“All that was left was a pile of burning guitars,” said Robbie Robertson at the end of the 2007 Crossroads Guitar Festival in Chicago. The eleven-hour event was jam-packed with fiery performances onstage, but a mellow vibe prevailed both in the crowd and behind the scenes. The day was warm and overcast, and Toyota Park was filled to the last row with shirtless onlookers and guitar fanatics, all sharing a common sense of being in the presence of greatness.
The scene backstage resembled a big family reunion as host Eric Clapton and John Mayer made themselves at home, both equipped with cameras. The Fender tent was the prime behind-the-scenes hangout, with its guitar-lined walls, velvet couches and of course, air conditioning. But most of the event’s guitar heroes could be found clustered together at the side of the stage intently watching their own guitar heroes. Early in the day Clapton, dressed in a BBQ-ready outfit of plaid Bermuda shorts and a golf beret, watched Robert Cray, Hubert Sumlin and Jimmie Vaughan alongside B.B. King, reminiscing with the blues legend about old recording sessions. A slightly star-struck Derek Trucks chatted up King while Sheryl Crow sat in the sound booth gazing at Mayer’s set. “I could feel the audience dragging in the beginning, but I knew how the movie ends,” Mayer said, referring to his blaring guitar solo on set closer “Gravity” and his version of the Ray Charles hit “I Don’t Need No Doctor.”
During the midday intermission, King, Clapton and Mayer congregated at the Fender tent for a Rolling Stone photo shoot, where they could barely stop chatting long enough to focus on the task at hand. At one point Mayer exclaimed, “Hold on, B.B. King is talking!” As day turned to night the full moon rose and the tone of the festival changed. Fans stopped roaming around and found their seats knowing it was time to pay close attention. