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LIVE REVIEW -- Eric Clapton's Crossroads Festival




Starring, in alphabetical order:




Saturday, July 28

Noon11 p.m.

Toyota Park, Bridgeview, IL


Eric Clapton solo


By Linda Cain

 Photos by: Jennifer Wheeler


Who but Eric Clapton could put together a once-in-a-lifetime, dazzling lineup such as this, to join together for a good cause?  Only good old Slowhand could gather the top names from rock, blues, country, pop and jazz fusion to help with his fundraiser for Crossroads Centre, a substance abuse rehab facility in Antigua that had been wiped out by hurricanes in the past.


The first Crossroads Guitar Fest took place in 2004 in Dallas over three days. (I’ve enjoyed watching the DVD repeatedly.)  But the fest that Mr. Clapton brought to Chicago last Saturday was even better and more diverse. For starters, Dallas’ show had no female artists. This time there were three lovely ladies: Sheryl Crow, Alison Krauss and Susan Tedeschi. The Chicagoland event boasted more country acts, as well as several “supergroup” formations throughout the 11-hour show. Plus we got JEFF BECK, STEVE WINWOOD and a BLIND FAITH MINI-REUNION!!!  All in one day and on one stage.


 If EC was attempting to top himself in Chicago, he definitely succeeded.


Each one of the 28,000 to 29,000 attendees that day knew they were very lucky to bear witness to something quite special that they would remember the rest of their lives. (Good news for those who weren’t there: a DVD is in the works and should be out by Christmas)






The festivities began a few minutes before noon when a familiar face and voice appeared on the stage.  When you need an emcee to keep the crowd engaged and laughing between acts, who you gonna call?


Bill Murray! Chicagoland’s favorite Ghostbuster and much more.


The SNL/Second City alum instantly got the audience’s attention with a bit of cheerleading for Chicago’s sports teams. Murray promised the crowd: “This will be the greatest day in the history of Bridgeview.”


He strapped on a guitar to perform “the only song I can play” – “Gloria”. Although  Bill clearly shouldn’t quit his day job, the crowd sure had fun singing along.  And then the sound of a second, well-played guitar was heard. Out of the wings came the illustrious host, strumming “Gloria” to a standing ovation.


Clapton took on emcee duties for the first act, thanking Murray by telling the crowd: “If Bill could really play guitar like he does comedy, we’d all be in trouble up here.”


First up was slide guitar wizard Sonny Landreth. Clapton praised the Louisiana native for being the first person to respond to his requests for help. “And the first person to respond always gets the honor of going on first”. 





Landreth was indeed the perfect choice to kick off this guitar laden extravaganza at high noon. His 20 minute set was like an appetizer to tantalize your tastebuds for the musical feast that was to come. He opened with a haunting instrumental that brought to mind the Louisiana bayou. Even the weather matched the music: the skies were overcast and a misty haze hung over Toyota Park. Although he didn’t perform his most famous song “Congo Square,” Landreth’s slide prowess, excellent songs, and his swamp-funky rhythm section got everyone in the groove. They was chooglin’, as John Fogerty might say.


Landreth was joined onstage by Clapton for his final number, a footstompin’ rockabilly romp, “Hell At Home,” with some blistering guitar work that got the crowd roaring. And then the sun came out. 





The weather wasn’t as cooperative for the poorly placed second slot artist, the great jazz fusion guitarist John McLaughlin. By 12:30 the sun was blazing. It was far too early to hear what I like to call “head music”. That is to say, music which engages your mind and inner consciousness, rather than “body music” like rock or R&B that gets your booty shakin’. I think the crowd would have better appreciated listening to Mr. Mahavishnu once the sun went down and their heads were in a better space and time. Nevertheless it was a treat to see this amazing and unique guitar master, who could coax sounds from his instrument that mimicked a buzzing beehive or a rocket launching.


McLaughlin was only allowed about a 20 minute set, hardly enough time for an improvisational artist to really build up steam. Once the quartet finally launched into the stratosphere with its space rock/jazz fusion/psychedelia… sorry, the time was up.




