NEW YORK (CNN) -- Conan O'Brien didn't mince words at the VH1 Save the Music Foundation's 10th Anniversary gala Thursday night.
Save the Music Foundation honoree Mariah Carey received compliments for her dazzling gown.
"President Clinton spent many years learning how to play the saxophone and President Bush has spent many years learning how to play the radio," he joked as the crowd cheered.
The event, held in a colossal tent erected on the grounds of Lincoln Center, drew politicians such as New York's mayor, Michael Bloomberg, and musicians including James Blunt, Mya and Vanessa Carlton.
Throughout the evening, headlining acts John Mayer, Jon Bon Jovi and Roger Waters all performed with a 60-piece orchestra comprised of Save The Music Foundation students from across the country. Honorees included former president Bill Clinton, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-New York), Mariah Carey and NAMM: The International Music Products Association.
As guests sipped wine and Grey Goose martinis and tucked into fish dinners, Tim Gunn (of Project Runway fame) emceed a live auction that featured a guitar autographed by Sir Paul McCartney. He started the bidding at $30,000. "Yeah, right," one woman in the audience said with a roll of the eyes. "That's more than I make in a year."
Gunn worked hard to unload the instrument. "It's a museum piece," he said. "Please don't disappoint these young people. Come on, make it work, people."
The guitar eventually sold for $45,000. "That's a steal," Gunn declared testily.
O'Brien brought the funny, riffing about everything from Mayor Michael Bloomberg's wealth ("Of all the billionaire mayors, he's my favorite") to Sen. Clinton's absence. "She wanted to be here tonight, but she's busy attending the 125th Democratic debate," O'Brien said.
Sen. Clinton fully supports music education, he added. "In fact, right now she's trying very hard to encourage Barack Obama to play second fiddle."
President Bill Clinton was greeted with a rousing standing ovation when he walked on stage to receive his award. "Ladies and gentlemen, I'm doing tonight what I hope to be doing for the next couple of years," he said, "standing in for Hillary."
Since 1997, the Save The Music Foundation has successfully restored and sustained instrumental music programs in 1,500 public schools in over 100 cities around the country. To date, the nonprofit organization has also provided $40 million in new musical instruments.
"This is a wonderful organization," Carey said during her acceptance. "I don't talk about it much, but I didn't have an easy childhood and music literally saved my life."
Carey was sporting a purple, curve-hugging gown, which prompted many in the audience to comment on the singer's noticeable weight loss. "She looks so pulled together," one woman gushed. "What has she been doing?"
Earlier in the evening, Mayer and legendary producer Quincy Jones chatted about their respective love lives. "I have a hard time keeping up with your ladies," Jones said, bursting into laughter.
Mayer, most recently linked to Jessica Simpson, took the ribbing in stride. "I never got into this to meet a bunch of people," he said. "I'm only looking for one, that someone who is going to put up with you."
Mayer didn't appear to have found "the one" that evening, but he did have a great collaboration with Jon Bon Jovi. Sitting in for a conspicuously absent Richie Sambora, Mayer and Bon Jovi wowed the crowd with their rendition of "Dead or Alive."
"I'm living out childhood dream number 46," Mayer said. E-mail to a friend