Since 2004, Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival has taken place every three years. Previous festivals took place in Dallas, Texas, and Chicago, Illinois. This time around, Clapton brought the show to the Big Apple’s Madison Square Garden.
Coinciding with the show was the “Guitar Center Road to Crossroads” exhibit in the terrace level of the Garden, which displayed Clapton’s new line of guitars in partnership with Guitar Center, Fender, Gibson, and Martin, along with several historically significant guitars including perhaps the most important Strats of all time—Clapton’s “Blackie” and “Brownie,” and Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Lenny.” These instruments were on loan from the Guitar Center Legends Collection and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Tickets for the 2013 Crossroads Festival went on sale last November and sold out within minutes. The lucky few that were able to snag a ticket were treated to what can inarguably be described as the ultimate guitar concert. Over a two-day period on April 12 and 13, the biggest guitar stars on the planet—a diverse cast featuring Clapton, Jeff Beck, B.B. King, Allman Brothers Band, Brad Paisley, Vince Gill, Keb Mo, Keith Urban, Kurt Rosenwinkel, and Allan Holdsworth, among many, many others—all came together to perform under one roof.
Here are PG’s top 20 moments of the show—10 for each night—in chronological order.
Night One: Friday, April 12
By Joe Charupakorn
1. Eric Clapton’s Opening Acoustic Set
Eric Clapton, photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage
While most first acts on a big bill can tend to be dull, Clapton wasted no time getting the 2013 Crossroads Festival off to a grand start. His acoustic band opened up Friday’s show and soon after commencing, went straight to his mega-hits including “Tears in Heaven” and “Wonderful Tonight.” Guests for this set included Andy Fairweather-Low and Vince Gill.
2. Booker T. and All-Star Band
After Clapton’s acoustic set came a groovy change of pace. A Stax-inspired electric set featuring a star-studded lineup of Booker T., Steve Cropper [original guitarist for Booker T. & the M.G.’s], Matt “Guitar” Murphy, Albert Lee, Blake Mills, and Keb’ Mo’ trading licks on classics like the Santo & Johnny instrumental “Sleepwalk,” Albert King’s blues staple “Born Under a Bad Sign,” and Booker T. & the M.G.’s signature hit “Green Onions.”
3. Robert Cray, Eric Clapton, B.B. King, and Jimmie Vaughan
A killer set by Robert Cray (who had just about the most incredible tone of the evening) got guitar fanatics pumped up and ready for the mega jam that followed. The blues elite—Clapton, B.B. King, and Jimmie Vaughan—all joined Cray onstage and schooled everyone on what the blues is all about. King’s darker tone provided a great contrast to the trebly Strat sounds of the other blues masters. For blues aficionados, this jam was the highlight of the night.
Philip Sayce, photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage
4. Ernie Ball and Guitar Center Play Crossroads 2013 winner Phillip Sayce
Phillip Sayce first came to prominence as a sideman in Melissa Ethridge’s band, but the buzz was that he was a killer artist in his own right. For some reason he entered the Ernie Ball Play Crossroads 2013 competition and, of course, he won. At the Crossroads Festival, he went up solo and shook the house with a performance so devastating that it would have made “Eruption” sound like a nursery rhyme.
After his solo performance at the show, Sayce told us, “It’s all about the music. Everybody gets caught up in competition and shit but this is all about being in a community of musicians and supporting each other. This is another chapter and something I’ve been dreaming about doing my whole life. Eric Clapton’s been my hero since I was in the womb so to be in Clapton’s house tonight through Ernie Ball is overwhelming.”
5. Earl Klugh jazz duo
There certainly was something for everyone at the show, and jazz purists got a chance to enjoy an intimate rendition of the Jobim standard “How Insensitive” played by Grammy-award winning, fingerstyle master Earl Klugh. The song’s intricate harmonies combined with Klugh’s subdued, gentle touch, and the purity of his unprocessed nylon-string had the capacity crowd so mesmerized, you could have heard a pin drop.
6. The Kurt Rosenwinkel band with Allan Holdsworth and Eric Clapton
A Dumble and some Yamaha Magicstomps on the same stage? A wacky pairing for sure but there was nothing funny about the ridiculous virtuosity heard on the most daring set of the night. After some technical glitches with his tabletop of Magicstomps, Holdsworth played an unaccompanied solo full of his signature “outside” legato excursions. His acapella intro led into Rosenwinkel’s composition “Gamma Band.” While you might have expected blues purists to see this heavy fusion set as an opportune moment for a bathroom break, that was not the case. Clapton personally selected the artists for the program and even as challenging as this pair may have been to listen to, the attentive audience was a testament to his impeccable judgment.
After Holdsworth left the stage, Clapton joined Rosenwinkel and his band in a rendition of “If I should Lose You” and “Way Down the Lonesome Road.” The contrast in styles—melodic blues phrasing versus fluid sixteenth-note scalar lines—worked much better than might be expected.
John Mayer and Keith Urban, photo by James K. Belmont
7. John Mayer and Keith Urban
Mega stars John Mayer and Keith Urban proved that they have just as much guitar cred as the old blues dudes by tearing it up with a vengeance. On a cover of the Beatles’ “Don’t Let Me Down,” the duo’s rhythm section brought it down in the middle giving Mayer and Urban a chance to trade licks. The suspense was heightened when Urban’s strap came loose. Mayer graciously helped get the strap back on as Urban held a bend on a high F# note, and then the kid gloves came off. The Strat vs. Tele duel raged on, building up to an insane climax that had the audience roaring.
14-year-old Quinn Sullivan, photo by James K. Belmont
8. Buddy Guy, Robert Randolph, and Quinn Sullivan
Buddy Guy and his young protégé, 14-year-old phenom Quinn Sullivan, along with pedal steel virtuoso Robert Randolph had perhaps the most electrifying set of the evening. Quinn’s performance, in particular, was the unexpected surprise of the night and perhaps got the loudest applause. The audience literally had to pick their jaws up off the floor as they witnessed his rapid-fire repeating licks and screaming bends, all played with as much authority as the masters that went on before and after him. Joe Bonamassa watch out, the next guitar hero is here.
9. Dan Aykroyd and Keb’ Mo’
Blues Brother Dan Aykroyd, who had been announcing the festivities all night, stepped up to the plate for the penultimate number and sang “Got My Mojo Working.” He was accompanied solely by Keb’ Mo’s driving acoustic guitar. To add some grease to the number, Aykroyd pulled out his blues harp midway through the song and took a wicked solo.
Cesar Rosas, Derek Trucks, Warren Haynes, Taj Mahal, David Hidalgo, and Oteil Burbridge, photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage
10. The Allman Brothers Band
For the grand finale, the Allman Brothers Band took the stage and was joined at various points by Clapton, Taj Mahal, and members of Los Lobos [David Hidalgo and Cesar Rojas]. A historic highlight took place on “Why Does Love Got to be So Sad?” On this number, Derek Trucks played Duane Allman’s iconic 1957 Les Paul Goldtop, which was used on the original recording from Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. The guitar was personally brought to NYC by E.J. Devokaitis, curator of the Allman Brothers Band Museum at the Big House in Macon, Georgia. The Allman Brothers classic “Whipping Post” brought the evening to a triumphant ending.