Alison Krauss


The third act proved better suited for the 12:55 time slot and hot summer weather.  A lengthier set of about 30 minutes gave this hot picking bluegrass band a chance to win over the audience. As they played, the sky turned bright blue and a low flying hawk soared over the park. Perfect.


The set showcased both uptempo, hot pickin’ tunes and slow, sad ballads about heartache and loneliness -- the kind that 20-time Grammy winning fiddler Krauss sings so well. Sadly, her angelic, delicate vocals were assaulted by static from the sound system.


Union Station is comprised of stellar instrumentalists who each have their own careers doing everything from Nashville session work to film soundtracks. They, plus special guest Jerry Douglas, one of the world’s top dobro player’s (he’s won Grammies and played on records by everyone from Ray Charles to Garth Brooks) dazzled the roasting crowd with their amazing solos.


When guitarist/vocalist Dan Tyminski got to sing a number, I kept hoping that he and fellow guitarist/banjo man Ron Block would  bring the house down with “I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow”  from the movie “Oh Brother Where Art Thou”.  But they didn’t play it. (Probably because they played it at the Crossroads in Dallas and need something different for the new DVD.)





An integral part of Austin’s post-Stevie Ray Vaughan blues scene ( Fabulous Thunderbirds, Arc Angels), Doyle Bramhall’s set sounded more North Mississippi Hill country than Texas blues tradition. (Which was fine as there would be plenty of that to come).


Bramhall and a second guitarist played while seated. Behind them were two drummers with full kits. The two guitarists dueted on vocals while Bramhall supplied plenty of fuzz tone, wah-wah pedal and slide guitar. Repetitive,

beat heavy drumming induced the trance-like, deep country feel to Bramhall’s blues. 


A member of Clapton’s recording and touring bands, Bramhall dedicated his last number to the boss and played a Cream song (the title of which I can’t recall).





A member of both Clapton’s and the Allman Brothers’ bands, plus leader of his own group, Derek Trucks was one of the youngest performers of the day. Yet at age 27, Trucks proved himself an equal to the legends he shared the stage with.

Blues, jazz, rock, world music -- Derek Trucks, the nephew of Allman Bros. drummer Butch Trucks, can handle it all.


Unfortunately I was stuck in line at the concession stand when the band hit the stage. But I could hear them. The first couple songs were instrumentals. One included some fabulous flute playing by band member Kofi Burbridge (who I assume is related to the Allman Bros. bassist Oteil Burbridge). The pleasant, rhythmic song sounded something like the ‘70s band War backing a belly dancer. There was a lengthy Allman Brothers type jam followed by the entrance of vocalist Mike Mattison who sang a couple bluesy numbers in his wonderful gritty voice.


Robert Randolph wasn’t the only one with a family band that day. Susan Tedeschi, a.k.a. Mrs. Derek Trucks, took the stage to wow the crowd with two blues songs from her own CD repertoire: “Little By Little” and “Evidence.”

The Grammy-nominated vocalist/guitarist practically stole the show from her hubby as the audience cheered the loudest they had since Clapton walked on stage at noon.


Susan set down her guitar and was joined by singer Mattison for a triumphant duet of Derek & the Dominoes “Anyday”. Trucks’ soaring slide guitar work showed him to be the heir apparent to Duane Allman, who played on the original.


As if that wasn’t a big enough thrill, the Trucks band was then joined by Johnny Winter. And it was only 2:35 p.m.




Texan Johnny Winter, the whitest man to ever play the blues, appeared frail as he had to be led on and off stage. Winter played sitting down, his spindly, tattoo- laden arm gripping a high-tech headless guitar; his pale face and platinum hair nearly hidden under his black cowboy hat.


But Winter’s appearance belied what came next. He roared out a rollicking, almost menacing, very lengthy version of Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited,” as Derek Truck’s band raged like a hurricane behind him. Here was an artist with something to prove, letting us know that he’s “Still Alive and Well.” And then he rose and calmly was led off the stage, leaving the cheering crowd dying for more. (Which never happened until the last moments of the show at 10:45 pm when Winter joined in for the grand finale).





That was certainly a tough act to follow, but Robert Randolph and the Family Band were up to the task. Having seen this incredible, gospel-schooled pedal steel guitarist play twice (at Jazz Fest in New Orleans and also open for Eric Clapton in Chicago), I knew they were capable of whipping a crowd into a gospel-like fervor.


After a long warm-up, the band launched into a breezy Allman Bros. style instrumental. Then they brought us to church and got the crowd on its feet with “Nobody”. The final song was the mid-tempo “So Refreshing” which truly was on this hot day. And then they were done. I knew that was only the tip of the iceberg revealed. They didn’t even have time to do their biggest hit “Ain’t Nothin’ Wrong With That.”  Darn.





Another of Clapton’s former opening acts who went on to stardom, Robert Cray took the stage around 3:15 p.m. “Poor Johnny” started it out.


What I’ve always loved about Cray is the drama and subtlety he brings to his songs, which are like mini-soap operas or movies. Such nuances are lost in a giant festival setting. I think he would have done better to have covered a couple of his more upbeat hits from the ‘80s like “Forecast Calls for Pain.”


Still, the strong persuader sang and played his heart out on the slow, sad, epic anti-war tale of an Iraq war soldier, titled “Twenty” (“when you’re used up, where do you go, soldier?...mother don’t you cry, someone told you a lie”).  He finished his short set with “Free of You and Me.”


But Cray and his three bandmates weren’t through yet. They were about to transform into a blues super group.





Cray then brought on Jimmie Vaughan, the former guitarist and bandleader for the original Fabulous Thunderbirds. Vaughan and Cray dueted on a fun, fast ’50s-style rocker, “Roll, Roll, Roll.”  Jimmie dedicated the next song to his late brother (Stevie Ray) and played a blues tune called “Crossroads” (but not the Robert Johnson/Cream song). It was a heartfelt rendition. Cray and Vaughan then got back to jammin’ on a jump blues tune that had folks dancin’. It was nice to see Cray having some fun and really wailing on guitar after those sad songs he chose for his set.





The next special guest for the blues super group was Hubert Sumlin.  Howlin’ Wolf’s  guitarist, who played on most of his Chess record hits, was a huge influence on the likes of Clapton and Keith Richards.  It was time for some real Chicago blues. Perhaps as an homage to Willie Dixon, Cray’s bass man switched to upright bass. It took the spry senior some time to get started. Sumlin played sitting down and led the band in two blues classics, “Killing Floor” and “Sittin’ on Top of the World.”  Cray’s band had now expanded to three great blues guitarists.


And then it was time for the King of the Blues.




Looking as jovial as royalty can get, B.B. made his entrance to a standing ovation, waving to the crowd. Sumlin rushed to hug him and the musicians on stage were beaming huge smiles. The cameraman showed Clapton in the wings doing likewise.


B.B. took a seat, picked up Lucille and belted out: “Paying the Cost to Be the Boss” and “Rock Me Baby” (while he boogied in his chair to laughter). He coaxed Cray to take several solos.


Then it was time for his front porch chat with the crowd, something he always does during his shows. (The man LOVES to talk and spin meandering tales.) This time he focused only on praising Eric Clapton and all of the host’s good deeds. He encouraged the younger players on stage to carry on playing the blues. B.B. told the crowd he was 81 and asked everyone to toast Clapton. And then he toasted the audience and told them that when it was time for him to be buried, the last thing he’d hoped to hear was the sound of his fans. His fellow musicians became teary eyed and the crowd stood and cheered.


B.B. hit them with the immortal opening notes of “The Thrill Is Gone,” featuring his signature string bending, soul piercing tones; his deep, powerful singing and animated stage personae. Then he was done. He exited the same way he came on: standing ovation, hugs, smiles and waves all around. It was the most touching and sincere set of the show. It was 4:23 p.m. Only seven-and-a-half hours to go!





It was time to brave the concession stand again to fight against dehydration. I didn’t catch the next act at all, but it seems they were jinxed. The sound kept going out. I heard that the Guitar Center Contest Winner was a band with two male guitarists and a female rock violinist who played original pop-rock fare.

