Eric Clapton sat down one night and wrote the names of all the guitarists he would like to play with, and BOOM... The Crossroads Guitar Festival was born. Using all the proceeds to go to his Crossroads at Antigua Rehabilitation Center for substance abuse, Clapton's baby was to be a three-day guitar festival, the likes of which had never been seen. There would be vintage guitars for sale, guitar clinics for every style of music, manufacturers' tables, guitar contests, and of course loads of legendary musicians playing various stages. The festival also showcased some of the most famous guitars in rock 'n' roll history donated by their respective owners/families. An auction was held June 2 at Christies in New York; all proceeds went to Clapton's charity organization. Turns out the festival made for a very fun weekend indeed.
The festival started at June 4 at 4:00 p.m. This day was primarily for guitar clinics and the Vintage Guitar Show. My friend and I showed up at the end of the first clinic, which was Paul Reed Smith doing some Q & A and promoting his new CD. The first guitarists' clinic was Chris Poland's OHM (of Megadeth fame). They were a very tight-knit power trio that played hard technical songs with powerful momentum, and I was very impressed. The band included the monstrous Robby Pagliari on a six-string fretless bass and Kofi Baker on drums (son of Ginger Baker).
Chris Poland's OHM
Next up was the Acoustic Clinic featuring Doyle Dykes, Peter Huttlinger (guitarist for John Denver), and Laurence Juber (formerly Wings' lead guitarist). I enjoyed the acoustic clinic with the different styles and lessons showcased by each musician. It was also around this time that my friend and I ventured over to the Christies' showcase room to look at some legendary axes. There was Clapton's '56 Stratocaster known as "Blackie," Stevie Ray Vaughn's "Lenny," a signed Gibson B.B. King "Lucille" Model, George Harrison's acoustic guitar used for recording "My Sweet Lord," and a host of others. Check out the Crossroads Guitar Festival website for more info on the guitars donated. There were also guitars donated by Pat Metheny, Carlos Santana, John Mclaughlin, George Harrison's family, and Jeff Beck. And I'm sure there were a lot more; I'm just remembering my favorites.
The day ended off with the Blues Clinic hosted by Duke Robillard featuring legendary blues players Robert Lockwood Jr. (step-son to Robert Johnson) and Honey Boy Edwards (who played extensively with Robert Johnson), it was truly an honor just to see these guys. I really admired Robert Lockwood Jr., who was absolutely amazing! He was playing a 12-string electric guitar with (what he calls) a progressive style of blues. This guy is 86 years old, and he's still playing better than most young blues guys. Eric Clapton was there just to watch these greats play together, though he didn't play himself.
Robert Lockwood Jr.
Waking up a little late on Saturday, June 5, we just missed the opening band Styx. Next up was the Shredders' Clinic featuring Tony Franklin and some others whose names I didn't catch. I don't know if Yngwie Malmsteen played, and I know that Nuno Bettencourt canceled that morning; in his place was George Lynch ('80s metal bands Dokken and Lynch Mob). I grew up on '80s metal bands, and I have to say I was disappointed by his performance. All he did was play lead guitar over his solo CD they were pumping through the PA. His amp blew about halfway through his set (and he blamed it on whoever was doing sound). I skipped the Del Castillo, Memento, and Guitarmageddon Clinics. Guitarmageddon is a yearly guitar contest hosted by Guitar Center to find the best guitarists in the country and have them compete for a grand prize. Interestingly enough, you'll probably notice that so far most of these "guitar clinics" aren't really clinics, they're mostly just guitarists getting up on stage and soloing. During these last clinics, I wandered around the Guitar Center Village, which was complete chaos the whole weekend. The Guitar Center Village was indoors (thank god, the heat outside was killing me) and was made up of different manufacturers' vending tables (Fender, Dean Markley, Guitar Center, etc.), and different stations where young guitar wranglers could plug in (and in some cases, crank it up). There was a Hard Rock Cafe trailer that displayed some great rock memorabilia, from Elvis Presley, The Beatles, Roy Orbison, The Grateful Dead, Buddy Holly, and Jefferson Airplane, to name a few.
