Rides, Rallies and Events Recap

Cruisin' to the Crossroads Guitar Festival

Written by  June 30, 2004

Most of my life I’ve been the lucky one. You know the type; someone who falls into a sewage lagoon and comes out smelling like lilacs. The first weekend in June this year was no exception; and what an incredible experience it turned out to be! If you like music, especially if you’re a blues or rock fan and you like to ride, stay with me on this one.

My riding buddy Jim, who has no real job, was on his way to the lake the end of March when he heard a promotion on the radio for a guitar festival in Dallas. You have to understand that ole Jim needs only the slightest excuse to justify a ride somewhere, or anywhere for that matter. He’ll go at the drop of a dime to something as blasé as the Mayberry Knitting Festival, never having stitched once or pearled twice, let alone owning an afghan. If he can convince a couple of friends to join him, he’ll be packed and waiting, wondering why everyone else isn’t ready to go.

So, while I’m toiling away at work, Jim calls and says he just heard about this festival and didn’t want to forget it. He asked that I go to the Internet and search for the Eric Clapton Crossroads Festival and send him an e-mail with the link. Truth is I love music and I too, love to ride. This was a no-brainer, the opportunity to ride to a guitar festival meant I could selfishly satisfy two passions on one trip! So I got right after it, found the information and the ride was on.

Friday morning, June 4, four of us headed south on US 69 and rode it all the way to Dallas. The ride itself had its challenges with some battery problems on my buddy Dave’s bike and a heavy rainstorm south of McAlester, Oklahoma. But those were just small trials to overcome, considering the reward we were about to receive.

The Crossroads Guitar Festival was created by Eric Clapton with all proceeds going to his Antigua-based education and treatment center for alcoholism and drug addiction, aptly named the Crossroads Centre. The facility is internationally recognized for its quality programs and also provides support for friends and families of those being treated. This year’s benefit included a convention hall packed with guitars and amplifiers, a three-day workshop - complete with multiple jam sessions from various artists, and a Christie’s auction of some vintage Clapton guitars.

It culminated with an 11 hour concert, jam packed with famous musicians personally invited by Eric to come play. In his own words, “All I did was make a list of people I dreamed of playing with, I wrote to them, and they showed up.' This was not just a list; this was a dream! Artists invited were old blues players Buddy Guy, Bo Diddley and BB King, country picker Vince Gill, Kansas City’s own Pat Metheny, acoustic tenor James Taylor, former Journey member Neal Schon, virtuoso Steve Vai, native Kansan Joe Walsh, Texas bluesman Jimmy Vaughan, soul artist Booker T (and the MGs), Latin rocker Carlos Santana, solo legend Jeff Beck, bearded wonders ZZ Top and of course, Mr. Slowhand himself. There were still others, but you begin to get the picture. Vince Gill commented, “If I wasn’t invited, I’d come to see it for myself.”

The show began and performers continued like a magician who pulls an endless string of scarfs seemingly from the palm of his hand. The Cotton Bowl Stadium began to fill just prior to noon and by sunset, it was packed. The atmosphere was both exhilarating and touching! Each set was distinctive and everyone played like there was no tomorrow. Their performances were emotionally charged because they had been personally invited by perhaps the most respected rock guitarist to ever stretch a string. Invitees took time during their performances to sincerely express their honor and privilege for being chosen. Several were joined on stage by Clapton himself, and all clearly relished the experience. It was extraordinary!

A few of my personal favorites were Joe Walsh’s “Walkaway,” “Funk 49,” and “Rocky Mountain Way,” James Taylor’s “Something in the Way She Moves,” “Country Road” and “Steamroller Blues” accompanied by Joe Walsh on lead guitar, Jimmy Vaughan’s “Texas Flood,” ZZ Top’s “Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers” and everything and anything Buddy Guy played.

Perhaps the most memorable moment of the evening occurred following an extended jam session that ultimately ended with BB King, Buddy Guy, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Vaughan and John Mayer all together on the same stage. Throughout this jam, BB kept asking the rhetorical question, “Can we do just one more?” Funny thing was, he asked for one more at least six times. Near the end of the set, BB told the crowd, “I’m 78 years old. I thought the highlight of my life was two weeks ago when I met the Royal family. But I can honestly tell you tonight that the highlight of my life was being on the same stage with all these great players.” It was truly moving!

The presence of this respected lineup seemed to move Clapton too. Although he humbly gave the headline role to ZZ Top (which was later cut short by heavy rain), it was him and his band’s performance that truly stole the show. He opened with an acoustic set that included songs from his new Robert Johnson tribute album. He followed with “Have You Ever Loved a Woman;” his vocals expressing raw emotion and personal meaning. Then he ventured into the attic and dusted off classics like “Badge,” “Layla,” “Wonderful Tonight,” and “I Shot the Sheriff.” Clapton’s playing was as deliberate as your grandmother sealing dough for the top crust on an apple pie. His experience, confidence and contentment with his trade were truly evident and honest. He equally shared leads with Texan Doyle Bramhall II. Clapton’s stage presence was confident and unassuming and he finished his set with a real crowd favorite, “Cocaine.”

I’ve experienced many shows over my 43 plus years including summer jams from the hazy seventies, and other arena and amphitheater concerts. I don’t claim to be a music critic, but I’m convinced without reservation that this show was one for the ages. On our way back to our lodging following the show, we headed out of downtown Dallas incredibly grateful for what we had just been a part of. Just outside of the business loop, we encountered our own Texas Flood, without our rain gear. It didn’t matter. The following day, heading home, we caught up with the storm we had experienced the night before. It too didn’t matter. Our thoughts were still occupied with memories of the performances we had witnessed and stories that we could share for generations to come.

For more show reviews and photos, visit www.crossroadsguitarfestival.org

Story and photos by Nic