Whoever they were, I felt very sorry for them. Most people were searching for dinner at that point.





Bill Murray came out in costume, the first of several he’d don that night. Dressed in a white disco suit, wearing a wig and moustache that made him look like a Spinal Tap member, the comedian used a fake British accent to bring on John Mayer.


There is more to young Mr. Mayer than sugary sweet pop songs, screaming teenage girls and tabloid news of his love life. Mayer’s approximately 40-minute set proved the twenty-something Grammy winner to be an artist of good taste, musical substance and a skilled, versatile guitarist.


Anyone who wants to learn to play the blues and chooses Buddy Guy as a mentor is alright by me.  He appeared at Clapton’s Dallas event and has truly improved his music in just three years.


Being chosen to sing and play on recent CDs by John Scofield and Herbie Hancock qualifies Mayer as a hitter -- heavy enough to be included in the Chicago Crossroads.  And anyone who starts his set by saying: “Every note that comes out of this guitar is dedicated to Mr. B.B. King” has his heart in the right place.


That said, he and his large band performed perfect versions of four songs from  his Grammy-winning CD, Continuum. The first two, “Waiting on the World to Change” and “Belief” are both gentle anti-war protests.  Next was “Vultures” about the world constantly testing him.


Mayer switched into blues guitar mode and played a swinging “I Don’t Need No Doctor,” a Ray Charles number that he cut with jazz artist John Scofield. Now Mayer could cut loose with some blues guitar chops, proving that he has indeed evolved into a serious musician of note. He closed with the dreamy, gospel-tinged “Gravity”.





When country superstar Vince Gill prepared to take the stage, emcee Bill Murray demanded and received a standing ovation from the crowd to greet the genial Grammy-winner.


Clapton is known for his love of both blues and country music. Vince Gill can play guitar in both genres, plus everything in between, so it’s no wonder the host asked Gill and his 10-piece band back for the Chicago Crossroads. Gill and large band kicked it off with the rollicking rock’n’roll song “Liza Jane” and then “Cowboy Up,” featuring Gill on some very bluesy guitar, followed by “Sweet Thing.”


Like the blues super band that preceded them, Gill’s group (two keyboards, pedal steel, guitar, horn section, congas, drums, bass, backup singers) was about to transform.





Gill introduced Britain’s Albert Lee as one of his major influences on guitar. Long a guitar hero in his native England as a member of Head, Hands and Feet, Lee moved to L.A. in the ‘70s where he became one of the most sought-after session players ever. Known for being able to pick at breakneck speed, Lee toured with everyone from Emmylou Harris to the Everly Brothers and Eric Clapton.


Lee’s first number lived up to its title, “Tear It Up,” a ‘50s rockabilly scorcher. “I’m Just a Country Boy At Heart,” showcased his incredibly fast hot pickin’ that had jaws dropping.




Sheryl Crowe & Eric Clapton


The lovely Ms. Crow joined Gill, Lee and company, bringing her own guitarist to the mix. She did the “I’m not worthy bow” to Albert Lee before she sang her first number, “If It Makes You Happy.”


Why she chose this song over all of the other cool tunes in her repertoire is a mystery to me, especially since it includes the line, “Well, ok, I still get stoned. I’m not the kind of girl you bring home.”  Perhaps because the song’s character is a candidate for the Crossoads Antigua Centre?


But it was good to see Sheryl looking as gorgeous as ever, having recovered from her breakup with Lance and a bout with breast cancer.


Alison Kraus and Jerry Douglas joined Sheryl on “Are You Strong Enough To Be My Man?” The addition of dobro and fiddle gave the tune a real down home flavor while the ladies’ harmonies sounded heavenly.  So glad you invited women this time EC!


And how could Slowhand resist sharing the stage with a lady?


Clapton came out to do “Tulsa Time” as he and Sheryl shared the mic for some great twangy harmonies. (I hope Mrs. Clapton didn’t have a problem with the two ex-lovers getting together for a song).


It’s now 6:10. Only five more hours left.




