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LIVE REVIEWS -- Eric Clapton's Crossroads Guitar Festival 2010


Starring, in alphabetical order:


Saturday, June 26

11:45 a.m – 11:30 p.m.

Toyota Park, Bridgeview, IL

Crossroads 2010 Finale
Buddy Guy led the grand finale and brought the entire cast onstage to perform "Sweet Home Chicago." Photo: George V.

By Linda Cain

Photos: Jennifer Wheeler & George Vroustouris

The lucky 29,000 fans who attended Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Festival in 2007 knew they were witness to an historic event, not to mention one helluva a fantastic music festival. After all, this was the reunion of former Blind Faith bandmates Clapton and Steve Winwood, not to mention sets by guitar heroes Jeff Beck, Buddy Guy, B.B. King Johnny Winter, Robert Cray, Jimmie Vaughan and Vince Gill plus a nonstop, nearly 12-hour lineup of great players from country, blues, jazz fusion and rock.  It was no surprise that when tickets for Crossroads 2010 went on sale this winter, they sold out in minutes.

So how was ol’ Slowhand going to top himself this time? The 2010 lineup remained very similar to three years ago, and the addition of top draw rock bands Z.Z. Top and the Allman Brothers certainly helped.  Unfortunately the Allmans had to cancel due to a last minute surgery for Greg Allman, who needed a liver transplant (more on that later). A couple of last minute surprise guests, Warren Haynes and Ron Wood, helped make up for the loss. Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi with their band and special guests, helped fill in the gap.

Missing from this year’s list were: John McLaughlin, Alison Krauss, Willie Nelson, Jerry Douglas and Robbie Robertson, who all played in 2007. New to the 2010 fest were: Bert Jansch, Earl Klugh, Joe Bonamassa, Gary Clark, Jr., Citizen Cope, James Burton, Pino Daniele, Stefan Grossman, Jonny Lang and Keb Mo’.

 Once again, the fest was emceed by hometown celeb Bill Murray, who excelled at keeping the crowd’s spirits up in the face of temperatures that soared to over 90 degrees. As he did in 2007, Murray came equipped with costume changes as he introduced bands while dressed like Elvis, Buddy Holly and Jimi Hendrix, complete with the appropriate personae and accent.


Those who arrived early, were treated to one song at 11:17 a.m. by Kirby Kelly, a middle-aged Texas guitar slinger who had won a Guitar Center competition in his home state. Kirby displayed his considerable skills, while backed by a drummer for an upbeat, electric blues instrumental that was in the mode of Albert King and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

As in 2007, the 11:45 a.m. official kickoff began with Murray strolling out onstage playing his guitar horribly.  “I practiced and learned another song since last time (when the comic actor slaughtered “Gloria”),” he declared while attempting to play Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away”.  Like last time, the emcee was rescued by Crossroads host, Eric Clapton, who assisted on the song and then introduced the first act, Sonny Landreth, who was praised for always being the first artist to volunteer to play the charity event. As Clapton commented, they seemed to be creating a tradition.



sonny landreth

Backed by a relentlessly thumping bass and drums, the Louisiana slide guitar whiz opened with a rockin’ instrumental that got everyone’s attention. The next two instrumentals displayed his prowess and technique as he played slide on the neck, tapped the strings with his fingers and palm, and made his guitar sound like a train chugging along, then slowing down to a stop. Clapton came out and joined in on the fourth song, “The Promised Land” on which Landreth sang of growing up in a trailer park. He and Clapton traded solos that soared along to the New Orleans style rhythm.  Landreth ended the set with an instrumental which featured his rapid rhythmic picking while the bass man pounded out the beats. It was a breathtaking set that had the arena roaring its approval.




At 12:25 p.m., with the sun fiercely beating down on Toyota Park, young sacred steel virtuoso Robert Randolph, took the stage with his large family band.  Randolph sounded like two Sonny Landreths as he played his pedal steel like a Strat. The band’s joyous, gospel based music proved uplifting and managed to get much of sweaty crowd on its feet, dancing to numbers like the harmonious “Travelin’ Shoes”  and “If I Had My Way” (their updated version of the old Blind Willie Johnson song). Guitarist Joe Bonamassa joined the family band for the blues standard “Further On Up The Road.” (The song reprised the duet between Clapton and Robbie Robertson at 2007’s Crossroads).

