There's a higher purpose to Eric Clapton's Crossroads Guitar Festival, raising money for the legendary axeman's Crossroads Centre rehabilitation center in Antigua. But when the show actually hits the

There's a higher purpose to Eric Clapton's Crossroads Guitar Festival, raising money for the legendary axeman's Crossroads Centre rehabilitation center in Antigua. But when the show actually hits the stage, as it did for a second time at Toyota Park in suburban Chicago, the message is more like this -- Can there be too much guitar music in one day?

And as far as the 28,000 attending this year's Crossroads even were concerned, the more the merrier.

So it was indeed a merry, if sticky, day at the Crossroads, as Clapton and 22 of his six-string wielding friends maintained a consistently high and sometimes jaw-droppingly phenomenal standard over the course of 11 hours. And no one was in better form than the host himself, jamming with Sonny Landreth (on "Hell at Home") and chugging through "Tulsa Time" with Vince Gill, Sheryl Crow, Albert Lee and Jerry Douglas. Then, he brought his band on stage for a stellar 100-minute set that liberally sampled the Derek & the Dominoes ouvre -- all the better to highlight slide specialist Derek Trucks -- and paid homage to the late George Harrison with a rendition of his "Isn't it a Pity."

The Band's Robbie Robertson stepped up on a pair of songs -- "Who Do You Love," done as a tribute to the recovering Bo Diddley, and a sharp version of "Further on Up the Road" -- and Steve Winwood came out from behind his Hammond organ to demonstrate some potent guitar skills on Blind Faith's "Can't Find My Way Home," Traffic's "Dear Mr. Fantasy," Clapton's "Cocaine" and "Crossroads."

Winwood wasn't the only of the less-celebrated guitarists on the bill to dazzle the Crossroads crowd. While flashy solos were certainly expected from the likes of Jeff Beck, B.B. King, John McLaughlin or Johnny Winter -- whose "Highway 61" with Trucks provided one of the day's loftiest moments -- someone like country star Gill was a revelation to many as he rocked his way through "Liza Jane," "Cowboy Up" and "Sweet Thing."

And Lee, who played with Gill's band, set tongues wagging with his lightning-speed picking on "Tear It Up" and "Country Boy." Trucks' wife Susan Tedeschi won some fans with her trot through Junior Wells' "Little By Little" and her duet vocals on another Derek & the Dominos' song, "Anyday."

Landreth, another slide virtuoso, provided a fine festival start with a short set that included "The Promised Land," while fellow Louisianian Tab Benoit rode herd on the second stage near the Toyota Park entrance, hosting guests such as former Steely Dan/Doobie Brothers guitarist Jeff "Skunk" Baxter and Chicago blues scene veteran Harvey Mandel.

And John Mayer, who's been waging a quiet (and mostly successful) campaign to win props for his own six-string skills over his pop image, put perceptibly more muscle into renditions of "Waiting on the World To Change," "Vultures," "Belief," "Gravity" and Ray Charles' "I Don't Need No Doctor."

The heroes, meanwhile, delivered as expected. King showed "the thrill" is not gone, and Beck's blow by blow was as inventive and otherworldly as always, capped by an instrumental rendering of the Beatles' "A Day in the Life."

So call it a Day of a Thousand Strings, or something like that. It was simply nirvana, manic and otherwise, for anyone who has a taste for the guitar arts. And if you weren't there rest assured that the experience will likely translate to the DVD that's due on Nov. 6.