Sheryl Crowe & Willie Nelson


Willie entered to uproarious cheers. He wasted no time launching into a nonstop set of his most famous songs: “Funny How Time Slips Away,” “Crazy,” “Night Life,” “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.”  Willie played the heck outta his beat up, ancient acoustic guitar, decorated with autographs of other famous musician pals. Nelson’s longtime harp player Mickey Raphael was on hand to add his bluesy licks.


It’s nice to see ol’ Willie’s hands have recovered from tendonitis (or whatever was ailing him) when he played in Schaumburg a couple years back with Bob Dylan at the ballpark. He could hardly play guitar and had his son do most of the work that time.


For his final number, Willie called Sheryl Crow onstage to sing “On The Road Again” with him. When he sang the line “the life I love is making music with my friends,” Willie seemed to just glow with happiness, surrounded by all these great musician buddies. Or maybe it was just something he smoked.





I wasn’t expecting much from their set, having seen Los Lobos perform at festivals a couple of times in recent years. The lackadaisical performances I saw then were disappointing compared to the fiery shows they used to put on in the ‘80s.


This time, they didn’t disappoint. They kicked off with “Don’t Worry Baby,” followed by a cumbia number en Espanol that got us salsa dancing. Their long blues jam on “Chains of Love” was muy bueno .They finished with a muy caliente version of the rockin’ “Mas y Mas,” with help from longtime sax player Steve Berlin.


Muchas gracias Los Lobos!




Jeff Beck & Tal W.


Bill Murray appeared dressed like Roger Daltry at Woodstock, in fringed suede and wig, to introduce the next act, the incomparable Jeff Beck.


What can I say about Eric Clapton’s one-time replacement in the Yardbirds? Words cannot describe this jaw dropping guitarist. To quote from Star Trek, he “boldly goes where no man has gone before.”  I am convinced he is an alien from another planet. And he looks exactly the same as he did 30 years ago.


Beck’s all-instrumental set was no less then enthralling, as was his band. The member that got everyone buzzing was his bass player, a curly-haired female dynamo who looked to be all of 15-years-old, but played like a veteran worthy of being in Jeff Beck’s quartet. It was so much fun to watch her and the guitar great go at it; sort of a musical battle of the sexes.


I found out the next day, by listening to WXRT, that her name is Tal Wilkenfeld, a 21-year-old from Australia.


Since the set was all instrumental, I couldn’t tell you the names of the songs that Beck played throughout his hour-long show. But his finale was unmistakable: “A Day In The Life” by The Beatles.  Beck conjured a whole orchestra on his guitar, complete with psychedelic interludes and vocal parts, creating an incredibly moving instrumental version of the famous song from Sgt. Pepper’s (that was released 40 years ago). This man can make a guitar speak! 




Who but Eric Clapton and friends can follow an act like that?


Bill Murray came out dressed in another wild outfit, complete with afro wig, huge sideburns, a  turquoise paisley shirt and a psychedelically-painted guitar. He introduced the next segment as something we would “never ever forget for the rest of our lives.”


The celebrated host of this long, glorious day took the stage about 8:20 p.m., backed by his amazing band, including Derek Trucks and Doyle Bramhall on guitars, Chris Stainton and Tim Carmon on keyboards, and the smokin’ rhythm section of bassist Willie Weeks and two drummers, plus two female backup singers.


The set was heavy with blues and Derek & the Dominoes numbers, much to everyone’s delight --“Tell The Truth,” “Key to the Highway,” “Got To Get Better in a Little While” (featuring a wonderful bass solo by Weeks). Clapton paid tribute to his late friend George Harrison with “Isn’t It A Pity?” 


“Why Does Love Have To Be So Sad?” was followed by a long blues jam. Clapton seemed very inspired to interplay with Derek Trucks on slide, as he once did with Duane Allman.





The elusive former Band member made just a brief appearance to play with his old buddy. They chose to honor Bo Diddley with “Who Do You Love,” a very funky version that got us doing the hand jive. Then Robertson and Clapton reprised their Last Waltz duet, “Further on up the Road,” trading hot blues licks like nobody else can. And that was it for Mr. Robertson.




