Written by Jim Bille
Crossroads Guitar Festival – September 20-21, 2019
Just when we might have thought that Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festivals were a thing of the past EC resurrected the event yet again in the city where it all began, Dallas, Texas. Clapton once again assembled some of the world’s greatest guitarists and other musicians for a two-day event at The American Airlines Center.
Clapton has now hosted the Crossroads Guitar Festival five different times. As mentioned, the first was at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas in 2004, the next two were in Bridgeview, IL and last one took place at Madison Square Garden in NYC.
The concerts benefit Clapton’s Crossroads Center in Antigua, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center started by the guitarist a number of years ago after battling, and kicking, his own addictions. All proceeds from the events go to help keep the clinic operational and to help anyone who needs the support to live a clean and sober life.
You never know who is going to appear at these events. It seems that every musician who is invited makes it a point to attend to help EC out with these benefits that have now become legendary. Many of the performers have returned for most if not every subsequent show. Buddy Guy, Sonny Landreth, Jimmie Vaughan, Vince Gill and Sheryl Crow to name just a few.
As with every Crossroads Festival, Clapton reaches out across all musical spectrums to include not only blues and rock artists but country music legends as well as jazz musicians. This musical diversity gives the audiences a taste of many different types of guitar music that they may not have experienced before.
The performance in Dallas followed the same MO as the previous ones. Even though two days sounds like a long time it really isn’t enough time to accommodate a normal one to two hour set for each artist. Unexpected musicals pairings are a common hallmark of the festivals. Imagine Bonnie Raitt along side Sheryl Crow or Jimmie Vaughan teaming up with Billy Gibbons and you get the idea.
The first night kicked of with the return of Bill Murray as the event’s emcee. If you remember Murray’s movie Rock the Casbah, then you remember Murray’s character, talent manager Richie Lanz, which he reprised and maintained for the entire weekend as he introduced each act.
The first act Friday night was Sonny Landreth priming the audience with his swamp boogie style blues for things to come. A slide guitar virtuoso, Landreth set the tone of the show early with some incredible guitar work.
Eric Clapton and Andy Fairweather Low along with Nathan East came on soon after Landreth and performed a marvelous acoustic set that included such Clapton standards as “Nobody Knows When Your Down and Out”, “Wonderful Tonight” and “Lay Down Sally”.
Many more collaborations would occur over the course of the next two nights. Jimmie Vaughan was supported during his set by Bonnie Raitt on vocals and her trademark slide guitar work on “Baby Please Come Home” and the Webb Pierce cover called “I Ain’t Never”. After Bonnie Raitt, Vaughan was joined by Billy Gibbons to perform “Sharp Dressed Man” and “La Grange”.
Speaking of Bonnie Raitt, not only did she join up with Vaughan but she was also featured with Sheryl Crow as well as Keb Mo and Alan Darby for an acoustic set. Bonnie Raitt is still one of the very best slide guitar players out there and she certainly confirmed that at the Crossroads Festival.
I first saw Vince Gill at the 2010 Crossroads Festival in Bridgeview, IL and was completely taken aback by his performance. Fast forward nine years to the Dallas show and Gill once again was in top form as he finger picked his way through one extraordinary set. Along with Gill was Jerry Douglas, another world class slide guitarist. Douglas always adds the right touch to a country or bluegrass song with his Dobro playing. A special guest vocalist was featured on “Tulsa Time”. Bradley Walker owned this number with his commanding voice as the band backed him up on one of the set’s highlights.
Last but certainly not least to join Gill onstage was Joe Walsh. Since Vince Gill is now a featured member of The Eagles, he has had plenty of rehearsals and concert experience with Walsh so performing “Life in the Fast Lane” and “Rocky Mountain Way” appeared to be effortless for the two guitarists.
Doyle Bramhall II and drummer Jim Keltner were on hand to perform “I Wanna Be Your Dog”, and “Goin’ Down Slow” before Derrick Trucks joined in for a duet with Bramhall called “That’s How Strong My Love Is”. Not to be excluded, Susan Tedeschi took the stage with the duo for a triple guitar swap and vocal duet with Bramhall II on “Going, Going, Gone”. Tedeschi’s vocal contribution was soulful and powerful.
