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|Left: Citizen Cope
(right) plays his song “Hands of the Saints” during Eric Clapton’s set. Right: Eric Clapton’s famous Blackie (the real deal) was on display with his Cream-era Gibson ES-335 and
Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Lenny (both not pictured) in a temperature- and humidity-controlled booth in the Guitar Center Village.
One Big Family
Talking with the performers, a common theme kept appearing: As Derek Trucks put it, “It feels like a really surreal family reunion.” The fun, celebratory vibe woven through each set had its roots backstage, where old friends were catching up and new friends were being made.
“It was great. You walk 10 feet, see someone you haven’t seen in a while, and give them a big hug,” explains Warren Haynes, who shared his set with Trucks. “Then you walk 20 more feet and introduce yourself to someone you’ve never met but that you’ve wanted to meet for a long time. It was kind of like that all day long.”
Jonny Lang, whose set with Guy and Wood set the gold standard for the vibe, agrees.
“It was a no-pressure situation for everybody that performed that day. Even for the guys that were on tour, it was like a day off to hang with their buddies, have some fun, and make some music.”
The relaxed atmosphere can be attributed to the man behind the festival, the man a generation of guitar freaks used to call “God”: Eric Clapton. Slowhand kicked off the day jamming with emcee Bill Murray on the Buddy Holly track “Not Fade Away” for a small crowd of early arrivers. It was clear that Clapton keeps it casual, appearing onstage in white shorts and orange sneakers for a surprise sit-in with Doyle Bramhall II, Sheryl Crow, and Gary Clark Jr. Clapton’s attitude also extended to the diverse set of artists he brought together for the show.
Trucks sums it up: “It’s one of the few places where everybody shows up and just checks their ego and all of the baggage at the door. There are not too many people who could pull that off. Eric is in a really unique spot where his elders respect him and the younger generation respects him—it’s a really great thing.”
A Gathering of Generations
All day long, the cross-generational nature of the show was at the forefront: Onstage, you had pairings like Citizen Cope and Eric Clapton or Keb’ Mo’ and Albert Lee, and in the audience there were many families with their children and teenagers. The presence of legends like Sumlin, Honeyboy Edwards, King, Winter, and Guy was appreciated both onstage (where, for some, their presence was more important than their playing) and off.
“After our set, we went back to the dressing room and sat down with Hubert Sumlin and Johnny Winter for a while and just listened to those guys tell stories and just hang. It was pretty special,” says Trucks. “Sitting on the bus with B.B. King and my 8-year-old son, and watching those two interact—those are things you don’t forget.”
For the youngest of the younger generation of performers, 26-year-old Gary Clark Jr., being one of the new guys was an experience in itself. “Being so new to this whole thing and not knowing a lot of these cats, I was really nervous on soundcheck day, because I was worried how I’d be received and how they’d act around me. But by Saturday night I felt welcomed and a sense of belonging,” Clark explains. He also had the privilege of playing with Clapton. “I never knew that Mr. Eric Clapton was going to get up onstage with us during our set. I was just playing, and then there he was—that threw me for a loop.”
Jonny Lang, who played the first Crossroads in 2004 at age 23, said, “Our goal for the set was to fly by the seat of our pants and just have as much fun as possible. Playing with Buddy and Ronnie, I was just on cloud nine the whole time. Musically, I don’t remember much of what happened—we got onstage and, before I knew it, the whole thing was over [laughs].”
Amidst the old friends, younger players like Lang and Clark found common ground. “Jonny was really complimentary of what I’ve been doing, and I’ve looked up to him because he’s just a little bit older than me,” Clark says. “We just have this mutual respect thing going on.”
Meanwhile, another new friendship was being forged between Vince Gill, who has played all three Crossroads events, and Joe Bonamassa, who made his first Crossroads appearance this year. “I had no idea he was so young, I really think the world of him,” Gill says. The two hit it off and even discussed Gill lending his guitar and vocal talents to a future Bonamassa project. It wouldn’t be the first collaboration Gill has done with Crossroads colleagues. He worked with Sonny Landreth on his latest album, and sat in with Clapton when he played in Nashville this year.