Italian guitarist Pino Daniele kicked off the next song, “I Don’t Know Much About Love” which started as slow blues with organ swells, and then heated up as Dinelli and Bonamassa traded solos.  Bonamassa’s high, wailing tenor vocals, and his ability to hold a note for infinity proved him a double threat. And then came the triple threat for Freddie King’s rollicking “Goin’ Down” with Dinelli, Randolph and Bonamassa crankin’ on their guitars all at once for quite a thrill ride.




 At 1 p.m. Bill Murray announced that concert goers had started to pass out from the heat and encouraged folks to stay hydrated. And it was only an hour into the nearly 12 hour event!  Staying hydrated was difficult since Toyota Park wouldn’t allow concert goers to bring their own water into the venue; the free water fountains were nearly hidden, difficult to find and the lines for them were intolerably long. The faucets inside the restrooms developed a problem at some point whereby they would only dispense scorching hot water. And the vendors had the audacity to charge $5 for a single bottle of water!  What’s up with that?  In 2007, patrons were allowed to bring in water and the vendor water wasn’t nearly as expensive. Let’s hope Mr. Clapton heard about this injustice to his loyal thirsty fans. Meanwhile…

Murray introduced bluesman Robert Cray as the “keeper of the flame” which was an appropriate segue into his first number “Chicken in the Kitchen”. Cray’s powerful, clear voice rang out on this juicy double-entendre, kitchen man tune with relish. His next song was a melodic, easy-going Sam Cooke style song “You’re The Reason I Can’t Fail.”  Jimmie Vaughan came on stage with a two-piece horn section to play the swingy, upbeat “You Don’t Have To Beg Me For My Lovin’.” Hubert Sumlin played along and Cray helped with vocals on the next number “Heaven Done Called Another Blues Slinger Back Home” which was dedicated to Vaughan’s late brother and a host of other departed blues heroes.

It was Sumlin’s turn to cover his mentor Howlin’ Wolf for “Sittin’ On Top of The World” and a slow version of “Killin’ Floor.”  The guitar innovator, who strongly influenced the likes of Clapton, Keith Richards and countless others, showed off his clever, stinging Fender licks, while Cray took a turn to belt the intense lyrics of a dying man.  Sumlin rose from his chair to wave goodbye and the crowd cheered madly, showing their love for this living blues legend.



These solo acoustic artists, each a virtuoso in historic guitar styles, performed short 20 minute sets, which mellowed out the hot and thirsty crowd in the heat of the day. Jansch, influenced Clapton, Jimmy Page and most of England’s rock royalty with his innovative interpretations of English and Scottish folk music (Zeppelin copped “Black Mountain Side”  from him).  Crossroads was a triumphant return for the folk rocker who partnered with the equally influential John Renbourn in Pentangle. Jansch overcame a brush with cancer only a year ago and is back sounding better than ever.

Grossman, who is a renowned expert in Delta and country blues guitar and the music of Rev. Gary Davis, didn’t fare quite as well as the sound went out during part of his set. He nevertheless continued to play the old-time classics while smiling and singing about becoming a diving duck in a lake filled with whiskey.



At 2:30, the Texas power trio made its Crossroads debut with the perfect first song, “Jesus Just Left Chicago”.  Dressed in snazzy black jackets with embroidered flowers and sequins, Dusty, Billy and Frank were the sharpest-dressed men of the entire fest. Although they looked the part, the band did not perform their MTV-era hits; instead the bearded ones jammed out on blues and boogie numbers, which included early hit “LaGrange” and a cover of Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady”. During the former song, the band suddenly stopped playing, which caused the crowd to scream, but then they launched back into the song with a vengeance that beckoned all to shake their money makers. After five lengthy songs, the band suddenly stopped again, this time for real. And just when they were really getting going!  Their 25-minute set seemed way too short. Knowing that Warren Haynes was in the house, one wonders why they didn’t invite him out to play “Broke Down on the Brazos”, a recent Gov’t Mule hit on which Haynes and Gibbons share guitar duties. Well, maybe it was just too darn hot, even for Texans.



