So on Saturday I spent the entire day in a guitar player’s heaven, I’m talking about Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival. The show started at 11:50 (kind of a random starting time) and Sonny Landreth kicked off the show. It’s too bad they put him on as the first act because as he’s playing most people either aren’t there yet, or are trying to find their seats, etc. – he was absolutely amazing. He is such a phenomenal guitar player and had (to my ear) the best guitar tone of the whole event. His unique style of finger picking and slide, along with his amazing tone really made him stand out for me – if you aren’t familiar with Sonny Landreth, search for him on YouTube and I think you’ll agree with me.
Following Sonny Landreth was the Robert Randolph band, they were good as always, although there wasn’t enough of Robert and his pedal steel, he only played 2 songs with “the Family Band” and then Joe Bonamassa came out and sort of stole his thunder. Joe was good, but I think he’s a bit overrated. I know that’s going to upset a lot of guitar heads out there, but he just seems too … textbook to me. He’s clean, fast, and loud but doesn’t leave any kind of lasting impression with me. To be fair, this was the only venue I’ve seen him play so maybe he’s much better at one of his shows.
Robert Cray and Jimmie Vaughn played next and they were smooth and polished as expected. I love both of those guys, but I honestly couldn’t tell you what they played (a few of Robert Cray’s new ones I believe) – Hubert Sumlin came out later and joined them and sounded pretty good, great version of Killin’ Floor (especially given the fact that he was wearing one of those oxygen tubes in his nose) – I have a feeling Hubert won’t be with us much longer so if you ever get a chance to see him and pay tribute to one of the greats, do so.
ZZ Top took the stage next. I’ve always had a huge appreciation for this band and love Billy Gibbons approach to playing, but I think anyone that was there would agree with me that they were pretty sloppy. The tone was horrible and there were a lot of dropped beats and sloppy notes from Billy Gibbons. I was really pulling for those guys too, I guess I just expected something more.
Doyle Bramhall II came out next and did his thing which was ok I guess. I think he’s a really talented player but has kind of a strange band (I forget the name of them), he did a few experimental sounding songs which would probably be really cool to see in a small venue, but didn’t work so well in a huge arena. The highlight of his set was when this guy Gary Clark came out to join them. There was a technical glitch with the audio when Gary first came out and in fact he played almost an entire song with the stadium speakers not working at all… the only sound we could hear was the monitor mix on the stage, but anyway, Gary Clark was a name I didn’t know and was an amazing guitar player / singer. He played a very cool finger style electric shuffle.. very fast and driving. I highly recommend checking him out. Sheryl Crow came out and joined them and did 2 or 3 of her songs which were great (I love the way she changes the melodies when she sings live.. keeps it interesting)
The next group was the country portion of the show, so lots of telecasters and twang (which I loved of course). Vince Gill came out and was joined by Albert Lee, James Burton and Keb’ Mo’ – they played the usual mix of fast paced, chicken pickin’ stuff which was a nice break to all of the blues. Albert Lee called his daughter out and let her sing one while he did his usual insane fast country pickin’ – he tore it up as usual.
John Mayer played after the country set and my only complaint was that it wasn’t long enough. He performed with his power trio and he played on several Strats and a Gibson ES-335 – it’s easy to forget what a great guitar player that guy is because he’s such a good singer / songwriter, but he really does seem to have it all. They played a killer version of Bill Withers, “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone”, and also covered Jimi Hendrix’s “Wait Until Tomorrow”.
The next set included Buddy Guy and Jonny Lang and featured a guest appearance by Ronnie Wood – Jonny Lang had some of the best sounding vocals of the entire show.. he really sounded amazing. At one point they played the blues classic “Five Long Years” and Buddy Guy broke a string at which point Ron Wood took off his Strat and handed it to Buddy. You could tell they were really having a good time with each other. They also played “Miss You” by the Rolling Stones – the crowd went nuts for that one.
Up next we had the Derek Trucks Allstar band which included (his wife) Susan Tedeschi, Warren Haynes, Dave Hidalgo and Cesar Rojas (Los Lobos) – they jammed on several songs including “Three Hundred Pounds of Joy”. On a very sad note, they called Johnny Winter onto the stage and his playing was beyond terrible. Everyone literally thought he was trying to be funny but then soon realized he wasn’t. He stumbled his way through “Red House” and then left. Poor guy, it’s as if he hasn’t touched a guitar in years, and he was always one of my favorites.
Jeff Beck took the stage next and had the best mix of the entire show – not to mention an insane bass player. At the last Crossroads event he had Tal Wilkenfield, who was only 23 years old (although she looked like she was 14), this year he had some other girl that blew everyone away, playing a lot of slap funk bass.. she was amazing. I wish I knew what her name was (if anyone knows, leave it in the comments) He played a mixture of jazz and rock and did a very good version of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”, but the highlight of his set was his cover of Stevie Wonder’s, “Higher” – that was actually one of the best songs of the entire event for me.
Eric Clapton then took the stage and played the Cream classic “Crossroads” – which wasn’t anything we haven’t heard him do a million times before, but then he had Jeff Beck join him back on stage and they performed “Shake Your Money Maker” together – very cool. Clapton then had Steve Winwood join him onstage and played a number of Blind Faith and Traffic Songs including “Dear Mr. Fantasy” – by the way, Steve Winwood is a killer guitar player, his style is very similar to Clapton’s and if you close your eyes you actually have a hard time knowing who’s playing. Together they played a few covers including Buddy Holly’s “Well Allright”, but their version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile” was probably THE biggest highlight of the entire show – the timing was perfect too because the moon was just rising over the arena as Steve Winwood sang the line, “the night I was born, the moon turned a fire red” – what an experience.
The show ended with B.B. King being summoned to the stage for what we all thought was going to be a big blues finale, but B.B. just rambled and rambled for 15 minutes or so about loving women and shaking your boogie and all kinds of things – meanwhile the rest of the band (Clapton, Robert Cray, Jimmie Vaughn, Buddy Guy) just sat there and stared at him – I think E.C. was disappointed to say the least. He ran about a quarter of the audience off (honestly!) and then finally started singing “Rock Me Baby”, I actually decided to leave at this point (keep in mind it was now 11:30 or so and we got there about 12 hours earlier), but on my way out I heard him start “The Thrill Is Gone”. I’ve always loved B.B. and was kind of sad to see him so delusional – he said he was 84!
Anyway, the show overall was really fantastic and well worth the price of admission. It makes for a longggg day and by the end of the night you sort of get to a point where you don’t really care to hear another song – no matter who came out and sang.. but I’d do it again in a heartbeat. This one will be coming out on DVD and Blueray soon so you’ll definitely want to check it out. I’ll keep you posted when it does.