Every three years (since 2004), Eric Clapton puts on the incredible Crossroads Guitar Festival, and I was lucky enough to attend the second night this year at one of my most favorite places, Madison Square Garden. The lineup included Buddy Guy, John Mayer, Gary Clark Jr., Taj Mahal, The Allman Brothers, Jeff Beck, Sonny Landreth, Vince Gill, Los Lobos, Keith Urban, Robert Cray and many more. I’d have to say that my favorite moments were Vince Gill’s incredibly fast-paced country set with Keith Urban and Albert Lee; Los Lobos’s soulful set with Susan Tedeschi and Robert Cray; The Allman Brothers’ acoustic rendition of “Midnight Rider”; Taj Mahal and Keb Mo on Dobro guitars; watching Roger Waters as an audience member fist pumping; and last, but in no way least, Eric Clapton with an incredible surprise appearance by Keith Richards on “Sweet Little Rock N’ Roller” and “Key to the Highway” (see video below) — I still cannot believe that happened.
The purpose of the triennial festival, as most know by now, is to benefit the Crossroads Centre Antigua. Clapton founded the drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in 1998, choosing Antigua because, as he wrote in his letter on the website, he feels it “has always been a special refuge – a safe place, a serene place where one can begin the process of healing from even the most devastating events and life situations.” He continues to say “The cost of treatment would be held to the lowest possible level, ensuring affordability and accessibility. And most importantly, this non-profit Centre would provide treatment scholarships for people of the Caribbean region and around the world.” In the simplest of terms, it’s pretty damn cool of all of these world-renowned musicians to come together to support his effort.
The Crossroads Guitar Festival is a concert you simply don’t want to miss: great music, wonderful collaborations by world-class musicians, a sense of conviviality, not to mention the opportunity to check things off ones bucket list. It included the young and the old, both in age (Buddy Guy’s 14 year old protege and some in their 70’s and 80’s) and in the variety of music types. Dan Akroyd as M.C. added levity and, at the Friday concert, played the harmonica and sang “Got My Mojo Working” (popularized by Muddy Waters).
My only criticism of the festival was the absence of female headliners. There are certainly more male guitar players than female, but I think that the festival’s organizers could have considered this absence and made an effort to include at least one female headliner – What about Bonnie Raitt, Joan Jett, or Nancy Wilson? This was something I also noticed at the 12-12-12 concert.
Throughout Clapton wandered in and out, adding his distinctive music style while always blending in with the other artists on the stage. He may be the most humble “guitar god” of all time. I hope to attend again in 2016, and I highly recommend you do as well.
Keith Richards and Eric Clapton – “Key to the Highway”