GARY CLARK, JR., SHERYL CROW and surprise guests

A couple more Texans were next. Doyle Bramhall II, a member of Clapton’s touring and recording band, hit the stage with his power trio about 3:08, slammin’ out a real head-bangin’ hard rock number, followed by a trance-like gospel song with the mantra “I can die easy now.”  Maybe they were referring to the power, which died after they brought out special guest Gary Clark, Jr. The Austin, Texas native, a young African-American with a voice like Robert Cray and a rockin’ band that can boogie, sounded fantastic when we could hear him. There were a lot of musicians on stage at that point, including two drummers, who kept playing until the sound kicked back in. Singer/songwriter/guitarist Clark is definitely a rising talent to go see if he ever comes to your town. He has toured with Jimmie Vaughan and Pinetop Perkins and has won many Texas blues awards.

The lone female artist on the bill, the lovely Sheryl Crow, joined Bramhall, Clark and their bands for a funky version of her “Every Day is a Winding Road” which didn’t quite work. The sound still seemed to be an issue; you could hardly hear her vocals and guitar, while the new arrangement of the breezy tune just didn’t fit. Thankfully she called in the reinforcements for the next number, “Long Road Home.”  Guitarist Derek Trucks and a stellar backup vocal trio consisting of Susan Tedeschi, Mike Mattison and Ryan Shaw helped out on the folksy gospel number. Trucks’ hot guitar solo drew cheers from the crowd, while Crow and her trio sounded angelic.

“This is my favorite gig to play in my life” Crow declared, while introducing another guest, Eric Clapton.  Once the boss was onstage, the music definitely kicked up several notches as he wailed on his Strat and Crow switched to keyboards. Her singing now soared and the energetic big band cooked behind her for the dynamic “Our Love Is Fading.”  Clapton moved closer to Crow, smiling from ear-to-ear, at her lively performance.

Honeyboy Edwards
Honeyboy Edwards played on the Ernie Ball Stage in the Guitar Center Village, but didn't appear on the main stage. The delta bluesman was celebrating his 95th birthday. Photo: Jennifer Wheeler

VINCE GILL BAND with James Burton, Albert Lee, Keb Mo, Earl Klugh, Sheryl Crow

The affable country star started the set with his kickin’ honky tonk number “One Last Chance”.  Guest guitar greats James Burton, Albert Lee, Keb Mo’ and Earl Klugh  took a turns on a solo, each playing in their own signature style, along with Gill’s fabulous pedal steel player, too. This was a dream fantasy for guitar aficionados!  James Burton, who played on many of Elvis’ and Ricky Nelson’s hits and toured with the legends, was next for the rockabilly classic “Mystery Train.” Burton played his Telecaster, trading lightin’ fast licks with Albert Lee while Gill sang a turn on the familiar chorus:  “Train I ride, 16 coaches long...”.  Next, the eclectic bluesman Keb Mo’ played his Gibson for a laid back J.J. Cale style number on which he was joined by Gill, Lee and Mo’ playing in unison for the song’s finale.

Albert Lee brought out his daughter Alex to sing lead vocals on the Emmylou Harris country rocker “Luxury Liner.”   Young Ms. Lee sported long red hair and a very short gingham checked dress, as she sang like a pro while Dad did some impossibly fast pickin’ on the song. Gill, who was greatly influenced by Lee, went for it and matched those hot licks with equally quick pickin’.  You had to wonder if those two grew some extra fingers!

Keb Mo’ played a languid, loping version of his topical song, “As Soon As I Get Paid,” backed by Gill’s fantastic, versatile big band.  The country star crooned a soulful love song, “Whenever You Come Around,” no doubt inspired by his wife, gospel star Amy Grant.  The song was highlighted by glorious harmonies and heartfelt guitar solos by Gill and Earl Klugh. Jazz giant Klugh, it should be noted, played backup acoustic guitar throughout the set, taking only a few solos. But what solos!  You had to look twice when the cameras showed him on the big screen, as you never would have believed the magnificent sounds and techniques he displayed were coming from an acoustic guitar!

