Within the first ten minutes of the first night of Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival, I turned to my buddy and exclaimed, well, “that was better than an encore. Do we go home now?” Behind the attempted humor, I was serious in my sentiments.To open the show, Eric Clapton and guests greeted an enthusiastic full house at Madison Square Garden with a five-song acoustic set that drifted and jived through Clapton staples like “Lay Down Sally” and “Wonderful Tonight.” Clapton invited artists like Vince Gill and Andy Fairweather Low on stage, the latter of which sang tremendous lead vocals on his song “Spider Jivin” – the second song of the night. Clapton began the concert with “Driftin.” In the middle of his opening set, Clapton performed “Tears in Heaven,” which he has unearthed for his 50th Anniversary Tour. The song, written in response to the death of Clapton’s four-year-old son, is as potent as it is simple. Because of its subject, Clapton rarely plays it (last time before this tour was in 2003). Hearing him perform the song live was well worth the price of admission.
At the helm of the show was emcee and original Blues Brother, Dan Akroyd, who introduced artists and, prior to the concluding set by the Allman Brothers, performed a rousing version of “Got My Mojo Working” with Keb ‘Mo. In reviewing my notes from the show – and recalling my euphoric loquaciousness during/after the show, I realize now that despite my pre-show expectation to see a slew of revered guitar gods, I couldn’t quite grasp how overwhelming and ethereal the concert would be. Perhaps the “kid in a candy store” axiom might suffice in describing the crowd’s zeal, but I believe it may be a little weak. There was an infectious gregariousness to the crowd; this wonderful atmosphere of musical passion and friendship. It was as if the guitar community was coming together for a convention, a mind-blowing convention.
Let’s face it; the entire five-hour concert was a highlight. It was a virtual all-star game of guitarists. I intended on marking down some highlights of the night, but I ended up typing furiously on my cell phone (and then my friend’s cell phone after my battery depleted) just to keep up with the plethora of highlights. For your reading pleasure, I have narrowed down my thumb-tiring list of typed highlights to just three major performances during the show. Before I get to the top three of the night (not counting the Clapton solo set I mentioned above), let me commend Booker T and Steve Cropper for their set (the first after Clapton’s acoustic opener). Paired with Blake Mills, Matt “Guitar” Murphy, Keb Mo, Booker T and the NEW MG’s played a five-song set (concluding with “Green Onions) that featured a strong version of “Born Under a Bad Sign.”
Now on to the top 3…
3.) “Everyday I Have the Blues” with Robert Cray, B.B. King, Jimmie Vaughn & Eric Clapton
Blues royalty. Yeah, something like that. B.B. King, who is in possession of a personal fountain of youth, was electric for the few songs he sat in on. I particularly like this performance because it highlights the spirit of the festival. As these legends (King, Cray, Vaughn, and Clapton) playfully swapped and stole solos from each other, the crowd could almost smell the aroma of blues – which to me is a mixture of hard scotch and worn guitar strings. This jam is about as authentic as you can get. It is the blues. Strip away the stage, crowd, and allure, and there would still be four individuals playing the blues.
2.) “Don’t Let me Down” with John Mayer and Keith Urban
After a small set of original pieces, John Mayer summoned Keith Urban onto stage to complete a guitar duo for an electric performance of The Beatles’ “Don’t Let me Down.” There are so many things to like about this performance. A.) It’s an awesome cover of a Beatles’ song. B.) John Mayer and Keith Urban can flat-out kill it on the guitar. C.) They also can sing pretty damn well. D.) If you listen closely, the band adds several interesting influences into the song (country hints mixed with traditional blues). E.) Go to the 3:00 minute mark, refer back to B, and enjoy.
1.) “Whipping Post” with The Allman Brothers Band
12 minutes of pure, unadulterated, brilliance. Watching the Allman Brothers Band is always a treat, but they brought it to a completely different level for this concluding performance at Crossroads. The solos were that much more inspired, and the band played with some extra fire and oomph that propelled the song to the apex of awesome. Listening to the jam-packed crowd, five hours into the concert, belt out the familiar lyrics like it was the opening song was also spectacular.
Legendary show! And, all for a good cause.