Generous doses of Blind Faith and Derek & the Dominos music, some jaw-dropping collaborations and more solos than Chicago has hot dog stands made Eric Clapton’s second Crossroads Guitar Festival a hit yesterday (July 28).
The 11-hour concert, held before a sell-out crowd of 28,000 at Toyota Park in the Windy City suburb of Bridgeview, showcased a broad breadth of styles, from still-potent rock gods such as Clapton and Jeff Beck to venerable bluesmen like B.B. King, Buddy Guy and Hubert Sumlin and young guns Derek Trucks, John Mayer and Robert Randolph. Mahavishnu Orchestra founder John McLaughlin brought electric fusion jazz to the party, while Vince Gill and Alison Krauss & Union Station made sure the Crossroads had twang, too.
Early arrivals checking out the Festival Village also heard Tab Benoit and his band backing Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, Harvey Mandel and others on the Guitar Center/Ernie Ball stage. The proceedings were filmed in HD by director Martin Atkins, with a DVD slated for release on Nov. 6.
This year’s Crossroads show was a one-day-only follow-up to 2004’s weekend-long affair in Dallas. The goal was to raise money for Clapton’s Crossroads Centre rehabilitation facility in Antigua, an effort all of Saturday’s performers found it easy to get behind.
“It’s all about helping somebody, and what a wonderful job this man has done,” Guy said of Clapton. “If we had more people in this world like him, it would be a better place.”
For guitar fans, Toyota Park was a fine place too — especially during Clapton’s 95-minute set. Starting off with a blast of Derek & the Dominos material — including “Tell the Truth,” a joyous rendition of “Got To Get Better in a Little While” and an epic take of “Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad” — Clapton and his band, which included Trucks, paid homage to the late George Harrison with his “Isn’t It a Pity” and saluted Bo Diddley’s recovery from a recent stroke with a version of his “Who Do You Love,” one of two songs featuring the Band’s Robbie Robertson.
The already outstanding set achieved further lift-off, however, when Steve Winwood, who Clapton said he’d been “waiting to play with for 25 years,” joined the troupe to recreate the Blind Faith favorites “Presence of the Lord,” “Can’t Find My Way Home” and “Not My Cross To Bear” as well as Traffic’s “Pearly Queen” and “Dear Mr. Fantasy” — with Winwood playing blistering guitar solos on the latter. He remained on stage to help Clapton and company close their set with “Cocaine” and “Crossroads.”
Clapton started the day with a guitar in his hands, completing emcee Bill Murray’s comic attempt to play “Gloria” and introducing the first act, Louisiana guitar great Sonny Landreth. Clapton helped Landreth close his set with “Hell at Home” and spent most of the day at the side of the stage, talking to the other performers, hanging out with his wife and children and taking pictures. He later came joined Sheryl Crow, Albert Lee and Vince Gill’s band for Danny Flower’s “Tulsa Time.”
The Gill set was also among the day’s highlights, encompassing his own songs as well as appearances by Crow (“If it Makes You Happy” and “Strong Enough” with Krauss and Union Station’s Jerry Douglas), the fast-picking Lee and Willie Nelson.
Robert Cray played a similar kind of host to Jimmie Vaughan, Sumlin and King, who offered a lengthy and emotional salute to Clapton before “The Thrill is Gone.” Mayer, in turn, dedicated “every note I play today … to Mr. B.B. King” and delivered aggressive versions of “Waiting on the World To Change,” “Vultures” and Ray Charles’ “I Don’t Need No Doctor.”
Beck and his quartet dazzled the Crossroads crowd with 50 minutes of instrumental work, including a recitation of the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life.” Trucks, meanwhile, welcomed wife Susan Tedeschi for Junior Wells’ “Little By Little” and Derek & the Dominos’ “Anyday” before bringing Johnny Winter on stage for a long romp through “Highway 61.”
“(Winter) got here about a half-hour before we went on,” Trucks said. “I met him in his Winnebego and said, ‘You go, we’ll follow.’ He’s such a frail guy, but he got up and shot for the moon.”
Murray did a good job in helping to keep the show moving with quick one-liners (he referred to McLaughlin’s early band as the Mahi Mahi Orchestra) and outfits — complete with wigs and guitars — that mimicked Clapton at different stages of his career.
The day’s only miscue was the positioning of Guy’s set after Clapton’s, which meant the Chicago legend — and the two-song all-star jam with Clapton, Mayer, Vaughan, Winter and Randolph that finished the show — played to about a third of the crowd. It was their loss, perhaps, but it’s doubtful anyone left the Crossroads fest feeling anything less than fulfilled.