Crossroads Guitar Festival: One All Day Concert Later

It's amazing to think how quickly yesterday's event went by. I was lucky enough to attend the second Crossroads Guitar Festival organized by Eric Clapton which had the gates opening early in the morning, the concert scheduled to start at noon and was slated to run until 11PM that night. I arrived at the festival at roughly 11AM, and before I knew it... it was 11PM and I was walking out, in awe of some of the amazing performances I had just witnessed.

The day started with a small band playing on the village stage. I'm not entirely sure who they were because I came in during the middle. This was an unexpected treat though, as there were definitely some good players and the band was pretty hot too, tearing it up with some great blues jams... including a number of guest guitarists and an appearance by Jeff "Skunk" Baxter.

A good start to a day of great rock and roll.

Bill Murray was the emcee for the day and it wasn't long before he was on stage for the intro, an "interesting" sing along of the song "Gloria" where he was joined by Eric Clapton, and then have Clapton announce the first act, Sonny Landreth.

I'd never heard anything by Landreth before this event, but his name as a guitarist had certainly been around in my mind. I was so impressed with his style and slide playing. It is completely unique, but precise and watching him pick out notes on both sides of the slide was unbelievable as it looked and sounded so natural and intricate, but I know would be nearly impossible for anyone else to play so well. His set ended with a nice jam with Eric Clapton and then we were firmly into the show.

When seeing all of these musicians on the bill, I was expecting that there would be some downtime between sets as amps and instruments were moved, but by utilizing a rotating stage, there was rarely more than 10-15 minutes between sets, which really set the pace and made the day go fast, even if it did make it a little difficult to get food etc. Murray's intros for the groups were pretty amusing, especially the various references to the various stages of Clapton's career, but for the most part kept short. Over the course of the next 12 hours though, there would be almost continuous music, which was great as it surely made the time fly by.

As I said, I was definitely impressed by Sonny Landreth, but also thought that Doyle Bramhall II did a great set (I've seen him play with Clapton twice, but had not heard too much from the Arc Angels or his solo work before). Alison Krauss and Union Station, with guest Jerry Douglas were a great addition as their folk/bluegrass stylings were wonderful with Douglas' standing out as a great compliment on slide and dobro for Krauss' angelic vocals.

Probably the number one early highlight for me, and judging from the applause, most of the crowd as well, was the set by the Derek Trucks band. I've seen Trucks play before with Clapton and was very impressed with his guitar work then, but with his own band he goes above and beyond with some great jams. It would only get better though when the band was joined by Susan Tedeschi who's soulful vocals took everything to a new level, as did her guitar jamming with Trucks... an amazing collaboration that only got better still, as then they were joined by none other than the legendary Johnny Winter for "Highway 61" which was one of my highlights of the day. Winter can still tear it up on slide as good as ever...a definite standout in my mind, and just an awesome set overall.

There was an extended set from Robert Cray, who was good as always but was then joined by Hubert Sumlin for a few songs, Jimmy Vaughan for a few songs and then the always amazing B.B. King for a few songs, all with extended jams. B.B. King may be 81 years old, but he can still play with the best of them and exude soul like no other. These extended blues jams were another one of the great highlights of the day.

A short set from the winner of the King of the Blues contest was an interesting bit as well, but not necessarily a highlight. Truthfully, I was not impressed at all, and thought that a few of the people who had taken the village stage that morning could easily out play him with tons more blues style and soul... but hey, to each their own... it was still cool to see none the less.

There were some more great musicians to come, including a great performance from John Mayer, and an extended set from Vince Gill that then included being joined for a few songs each, by Albert Lee, Sheryl Crow and the one and only Willie Nelson. Albert Lee is another guitarist who's name has been floating around my head for a while but I had not had the pleasure of listening to...and again, very impressed with his style and blazing speed, which when interlocked with Gill made for a good time. The set concluded with a great duet between Sheryl Crow and Willie Nelson. I'm not a big fan of country music overall but I've always been impressed by the guitar work of Vince Gill, and seeing a legend like Willie Nelson was another great highlight.

Throughout the day there were also great performances by Robert Randolph, and Los Lobos and John McLaughlin, all of which were great to hear as well, but not necessarily the standouts.