A fascinating version of “My Father’s Eyes”, set to a semi rumba beat courtesy of Cuban percussionist and band leader extraordinaire Pedrito Martinez, featured Eric Clapton singing and playing along with one of his more familiar songs. It was interesting how different the version was once horns and congas were added along with the vocal inclusion of Martinez.
Crossroads alum Sheryl Crow brought her band along on this trip and really rocked the arena with songs that included “If It Makes You Happy”, “Steve McQueen” featuring Doyle Bramhall II, and “Everyday is a Winding Road” featuring James Bay on back up vocals and guitar. Bonnie Raitt took “Live Wire” and “Everything is Broken” to another level when she joined Crow on stage to share vocals and guitar.
Peter Frampton made a special stop on his farewell tour to play an instrumental version of the Hoagy Carmichael standard, “Georgia”, which was followed up by Frampton’s signature song “Do You Feel Like We Do”. Frampton mentioned that he had known Eric Clapton for many years but had never played with him until this night. Clapton, joining Frampton on stage, filled in with his classic guitar riffs that were instrumental in the George Harrison song “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” with Frampton taking second lead duties and vocals. The jamming by the two musicians on this number was one of the many highlights of the festival.
Argentinean guitarist and composer Gustavo Santaolalla was invited to the Crossroads festival and performed a Latin infused set that included “The Apology Song”, “De Usuahia a la Quiaca” and “Ando Rodanto”. Santaolalla has won two Academy awards for his musical scoring of Broke Back Mountain in 2005 and Babel in 2006. He is also the recipient of two Grammy awards in the best Latin Rock category. His performance of “Ando Rodanto” was no doubt the crowd favorite as they enthusiastically acknowledged the performer after this final number.
British singer-songwriter Lianne La Havas made her Crossroads Festival debut with a short set that included “Is Your Love Enough?’’, “I Say a Little Prayer For You”, and “Midnight”. Le Havas’s voice was almost angelic as she wistfully maneuvered through each song accompanied by her guitar.
Young guitar gun Marcus King and his band stormed the stage with an incredibly powerful performance. Describing King as the future of southern rock would not quite cover his sound. His music is a blend of blues and soul with just enough southern rock mixed in to add an extra punch of power to his repertoire. At only 23 years old, King has garnered some heavyweight supporters like Derrick Trucks and Warren Haynes who have occasionally joined him on stage. His performance in Dallas was in overdrive as he and his band bowled the audience over with some of the best rocking music on the scene today.
Brazilian guitarists Pedro Martins and Daniel Santiago teamed up for a great jazz set. The duos album Simbiose, was release in 2016 and songs from the recording were featured throughout their set. Smooth and ethereal Latin jazz with soft tones permeated the stadium as the two young modern jazz masters swapped notes between acoustic and electric guitars. The sound which the duo produced incorporated contemporary jazz with a Brazilian twist and was nothing short of mesmerizing.
East LA rockers Los Lobos kicked of their set with Susan Tedeschi and Clapton joining in on “Made to Break Your Heart”. Tedeschi’s vocals were stunning and added an extra edge to the song. The veteran band had the crowd up for the party as they guided fans through some classic Los Lobos numbers such as “I Walk Alone”, “Will the Wolf Survive?”, “Chuco’s Cumbia” and “Mas y mas”.
Jeff Beck closed out Friday night’s show with a bang. Loud and raunchy instrumentals are a trademark of Jeff Beck performances and that is exactly what the crowd got. Beck has been at as long as anyone out there and is still number one on the players list for me. His style is unmatched by anyone in the business previously or currently. Jazz, Rock, Fusion, Blues, Rock-a-Billy it’s all showcased when Jeff Beck performs. Songs featured during his set included “Space for Papa”, “Stratus”, and “Rumble”. Johnny Depp joined Beck about midway through the set with guitar in hand and sang “Isolation” and “Heddy Lamar”.
Another Crossroads Guitar Festival alum Citizen Cope, was invited back for the 2019 event. Cope’s musical mix of Folk, Blues and Soul was highlighted on songs performed that included “Bullet and Target”, “Let the Drummer Kick” and “Son’s Gonna Rise” which featured Gary Clark Jr. on some blistering guitar work.
