Ticket sales alone reportedly brought in more than $30 million, with all proceeds to be distributed through the Robin Hood Foundation—and surely there are millions more to come from people watching at home either on one of 37 TV networks or via the many websites livestreaming the event.
Sure, the reason for gathering couldn't be more serious or important for the rebuilding of the storm-damaged states and the morale of their people, but tonight also promises to be one heck of an inspirational, feel-good affair featuring some world-class music. Here are the highlights of what's going down in NYC:
• New Jersey's main man, Bruce Springsteen (no offense to Gov. Chris Christie), and the E Street Band fittingly kicked off what was originally going to be a four-and-a-half-hour show (it went way over) with "Land of Hope and Dreams," "Wrecking Ball" and "City of Ruins."
"For 25 years, if you go to Asbury [Park] in the summer, and there was no one on its beaches, no one on its boardwalk," Springsteen said in introducing "City of Ruins. "And then, over the past decade, thanks to an arts community moving in, thanks to the gay community, thanks to peple who lived there and toughed it out for that whole quarter of a century, the town has had a renaissance...The Jersey Shore's always been a special place. It's been inclusive...I'm sure there will be a lot of difficult conversations when the rebuilding comes around, but I pray that that characteristic remains along the Jersey Shore."
• Jon Bon Jovi, another of the Garden State's homegrown heroes, joined Springsteen and the band on "Born to Run"—always a good idea.
• The next legend to take the stage, Pink Floyd's Roger Waters, belted out "In the Flesh," "Another Brick in the Wall Part 2" (with the help of a requisitely creepy-sounding children's choir, this one awesomely decked out in T-shirts reading "Fear Builds Walls") and "Money." "I can't chat because we've only got 30 minutes," Waters joked as the familiar ring of the cash register sounded.
• Let's hear it for tonight's transitions: Eddie Vedder helped Waters close out his set with "Comfortably Numb."
• Adam Sandler, accompanied by Paul Schaffer on piano, updated Leonard Cohen's classic "Hallelujah" with the lyrics "Sandy, screw ya, we'll get through ya, because we're New Yawkers..."
• In what emcee Billy Crystal indicated was a last-minute addition to the lineup, L.A. native Kristen Stewart delighted the crowd by popping up to talk about New Jersey and provide a nice intro for Bon Jovi's solo set, which included "Wanted (Dead or Alive)" and—what would have been the point without it—"Livin' on a Prayer." Springsteen also returned the favor, coming out for "Who Says You Can't Go Home."
• "When are they going to learn, you can throw anything at us—terrorists, hurricanes, you can take away our giant sodas, it doesn't matter! We come back stronger every time!" exclaimed New Jersey native Jon Stewart, rhapsodizing about the wonders of the Jersey Shore and the resilience of its (and New York's) people.
• Eric Clapton offered up one of several of the night's guitar master classes, strumming out "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out" and "Crossroads"—which turned out to be a relatively mellow moment before the onslaught of energy that was the Rolling Stones a few moments later.
• The Who (Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend being just a couple more of the Brits who came out to show their love for the Big Apple) near brought the house down with a stripped-down set that included a beatiful rendition of "Tea & Theatre."
• Chris Rock was on hand to introduce "the very humble Kanye West," who—wearing what appeared to be a pleated leather skirt over his pants, no less!—subsequently turned in one of the more controversial sets of the night. "Jesus Walks," "All of the Lights" and "Touch the Sky" were among the highlights as the sweat poured down the rapper's face. We liked a lot of what we heard, but the Twitterverse was up in arms. Those who could get past the skirt to actually listen, anyway.
• Billy Joel+ home crowd = magic every time. In addition to "New York State of Mind," the hitmaker pounded out "Movin' Out" and "River of Dreams."
• Chris Martinand Michael Stipe set Twitter ablaze with their duet on "Losing My Religion."
• "I love New York!" announced Sir Paul McCartney as he launched into "Helter Skelter," "Let Me Roll It" and "Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five."
• McCartney then recalled how he "recently some guys asked me to jam with them" and those guys turned out to be Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic. "The penny had finally dropped that I was in the middle of a Nirvana reunion" he said before introducing the former Nirvana mates for their first-ever live performance of "Cut Me Some Slack" with Macca on lead vocals.
• Alicia Keys closed the whole thing out, her voice sounding clear as a bell on "Empire State of Mind Part II."
(Originally published Dec. 12, 2012, at 6:15 p.m. PT)