I was so excited to hear that Jeff Beck was playing this show because he is one of my favorite guitarists of all time, but I've never heard him play live. It was absolutely electric with Beck in amazing form as always with hard rock meets jazz fusion in a sort of progressive melodic explosion. I was also extremely impressed with his bassist as she could handle that bass better than anyone I've seen in a while with some rapid speed. Beck's entire set was amazing, but his cover of the Beatles' "A Day in the Life", as always, stood out as stellar. This was definitely the high point of the day at the time, but he would be slightly eclipsed by those who followed.

Clapton's set was as powerful and bluesy as always, especially during lengthy jams with Derek Trucks and Doyle Bramhall II, and although Clapton did seem content letting others really shine, he still got in some great guitar licks of his own throughout. They were joined by Robbie Robertson for a fantastic cover of Bo Diddley's "Who Do You Love," which again featured a lot of extended jamming and excellent guitar work...AND then... they band was joined by none other than Steve Winwood. Clapton and Winwood on stage together after such a long time was the major highlight of the night because as expected, they played a lot of Blind Faith material, and probably would have made the day worth while even had every other artist just been mediocre. Plus, when Winwood took the stage alone with the band, his high powered guitar work and epic vocals produced yet another one of the most memorable performances of the event, and probably of my lifetime... just amazing. Clapton, Trucks and Bramhall II would return for a few more songs, closing appropriately with an extended version of Cream's version of "Crossroads" that had some of the best guitar interactions of the entire night.

People might have thought that would be the end of the day. It was already after 10 PM, there had been so much great music and so many great collaborations that it seemed like nothing could have better concluded the night... Still, just as Clapton had asked Texas legends ZZ Top to close the shows when the festival was in Texas, he asked a Chicago legend to close these shows in the Chicago area: Buddy Guy.

Buddy Guy is simply one of the most exciting performers of all time and the songs he did with his band were great examples of that, no doubt, but when he brought out Clapton for a jam it was another level altogether... AND then when they invited out a whole bunch more of the performers... John Mayer, Robert Cray, Johnny Winter, Hubert Sumlin and Jimmy Vaughan... well that was like the jam to end all jams.

A great performer with great guitar work to close a great day.

The show did not go off perfectly though... which I guess can be expected when organizing such a large event. There were some technical problems throughout including a scratching cable sound during Alison Krauss' set, and a number of times where it appeared like certain mics or instruments had not been added to the house mix as soon as they should have been. Probably the worst technical glitch was at the beginning of Vince Gill's set where the entire band was left out of the mix leaving no sound coming from the speakers at all for nearly half a song. These glitches were fixed pretty quickly, but still a little annoying. As I said, I guess you can't expect everything to be perfect. I've seen far worse technical glitches at concerts and overall the sound was amazing, so I don't think that these issues were too much of a problem.

Also, although there were tons of collaborations between artists, jamming and trading guitar solos, I was expecting still more guest appearances by other artists... I mean how cool would it have been to see McLaughlin jamming with Beck, or Beck, Clapton and Winwood tearing it up together? Still, when a show lasts 11 hours, it's hard to ask for more.

Overall, I think this Crossroads Guitar Festival 2007 was a once in a lifetime event and I feel lucky to have been able to attend... Sure, I got what might be the worst sunburn of my life despite wearing sunscreen and have probably have done significant damage to my hearing listening to a rock concert for 12 hours... BUT totally worth it.

For those of you who were unable to attend, don't get all bent out of shape. I noticed the camera crew and signs that read "This event is being filmed for...etc... By attending you've consented to the use of your image... etc" right away and you know what that means... a DVD release soon enough. It'll be interesting to see how much of the show they include as I was a little disappointed at how many performances didn't make the last DVD set (still a great set, but I would have preferred at least something from everyone). Even if they stick to the highlights of this show it should be a great concert set to watch, so keep an eye out.

Also, you can check out concert footage at Msn here: http://music.msn.com/crossroads

Definitely check it out as there are some incredible moments from throughout the show.

So, like I said, for an all day event it surely went fast and was a once in a lifetime event, for a good cause, with some incredible performances... Doesn't get much better of a rock show than that.

- The Soul of Rock 'n' Roll is a division of Fifth Column Media - www.fifthcolumnmedia.com -