For the finale of this impressive, eclectic set, leader Gill called out Sheryl Crow to help harmonize on the boss’ hit, “Lay Down Sally” which really got the crowd’s attention. This version featured more pickin’ than a chicken coop, with Burton, Lee, Klugh, Keb Mo’, Gill and bandmates all cuttin’ heads on their solos.

Now this is what Crossroads is all about: top artists from all genres of music and parts of the world, coming together to find common ground, put their egos aside and celebrate.  This was one of the highlights of the day. And it was only 4:30 p.m.



You had to feel sorry for poor Citzen Cope following an act like that. The acoustic singer/songwriter (a.k.a. Clarence Greenwood from Brooklyn) stood alone on the stage performing his heartfelt introspective music about personal and social issues.  Not many audience members were paying attention at that point. Sheryl Crow must have had pity as she came out to harmonize with him on a haunting melody.  Mercifully, Cope’s set was only about 15 minutes.



This virtuoso’s all-instrumental set was barely 15 minutes and that really was too short for Klugh and his wonderful quartet to take us through their versatile adventures in jazz and Latin fusion. Hearing this style of music on the smooth jazz radio stations is one thing; experiencing it live with improvisation is far better. Witnessing Klugh’s stunning acoustic guitar technique is a wonder and his band was superb, too, on this four- song set that explored several musical styles and tempos.



This was the third time that young Mr. Mayer has been invited to perform at Clapton’s Crossroads Fest, going back to its 2004 debut in Dallas. Each time, Mayer gets better. Say what you will about his early bubblegum love songs and his tabloid love life, Mayer’s musicianship and guitar skills can’t be denied. You can’t be a poseur when you are playing with the renowned powerhouse rhythm section of bassist Pino Palladino and drummer Steve Jordan, whose resumes include playing with The Who and Clapton, respectively.  The John Mayer Trio recorded a live album in Chicago in 2005, Try!, which showed another side of the pop star even then.  The band opened with a funked up version of “Who Did You Think I Was” which kicked into overdrive as Mayer soloed, stabbing at his guitar, like his mentor Buddy Guy. The crowd was now on its feet. Jordan pounded the intro to a revved up version of “Vultures (The World Keeps Testing Me),” as Mayer displayed techniques worthy of Sonny Landreth on his vintage Strat.  Mayer switched to a Gibson as the band mellowed out a bit for a cool cover of “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone”  on which Mayer sang in a very high tenor voice.  It was back to the Fender for the well-executed finale, Hendrix’s “Wait Til Tomorrow.”  The arena roared its approval.



In the six o’clock hour, temperatures started to finally cool down as the stage continued to heat up. Surprise guest Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood joined Buddy and his band, along with Jonny Lang, for a set of uproarious blues standards. Not surprisingly, it was Buddy who stole the show, as he did when he performed with the Stones for the Martin Scorsese concert film, Shine A Light.  Lang kicked off the set by singing Muddy Waters’ “Forty Days and Forty Nights” and then gave a solo, which was answered by Buddy’s over-the-top solo, while Wood played slide guitar. Buddy then took over on vocals, singing the tune by his mentor with authority, as the crowd went nuts, cheering him on.

It was Buddy’s show from that point on, as he launched into the familiar opening notes of “Five Long Years” and the crowd voiced its excitement.  Lang sang and played with passion, screwing up his face in characteristic guitar hero fashion; Wood played his axe with equal enthusiasm, first sliding it and then stabbing at the strings. Buddy paused to declare “I feel like I’m in heaven standing between these two young players!”  The trio got the whole crowd up and dancing to the hip shakin’ rhythms of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Shake For Me”; Buddy switched gears and merged into “Let Me Love You Baby”, screaming the lyrics. He got the crowd to scream “Yeah” repeatedly as the band played a loose version of the Stones’ “Miss You” (sadly no harp player was on hand to blow the opening riffs, as immortalized by Sugar Blue).  Wood danced while playing and Buddy really got into it and broke a string. Wood unstrapped his guitar, leaped in the air and offered it to Buddy. But he kept on playing until a techie brought his famous black-and-white polka dot Fender, to the cheers of the crowd. It was an exhilarating 30-minute blues set!



