This past weekend, Epiphone traveled to New York City for Eric Clapton's Crossroads Festival concerts at Madison Square Garden. Both shows clocked in at over four hours long and featured the most accomplished and challenging guitarists in rock, blues, and country. Proceeds from the show will go towards Clapton's Crossroads Antigua substance abuse treatment center in the Caribbean.
But the the 4th annual concerts seemed to be about more than just a celebration of the guitar. These shows were also a rescue flare, a sonic shout-out to the music world that there can be no rock and roll without electric guitar, and the blues still sits at the figurative crossroads linking all forms of American music.
Gary Clark Jr. was the most prominent Epiphone artist on the roster but he wasn't the only one. Jimmy Vaughn's 6-piece band included a classic early '50s Epi archtop and Warren Haynes expertly used a Masterbilt EF-500R
to back up old pal Gregg Allman on beautiful acoustic versions of "Midnight Rider" and Neil Young's "Needle and the Damage Done" on Saturday night with Derek Trucks on slide guitar (who stole the show whenever he appeared).
But Gary was clearly the artist of the moment. On Friday night, Clark played his trademark Cherry Casino
as well as his Epiphone Dobro Hound Dog
. On Saturday night, Clark followed Keb' Mo' and Taj Mahal (who brought the sold out crowd to a hush with versions of Son House's "Walking Blues" and "Diving Duck Blues"), debuting a beautiful new Blueburst Casino custom-made by Epiphone in honor of his new album, Blak and Blu,
that had a tone unlike anything heard all evening. Clark was the only guitarist from both shows who dared to let his axe lead the way, conjuring feedback that shape shifted throughout his sets. In comparison, Clark made Clapton and even Vince Gill seem conservative and willful. Clark was one of the few artists willing to let go, willing to take chances, and the audience instantly tuned in. Before he had even played the first note of "When My Train Pulls In" on Saturday night, all of Madison Square Garden was fixated on Clark.
There were other great moments--a driving set from the Allman Brothers with Eric Clapton, a surprise visit from Keith Richards (who got a long standing ovation), and a back-to-school session by Los Lobos where David Hidalgo and Cesar Rosas took on both Robert Cray and Clapton who left the stage with all bullets spent and Hidalgo and Rosas standing tall without a scratch.
Outside, the wind was blowing, cabs by the dozen were locked in a traffic grid from 33rd down to Chelsea, and the Garden was surrounded by silver Sabrett hot dog trucks looking like stainless steel pilot fish. To the rest of NYC, it was just another Saturday night. But inside, the electric guitar was fighting for its life.
There was a melancholy air to the shows since it's only a matter of time before The Allman Brothers, Eric Clapton, and Keith Richards will no longer be around for these informal rock extravaganzas. Many of us know their names and faces better than we know our own family and there is some comfort in hearing hear the classic riffs in the same key, even if a few notes get lost and the rhythms slide a bit. Just as Clapton's survival seems miraculous, so does the arrival of Gary Clark Jr. It will be exciting to hear what kind of musical legacy Clark and Derek Trucks will create in the future, freed from worrying about getting a hit single on the radio. But this weekend was all about the electric guitar and for true believers--thanks in large part to Gary Clark Jr.,--the blues are alive and well.