Longtime Crossroads contributors Robert Cray, Buddy Guy and Jonny Lang also made appearances during the show. Cray’s set featured “I Shiver” and “Just How Low” as well as others from his soulful blues catalog. Buddy Guy and Johnny Lang teamed up with a guitar dueling set that included “Cognac”, “I Just Want To Make Love To You”, “Cheaper To Keep Her” and “Five Long Years”. All three of the performers were on top of their game for the evening and are fixtures with The Crossroads Festivals.
Jazz guitarist and vocalist Kurt Rosenwinkel was joined onstage by Pedro Martins during the show to add additional guitar work. Rosenwinkel first met Martins at the Montreux Guitar competition in 2005. Since then the two have collaborated on making music and touring with their band Caipi. Songs featured were “Prima Vera”, Peace Isle”, “No mi venea” and “Falling on the Universe”.
Tom Misch is kind of a DIY musician who has earned a massive following after originally posting his recordings on SoundCloud when he was 17 years old. The right people took notice and sampled some of his music and the rest is history as Misch’s popularity has soared in the music streaming universe since then. Misch’s mild approach to Hip-Hop and light jazz melodies has carved out a musical niche for this self made star. Misch was joined by John Mayer for two of the four numbers performed that included, “I Wish” and “It Runs Through Me”.
Austin’s own Gary Clark Jr. paid his respects to Eric Clapton by thanking him for including him in the 2010 Crossroads Festival in Bridgeview. Clark credited that appearance for launching his career, and since then he has become a major guitar star in his own right. Numbers included by Clark during his set were “Feed the Babies”, “I Got My Eyes on You”, “Our Love” and what can be considered his signature song “Bright Lights Big City”.
Keb Mo is one of the few blues traditionalists playing today. His solo performance, especially when he was using his National steel guitar was a lesson in classic blues with an up to date touch. The song “Am I Wrong” was a perfect example of how traditional blues slide guitar should be played.
Robert Randolph and the Family Band has been another longtime contributor at the Crossroads festivals. Randolph seems to almost spiritually touch the audience with his sometime gospel inspired tunes. Petal steel guitar is Randolph’s musical weapon of choice and he really knows how to use it, especially as he did on songs like “Cut Em Loose”, “Don’t Fight It” and “Baptise Me”.
The final act on Saturday night was Eric Clapton and his band. To see an Eric Clapton concert is becoming more problematic for fans since he has cut back considerably on touring over the last couple of years. That being said, to see him performing on stage again had to be a special moment for any true Clapton fan in the audience, myself included. Ever the polished musician, Clapton guided the band through a good handful of classic songs from the artist’s immense musical catalog.
Starting off with “Pretending” from the 1989 release Journeyman, Clapton set the crowd up for a short way-back ride through his brilliant recording career. The Cream classic “Badge” which was co-written with George Harrison sounded as fresh and innovative as it did in 1968 when it was first recorded. As a tribute to Blues masters of the past as well as some of his major influences, EC included the Robert Johnson penned, “Little Queen of Spades” and “Cross Road Blues”. Other blues standards included “Key to the Highway” and “I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man”. “Layla”, probably the most recognizable if not one of the most popular recordings ever made, was performed flawlessly. For this number Clapton also included John Mayer on guitar.
The encore of the evening was the Prince song “Purple Rain” followed up with the finale of the event that featured many of the festival’s artists on stage. Joe Cocker’s classic “High Time We Went” was a fitting song to close out the 2019 Crossroads Guitar Festival as the two day gathering came to an end.
Grand Finale guests included: Buddy Guy, Robert Cray, Keb’ Mo’, Gary Clark Jr., Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschi, Alan Darby, Jimmie Vaughan, Tom Misch, Albert Lee, Jerry Douglas, Bradley Walker, James Bay, Pedro Martins, Robert Randolph, Gustavo Santaolalla, Jamie Oldaker, Jim Keltner, Pedrito Martinez and Bill Murray.
It’s worth mentioning that Clapton’s first unofficial song of the night was an impromptu version of “Happy Birthday”, which EC crooned to Bill Murray before wishing him a happy birthday and thanking him for acting as master of ceremonies. One special note about Clapton’s exchange with Murray was that he told Murray that if he would come back to do another… so would he.
Let’s just hope Bill Murray agreed to that deal so we can all come back for another Crossroads Guitar Festival.