With Warren Haynes, Cesar Rosas & David Hidalgo of Los Lobos, Johnny Winter

Johnny Winter
On the big screen: Derek Trucks, Johnny Winter, Warren Haynes, Cesar & David of Los Lobos. Photo: George Vroustouris

Bill Murray came out to explain the situation about the Allman Brothers’ cancellation and Greg Allman’s recent liver transplant. He got the crowd to scream in support of Greg’s recovery and then jokingly announced “Greg is so generous that he’s donating his old liver to auction off to raise money for the clinic in Antigua!”

Trucks and Tedeschi pulled together a stellar revue at the last minute featuring the former’s stinging and sliding guitar and the latter’s soulful vocals and tasteful guitar work. Mike Mattison and Tedeschi traded lead vocals duties with help from the same heavenly backup singers that assisted Sheryl Crow.

There were too many pieces on stage to count but the lineup did include a Hammond B-3 player, two drummers and multiple guitarists including Warren Haynes. It was the perfect lineup for tributes to Greg Allman on “Please Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’” and to Delaney & Bonnie’s “I’m Comin’ Home.”  The spotlight was on Haynes for his brilliant, gospel-inspired Gov’t Mule tune “Soul Shine” which got the audience swaying.  

Guitarists Cesar Rosas & David Hidalgo of Los Lobos joined the band for Willie Dixon’s “300 Pounds of Heavenly Joy” as Haynes and Hidalgo traded slide guitar solos to a Bo Diddley beat.

Johnny Winter was led out, looking frailer than ever. At Crossroads 2007, Winter also appeared to be weak: but when he sang and played a scorching, 10-minute version of Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited” we learned that looks can be deceiving. Unfortunately this was not the case three years later, as the whitest man ever to play the blues performed a cover of Hendrix’s “Red House.”  The ghostly guitarist, who wore thumb picks, could barely keep up with the band; his playing was very controlled, which is unusual for a Hendrix cover.  He seemed to be giving a demonstration of various techniques, rather than playing a song with a band. He performed very briefly -- I don’t think he even got to the ending line about “I know her sister will” – and then left.

It was up to Trucks and Tedeschi to go out on an up note, and they did so with gusto on Joe Cocker’s “Learnin’ To Live Together.” Keyboardist Chris Stainton, who was part of Cocker’s Mad Dogs & Englishmen review 40 years ago, joined in on the tour-de-force that had Tedeschi and Haynes trading vocals, while the latter’s guitar intertwined with Truck’s axe as the band roared to the finish line for a grand finale. It was only 7:35 p.m.



In an event filled with show-stopping guitarists, Jeff Beck was the one who could truly make a guitar speak. As he has reiterated in recent interviews, he has little use for vocals. After all, when you can make your guitar sing, instrumentals will do just fine. A case in point was Beck’s closing song, “Nessun Dorma,” a haunting, orchestral sounding arrangement of a Puccini opera aria! He also covered “Over The Rainbow”, from The Wizard of Oz, backed by a jazz-fusion quartet that featured, once again, a knock-out female bass player (in 2007, young bassist Tal Wilkenfeld was the buzz of the fest).  This time, the funky Rhonda Smith thumped away, poppin’ her bass strings on solos as she growled and shouted the vocals to Muddy Waters’ “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” and Sly & The Family Stone’s “I Want To Take You Higher” that got the audience singing and dancing along. The guitar genius opened with two instrumentals that rocked hard in the jazz fusion/metal mode, a genre that he helped create.