After running around in the Guitar Center Village, we made our way outside to see Jonny Lang take the stage. I'd never heard him before and his set wasn't bad. After that, we were blown away by the next act, Greg Koch, Roscoe Beck, and John Calarco, featuring Mike Cross on vocals. These guys put on the most heartfelt set of the weekend. Most of the players were from Austin, but they didn't have a band name. It was one of my top five favorite performances for the Festival. Greg is a Jedi on that guitar, reminding me of Danny Gatton (he's that fast, that accurate). I can't gush enough about Greg Koch, just check this cat out.
After that mind-blowing set, we adjourned inside the "Guitar Center Village" just in time to see the Jeff "Skunk" Baxter (Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan) Clinic. For those who don't know who this very cool cat is, check the link--he doesn't have an official website. Anyone who had an original Muppet from "The Muppet Show" based on them has got to be cool (he was Floyd, guitarist in Dr. Teeth's Electric Mayhem, and also the guitarist playing on the theme song). At any rate, Jeff came out and, writing on a piece of cardboard, used a physics equation to prove that music is the center of the universe. (I always knew it!) He took a lot of Q & A, mostly about his career. He taught some very good lessons, stating, "the best music teacher is in your head". This was the most informative (and real) clinic of the weekend.
I can't remember if it was before or after, but there was a sitar clinic featuring a musician who had played with John Mclaughlin. He was very fast, and at one point during his set he broke a string. While changing strings he proclaimed to not only be the "fastest sitar player in the world, but also the fastest sitar player to change a broken string." He was great; the only problem--and this was almost a constant with every act--was the sound. The kid running the soundboard didn't have it loud enough. I mean, imagine a warehouse where multiple guitarists (and one drum kit) are destroying your favorite riffs, all at the same time, and meanwhile you're trying to listen to some heartfelt sitar through a crappy set of headphones. That would be the experience. Luckily I was able to tune everything else out and concentrate on that sitar.
My friends and I went outside to catch the next big stage act, Dan Tyminski. It was a short (but very good) acoustic set. Next up, I would be blown away by the best jam of the weekend. Doyle Bramhall II was pretty good and he had Billy Preston on the Hammond B-3 for his entire set. During the last two songs Robert Randolph came out and played some holy pedal steel slide guitar to finish up this musical treat! I've never seen Robert Randolph before and I he smoked it. My friends and I were then lucky enough to witness J.J. Cale with Eric Clapton joining in on the entire set, which was fantastic. Clapton added some nice solos to the show. Playing classics like "After Midnight," "Cocaine," and closing with "Travelin' Light," Cale, an under-appreciated song weaver, earned my full respect.
J.J. Cale by Andrew Bartlett
Heading back to the outdoor stage, it was time for Robert Randolph & The Family Band, another great band I'd never seen. Without a doubt this was the highest energy level I felt throughout the festival. People who had no want to dance couldn't help but move them hips to the tight grooves delivered by this band. I can tell you, I will never miss another performance. They made "Voodoo Chile" all their own--in fact it was the best "Voodoo Chile" I heard all festival, and I heard that song at least four other times.
Closing out this wonderful second day was an All-Star Blues Jam in tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughn. It started with Jimmie Vaughan and was soon joined by Clapton for some beautiful blues jams. After one tune, Robert Cray joined the on to add a lil' something extra. Cray's one smooth cat, and played some real-deal blues. After a song with Vaughan and Clapton, Robert introduced Hubert Sumlin, blues legend extraordinaire. The song they played (I wish I knew the name) almost had me weeping. We were then introduced to Buddy Guy, a soulful player that can hold one note and make the hair stand up on the back of your neck. It did seem like Guy was trying to steal the show, and he was definitely louder. Just when you thought another guitarist couldn't fit on the stage Robert Randolph came out for the grand finale. There seemed to be a little animosity coming from Buddy Guy towards Robert Randolph, but I couldn't be sure. The Blues Jam wrapped up around 11:30 p.m., and overall, my second day was more than I could've hoped for.