Springsteen Archives Honors John Mellencamp, Jackson Browne, Mavis Staples and Dion by Chris Jordan 

How many music legends can you pack into a theater at the Jersey Shore?

Quite a lot.

John Mellencamp, Jackson Browne, Mavis Staples and Dion DiMucci were bestowed American Music Honors on April 24 by the Bruce Springsteen Archives and Center for American Music at Monmouth University in the Pollak Theater in West Long Branch.

Springsteen, Jon Landau, Steven Van Zandt and Darlene Love were the evening’s presenters, and there was a lot of music in the 700-capacity theater, and a lot of laughs, too . Brian Williams hosted, and Gov. Phil Murphy attended. The Disciples of Soul, led by Marc Ribler, was the house band.

“Seymour, Indiana, is the birthplace of our next honoree, and I have been there and I can tell you it is a small town,” quipped Springsteen as he presented for Mellencamp.

“His eye for the details of working-class life in the belly of the country has bene flawless and unforgiving," Springsteen said. "From ‘Small Town’ to ‘Pink Houses,’ ‘Rain on the Scarecrow,’ ‘Jack and Diane’ to ‘The Eyes of Portland,’ he’s captured and remained true to an unflinching vision of a country at war with itself, a country caught between its hard realities and better angels.

“Even more than the detail of the blue-collar life he captures so perfectly is an underlying taciturn, stubborn unsentimental streak that he mines better than anybody else.”

Mellencamp performed an acoustic “Jack and Diane,” and Springsteen, backed by the Disciples of Soul, later played “Small Town.” The Boss was joined by Mellencamp, who came out of the audience, mid-song.

There was a buoyant air to the proceedings, which led to many easy laughs and smirks. Dion flirted with Staples from the stage, remarking that he’s eight days younger than the gospel great.

They’re both 84.

“I was talking to (Mavis) in the green room," Dion said. "I said, 'Mavis, we were born the same year, the same month, eight days apart. I’m eight days younger than you. Mavis, if you ever want to go out with a younger guy, the kid is here. You know what I’m saying?' ”

John Mellencamp (left) and Bruce Springsteen perform April 24 at the American Music Honors presented by the Bruce Springsteen Archives and Center for American Music at Monmouth University.

Even Landau, Springsteen’s manager who presented Browne with his award, got off a few zingers. Landau, who co-produced several Springsteen albums, produced Browne’s classic “The Pretender.”

“Jackson may not remember it this way, but my contribution to the production of this album," Landau said, "can be summarized as follows: 'Jackson, don’t sound too mopey, sing out loud and proud — and most of all, turn that God damn snare drum up!’ "

Browne took a reflective tone during his acceptance speech.

“With all that’s happening in the world, with all that’s going wrong with our society, with all that we continue to find out about human nature, it can be good to pull back from the panoramic view of our decline and narrow our focus and sing of love and present the truth of a single life,” Browne said. “It’s one of the only things that makes any sense, and it’s one of the things that unites us.”

As for the rest of the music, Staples sang “Come Go with Me,” which had Springsteen clapping along in the audience. Dion sang “King of New York Streets,” and Browne performed “Running on Empty.”

Closing the show, Love sang “River Deep, Mountain High,” Browne did “Take It Easy,” Dion sang his ‘50s classic “The Wanderer,” and Springsteen and Van Zandt came on stage to perform “Glory Days” and “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out.”

By then, the audience was standing and shaking and swaying their arms.

Staples and the rest of the music legends joined in for the gospel hymn “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” to close the show.

Springsteen gave Staples a kiss good night.

“Turning serious, this great institution, this great archive, the Center for American Music, could only exist because Bruce and his pals made us the center of American music,” said Williams, who had joked that he was a loser who grew up behind Value City Furniture in Middletown.

Murphy spoke to the crowd at the onset of the show.

“You are a Monmouth County native and you could have planted your flag anywhere around the world but you chose to plant it here in Monmouth County,” said Murphy, who lives in Middletown, on Springsteen, a Freehold native who lives in Colts Neck.

The American Music Honors highlights the celebration of the American spirit that each artist has rendered through his or her music.

Mellencamp's music has captured the essence of the American heartland. Along with Willie Nelson and Neil Young, Mellencamp created the Farm Aid benefits for American farmers in 1985.

Browne's music has taken stances for social justice, and environmental and educational activism. Staples was on frontline of the civil rights movement, and continues to use her music to support racial equality in the country.

Dion's landmark recording of “Abraham, Martin and John” became an activist anthem in the '60s.