"I do it because I want to hear these players," Eric Clapton says, during an exclusive interview announcing his third Crossroads Guitar Festival. The all-day stars-of-guitar show will be held on June 26th at Toyota Park in Chicago; tickets go on sale February 20th. Like his 2004 and 2007 Crossroads concerts and the best-selling DVDs from those festivals, this year's event benefits the Crossroads Centre, the addiction-treatment facility founded by Clapton on the Caribbean island of Antigua in the early Nineties. "But it's a selfish thing," he admits delightedly. "I can go to one place and hear all of my favorite musicians in one day."
Nearly 30 of those favorites are confirmed for the June 26th show, which will feature Clapton in a headlining set with his own band and, if previous festivals are any indication, jamming with many of his guests as well. Returning veterans of the first two Crossroads shows include Jeff Beck, Robert Cray, B.B. King, the great Rick Nelson and Elvis Presley sideman James Burton, Jimmie Vaughan, Sheryl Crow, Los Lobos, ZZ Top, Steve Winwood, gospel-steel phenomenon Robert Randolph and one of Clapton's personal heroes, Louisiana slide-guitar ace Sonny Landreth. "He's a giant to me — his thing is so perfect," Clapton says of Landreth. "When we send the invites, he's the first guy that always comes back, the next day: 'I'm in, what do you want me to do? I'll open the show.' Absolutely no bones with that guy."
Among the artists making their Crossroads debuts this year are the Allman Brothers Band, British folk-guitar master Bert Jansch, singer-guitarist Keb' Mo' and Brazilian bossa nova legend Joao Gilberto. "I wanted to open it up a little," Clapton says of the bill, "so it's not so much about virtuosity as roots." Clapton is especially excited by the booking of the reclusive Gilberto, who rarely performs abroad. "The whole thing was an excuse for getting him out of Brazil," Clapton confesses with a laugh. But, he adds, "a festival about guitar doesn't have to be all heavy metal or all rock. It would probably surprise a lot of people who don't play that someone like me or Derek Trucks [of the Allmans] can admire and enjoy someone like Gilberto."
Clapton notes that the musical success and smooth production of the 2007 festival — a one-day event also held at Toyota Park, a relatively intimate soccer stadium just south of downtown Chicago — encouraged him to do Crossroads at least one more time. The 2004 concert was, in contrast, a two-day marathon, held at the enormous Cotton Bowl in Dallas. "I've convinced the business guys this is the last one," Clapton says, grinning. "Because they're the ones who have to deal with all of the unraveling — the agencies, managers and record companies. I've kind of said, 'We'll do three.' I like three. I'm a 'three' guy."
Asked what the Crossroads festivals have achieved in greater public awareness of his peers and influences and the art of guitar playing, Clapton modestly responds, "I have no idea." But the guitarist contends that Crossroads is not a typical music festival in that "it comes from the heart of a musician. It's not a business deal, and there is an enlightenment in that. People realize we really love what we do.
"And hopefully," Clapton adds, "it gets better every time. That's the deal."
Full list of confirmed performers:
Allman Brothers Band
David Hidalgo and Cesar Rosas of Los Lobos
Doyle Bramhall II
Gary Clark Jr.
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