Local Musicians included in 4th Eric Clapton Crossroads Guitar Festival benefit concert
by Dan Hack
Since the inaugural in Dallas in 2004, Eric Clapton has held a fundraiser for his Crossroads Center addiction treatment center in Antigua every 3 years. The 4th edition of the Crossroads Guitar Festival held April 12th &13th brought over 2 dozen of the most famous rock, blues, jazz and country guitar players together for 2 nights of guitar playing mastery at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Many of us South Side locals attended the 2007 and 2010 versions held in Bridgeview at Toyota Park and experienced the wonderful musical moments created when a group of master guitar players gather to pay tribute to Eric Clapton’s cause. This 2-part article will sum up the highlights for those of you who couldn’t make it to the shows.
Eric Clapton led off the first night’s nearly 5 hour session with an acoustic set which included his homage to his son Conor, who died in a fall from the window of his NYC apartment. [pullquote]”Tears In Heaven” was just one of many special moments over the two nights in which an artist stoked and delivered deep emotions to the crowd.[/pullquote] His diverse set also included the love song “Wonderful Tonight” and, as is standard at Crossroads, other famous guitarists join in on collaborations. Vince Gill and Doyle Bramhall Jr. joined in a rollicking “Lay Down Sally” that provided an ample time for some playful trading of riffs among these real guitar heroes.Following acts in evening one included Memphis originals and Stax session men, Booker T & The MG’s, including the man who co-wrote “Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay” with Otis Redding, guitarist Steve Cropper. Their set was highlighted by the smashing revisit of funky “Green Onions” and the inclusion of Matt “Guitar” Murphy, of Blues Brothers Band fame, on Albert Kings’ infamous “Born Under A Bad Sign”. The night had a hint of those old Jake & Elwood days as Clapton dropped Bill Murray and selected Dan Akroyd as honorary emcee for this festival. Not only did he introduce the acts in that great voice, he performed a rousing version of Chicago’s own Muddy Waters’ “I Got My Mojo Workin” in collaboration with Keb Mo that had the crowd singing along and swaying in synch with each heartthrobbing verse.
As in the prior Crossroads editions there came a time in the show for the senior member and reigning king of the Blues to join the fun in a sit-down, old school jam session. BB King came out and was joined by Robert Cray for a fabulously heartfelt rendition of Kings’ classic “Let The Good Times Roll”. Boy did they, immediately thereafter the host and Jimmie Vaughan joined Cray and King in a rollicking rendition of “Everyday I Have The Blues”, during which EC and company took turns showcasing their own individual skills on solo’s that properly put those four players amongst the all time greats in the rock and blues guitar tradition.
To add a variety of guitar playing styles Mr. Clapton has always invited jazz players and country rockers to the festival and again on night one the performers he invited came to help out and showed off their skills playing together. Earl Klugh, Alan Holdsworth & Kurt Rosenwinkel had a ball providing the crowd with some quality notes during their session. Next up was Austin’s Gary Clark Jr., whose band ran through a tight set that highlighted a few songs in which his solo work would easily be compared to Jimi Hendrix or Stevie Ray Vaughan. Clark bends the strings into an almost psychedelic trance inducing crescendo during ” Bright Lights” and “Don’t Owe You a Thing”. John Mayer was up next and while an awesome player in his own right, his work on a duet with Keith Urban was both outstanding and awe-inspiring as they both proved their star status during an incredibly moving cover of the Beatles’ “Don’t Let Me Down”. They both smiled as they met at the microphone for the refrain and released the energy of that crowd pleaser, which again had the crowd singing along, rocking the Garden to its foundation.
Then came the Chicago connection: Buddy Guy and his band, which includes Mt. Greenwood’s own master keyboardist, Marty Sammon. Whenever Buddy walks onstage there is a sense among the crowd of anticipation for the unknown because you really don’t know if he’s going to be mellow or come out shooting. His set opener, “Damn Right I’ve Got The Blues”, was right in the middle, a perfect choice that blended his style of incendiary guitar licks with his unique voice and intonement. Pedal steel master Robert Randolph joined in for a lesson on how electric pedal slide guitar is to be played. Marty Sammon’s work in the Buddy set was, as usual, top-notch and soulful. He has a certain charisma during a live show that makes you feel like you’re on top of the world. Those keys he works so deftly provide a soul enrichment that just can’t be matched, in this author’s opinion, by any other current keys men with the exception of Booker T. (note to local Chicago/Beverly area readers, you can catch Marty’s shows by looking him up on http://www.martysammon.com: I strongly suggest adding a Marty show to your Bucket List – don’t miss him). It was during this Buddy set that the youngest player in this Crossroads Festival, Buddy’s 14 year old sideman Quinn Sullivan, demonstrated that you don’t have to have years of dues paid to be a top notch guitarist. Maybe 87 year old BB King has some advice for the young man?
Closing out night one was the Allman Brothers Band who were rightfully allotted 6 numbers to play, capped off by their live classic “Whipping Post”. The crowd seemed to be most frenzied when the first very recognizable notes of their own signature bluesjam “Statesboro Blues” came out and every soul in Madison Square Garden was on their feet screaming and clapping to egg them on. The perfect synergy of Gregg Allman on keys, Warren Haynes on guitar and Derek Trucks’ slide guitar created a buzz that went viral in MSG during the final Brothers’ tunes “Black Hearted Woman” and “It’s Not My Cross To Bear”. Then, they were joined by the lead guitarists of Los Lobos fame, David Hidalgo and Cesar Rosas, for a few numbers and a collaboration with Eric Clapton on “Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad”. With evening one complete, the charity benefit seemed to be wildly successful from the perspective of the paying customers, and the musicians too. It’s all for a great cause and when Eric invites you to this gig, you bring your A game. A for awesome.