Steve Winwood & Eric Clapton


It was now 9:20 p.m. and time for the long anticipated Blind Faith reunion. It turned out to be a Traffic tribute, as well.


Clapton introduced his former partner in that short-lived supergroup by saying that he’s been dying to do this song with him for the past 25 years.


Winwood took over on organ for an exciting version of Traffic’s “Pearly Queen.”


I thought it an interesting choice, since it is about a woman who “can drink more wine than I’ve ever seen.”  Another candidate for Antigua?


Also, “Pearly Queen” is a Dave Mason song. The former Traffic guitarist lived in Chicago for many years and maybe still does. I wonder if they had invited him? Old rock rivalries die hard, I guess.


The next three songs were from the Blind Faith songbook: “Presence of the Lord,”  “Can’t Find My Way Home” and “Had to Cry Today.”  Clapton and Winwood played nice long, jam packed versions.  Much to my surprise, Winwood switched to guitar. His playing was every bit as fine as Clapton’s and he blew everyone away. It was an incredible set.


Winwood stuck to guitar for the Traffic classic “Dear Mr. Fantasy.”

His high, plaintive vocals have lost nothing over the years and his guitar solo served as an absolute treat for the fans.


Then it was back to Clapton for J.J. Cale’s “Cocaine,” always a crowd-pleaser in which and everyone shouts the name of the drug at song’s end. It seemed a conflict of interest for the cleaned-up Clapton, but oh well, it’s only rock’n’roll.


“Crossroads,” the Creamy Robert Johnson version this time, was the big closer, with solos from all four guitarists on stage.


Half the audience left after this, either believing the show to be over or needing to call it a night.




Buddy Guy & Johnny Winter


From the moment they heard the searing opening notes of Buddy Guy’s “Damn Right I Got the Blues”, the crowd became re-energized. Some of us decided to get closer to the stage area, which was still packed with a sizable crowd.


Buddy was his usual animated self, flashing that mischievous grin, going in and out of two different songs at once


Clapton joined Buddy for “Hoochie Coochie Man” which blended into “Love Her With A Feeling.” Buddy cracked up his fellow musicians with his racy lyrics. Buddy was the boss here and Clapton was happy to work for him.


The boss called out for more players. Johnny Winter, Hubert Sumlin, John Mayer, Jimmie Vaughan and Robert Cray answered the call. Most of them took a solo on “Sweet Home Chicago.” Young Mayer looked as if his eyes might pop out of his head at the sight and sound of all these older masters before him.


The clouds parted to reveal a full moon. Perfect.


The house lights started flashing as the band played on. Winter was led off the stage before the VERY last song of this VERY long day and night. Buddy ended the show with “19 Years Old.”   It was now 10:50 p.m.


The Crossroads concert was hardly about temperance or preachiness. Sheryl Crow’s characters and the Pearly Queens still get stoned. Buddy Guy and Willie Nelson are hardly members of the Ladies Temperance Society. Liquor was readily available.


Happily the crowd was mellow and well-behaved. The only thing to make anyone cranky was the problem with the concession stands. No outside food or drink was allowed in.


Hungry, thirsty folks stood in long, slow lines to pay high prices for sustenance, only to get to the front of the line to be told: “Sorry we just ran out.”  And this started happening at 1 p.m.!  Eventually, each concession stand was re-supplied by overflowing carts that were constantly wheeled across the vast arena. But by then it was too late; you either starved or had to stand in another line. Talk about poor planning! Grrrrr!


There were sound problems about four times, but considering that this was an 11-hour show, that’s not unexpected. The sound overall was good and the camera work was excellent. The DVD should be a winner. 


The stage efficiency was admirable. There was precious little downtime between most of the 22 acts, thanks to a rotating stage that could turn 180 degrees, with a whole new band set up, in a matter of minutes.


Indeed, it was as Bill Murray had predicted: a historic event. Never in my wildest dreams, while growing up only a few miles from where Toyota Park now stands, did I imagine that my musical heroes would one day descend so close to the old backyard. Dorothy was right. There’s no place like home.


Copyright: Linda Cain, July 2007



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