Zandt and Springsteen took an interest in her.

Performance by Love with Disciples of Soul

“River Deep — Mountain High.”

Gov. Murphy posted this proclamation to Facebook.

Speech by Southside Johnny inducting Moore

Includes memory of hearing Sam & Dave for the first time and thinking, “That’s what I want to do.”

Performance by Moore with Disciples of Soul

The Sam & Dave hit “I Thank You.” Amazingly good: the absolute highlight of the evening for me. What a voice.

Taped speech by Springsteen inducting Van Zandt

Quotes his own song, “Bobby Jean” — “We liked the same music, we liked the same bands” — but when he gets to the next line, “We liked the same clothes,” humorously changes it to “I suppose at one time, we liked the same clothes.” (Van Zandt has favored colorful, flamboyant clothes for much of his career; Springsteen has not.)

Van Zandt acceptance speech

“He does look kind of healthy, doesn’t he? — son of a bitch,” Van Zandt joked about Springsteen. He spent most of the speech, though, talking about his work in music education and supporting garage-rock music.

Performance by Van Zandt with Disciples of Soul

The salsa-flavored “Bitter Fruit.” A surprising choice — I thought he’d go with more of a rock song — but it worked.

After the song is over, Van Zandt announces, “Jam time!” For the remaining portion of the evening, the Disciples of Soul back various artists.

“It’s Been a Long Time”

Featuring Van Zandt, Southside Johnny and Earle (filling in for Springsteen).

“Hungry Heart”

A duet featuring Love and Van Zandt (!). Loose and playful. (One imagines this was originally envisioned as a Springsteen/Love duet.)

“Soul Man”

The Sam & Dave classic, sung by Moore, Van Zandt, Southside Johnny and Love. Before it begins, Southside talks about seeing Sam & Dave at the Satellite Lounge in Cookstown, and Van Zandt says he and Southside envisioned the Asbury Jukes as “a slightly more pale Sam & Dave.” Also, Moore jokes about not being paid for his appearance this evening, and Southside plays along, handing over some bills. The song ends with an explosive double-time raveup.

“Tenth Avenue Freeze-out”

Another song that was obviously intended to spotlight Springsteen, but they went ahead and did it without him, anyway, with Van Zandt, Southside and Earle sharing lead vocals, and Love moving over to join the three Disciples of Soul backing vocalists.

“I Don’t Want to Go Home”

Basically a Van Zandt/Southside duet — of the Van Zandt-written song that has become a staple of Asbury Jukes concerts — to end the evening.

Southside told the crowd, “we’ll see you next year,” and guaranteed Springsteen will be there, too, when that next show happens.

Attendees had to lock up their cellphones before entering the theater, so you are not likely to find any segments of this show on YouTube. The evening was filmed, though, so I hope the Archives releases it in some form, at some point.


Overall, I thought, it was not just a great show in its own right, but an interesting bookend to the concert by Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band at the Prudential Center in Newark, April 14. That arena show represented Jersey Shore music on a grand scale, with immaculate performances and a carefully planned arc to the setlist. This show was more intimate and more freewheeling, and also touched bases with some of the core music that inspired Springsteen, Van Zandt, Southside and many of their contemporaries.

To be lucky enough to experience both over the course of two days … well, that’s something I’ll never forget.

Here is a gallery of photos from the event (click on link):

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