It was like clockwork: Acts from Neil Young to Bonnie Raitt to Bruce Springsteen performed across four different stages with no interruption. Aside from Bob Dylan lyrics, there were barely any words said.
On Friday night, the music did all of the talking. And so did Dylan.
The top-billing icons paid tribute to the everlasting Dylan, who was named MusiCares Person of the Year by the Recording Academy. After accepting his award from former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, the singer-songwriter went on to speak for 40 minutes, scrolling through page after page of his written speech.
"I'm glad for my songs to be honored like this. But, you know, they didn't get here themselves. It's been a long road and it's taken a lot of doing," he said.
Dylan's speech ranged from him reciting his own lyrics to thanking Peter, Paul and Mary for covering "Blowin' In the Wind" and making the song a pop hit. He also addressed his critics.
"Critics have been giving me a hard time since day one. Critics say I can't sing, I croak, sound like frog. Why don't critics say the same thing about Tom Waits?" as the audience laughed. "Critics say my voice is shot. That I have no voice. Why don't they say those things about Leonard Cohen? Why do I get special treatment?"
Dylan, known for performing regularly, didn't sing, but many of his friends showed up in his honor.
Beck kicked it off and played the harmonica, as did Alanis Morissette, who sang "Subterranean Homesick Blues." Springsteen jammed with Tom Morello on "'Knockin' on Heaven's Door'" while Young closed the night with "Blowin' in the Wind." Norah Jones played piano and Jack White played guitar. Other performers included John Mellencamp, Jackson Browne, Sheryl Crow, Crosby, Stills & Nash and Tom Jones, who earned rousing applause when he hit the stage.
Willie Nelson kicked off "Senor (Tales of Yankee Power)" with a slow burn, but paused as he waited for lyrics to appear on the monitor.
"We need the lyrics," he said.
Jeff Bridges appeared in a video, gushing about Dylan and adding: "Give us a little more acting, man."
MusiCares, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary, raised $7 million on Friday night, Recording Academy CEO Neil Portnow told the large crowd.
Past Person of the Year honorees include Bono, Tony Bennett, Aretha Franklin, Billy Joel and Quincy Jones. The event is one of many pre-Grammy events leading to the big show on Sunday.