Steve Winwood
On the big screen: Steve Winwood. Photo: Jennifer Wheeler

Who but the host could follow that level of musicianship?  At 8:50 p.m., Clapton took the stage with a pared-down ensemble: Chris Stainton on keys, bassist Willie Weeks, drummer Steve Gadd, and two female backup singers. Slowhand was clearly in a mellow mood as he led the band in a laid-back version of “Crossroads” followed by a bouncy, country-ish version of “Key To The Highway.” Keyboardist Stainton flavored both numbers with his honky-tonk/blues stylings.  Clapton called out Citizen Cope for an extremely slow and mellow song that didn’t exactly rock the joint. Fortunately Clapton kicked things up with the blues on “It’s Too Bad” when he finally got down to some serious string-bending. Crowd pleaser “I Shot The Sheriff”, featured the haunting voices of the two ladies, with a bouncing Jamaican beat and a scorching Clapton solo.

Jeff Beck came out to assist with the blues party song “Shake Your Money Maker” that got people boogying as Beck played in the slide zone like Elmore James and Clapton jammed away.

Clapton was really rolling now.  At 9: 30 p.m. he brought out Steve Winwood; the music elevated and kept getting higher.  The keyboardist played his B-3 majestically, his voice reaching the upper register on Blind Faith’s “Had To Cry Today.” Winwood rose from the organ to strap on his Fender for a duet with Clapton that was marvelous; he is every bit Slowhand’s equal on guitar.  A countryish blues tune, “Low Down Dirty Shame” (that was along the lines of “Lay Down Sally”) displayed both guitarists pickin’ skills.  Back on keyboards, Winwood sailed through the classic Traffic instrumental “Glad” which had the audience feeling like the song’s title. Drummer Gadd pounded out a jungle beat for the intro to Buddy Holly’s “Well Alright”, a song covered by Blind Faith; this version sounded more Bo Diddley than Blind Faith, however.

And then it was time to channel Hendrix as Clapton and Winwood launched into a spine-tingling version of “Voodoo Chile,” a song which they performed so well on last year’s CD/DVD Live From Madison Square Garden. This time, they topped themselves: Winwood churned trance like swirls from his organ, Clapton’s guitar was on fire, the ladies’ contributed evil blues woman vocals and the band kept building the drama,  taking the audience on a transcendent musical journey.

It would have been an appropriate finale, but the band kept on going with “Cocaine” (Winwood was back on his axe, trading solos with E.C.).  For the last song, Winwood returned to the organ for a delightful “Dear Mr. Fantasy”, another Traffic classic. It was now 10:14 p.m. and Clapton beckoned the audience to stick around.


B.B. KING with Robert Cray Band, Eric Clapton, Jimmie Vaughan

B. B. King & Eric Clapton
On the big screen: Jimmy Vaughan, Robert Cray, Eric Clapton, B.B. King.
Photo: Jennifer Wheeler

Emcee Bill Murray came onstage to announce the good news and the bad news.

The good news: Greg Allman’s old liver sold for $67 at silent auction. The bad news: This is the last set of the night.

You could say that the King of the Blues captivated the audience. On the other hand, it seemed more like the 84-year-old was holding the Crossroads Festival captive, causing the scheduled 11-hour event to run into overtime as he rambled on aimlessly, rather than starting and finishing his segment with the timed precision that marked the previous sets.  It’s a good thing that the organizers had B.B. come on last. From 10:30 to 11:14, B.B. and Lucille only managed to play three songs: “Rock Me Baby,” “Key To The Highway,” and “Thrill Is Gone.”  The rest of the time was spent yakking to the audience or shushing the band so he could keep talking.  Happily, when B.B. did settle down into a tune, his voice was powerful and so was his signature string bending.  Seated beside him, Clapton, Cray and Vaughan contributed excellent solos upon the King’s command, as Cray’s band and Vaughan’s horn section skillfully followed B.B.’s whims.



Buddy Guy led the grand finale and brought out the entire Crossroads cast to sing and play the last number, a very joyful “Sweet Home Chicago.”  It was all over at about 11:30 p.m. Just like the fest in 2007, the evening ended with a full moon over Toyota Park.

Will E.C. return to Toyota Park in three years to host Crossroads/Part 4? Earlier in the day, he asked the crowd if they wanted it; of course, we roared “Yeah!!!” Clapton replied that he just might do it again, since there were so many other great musicians that he’d love to invite to perform.  So stay tuned…

 Copyright: Linda Cain, July 2010




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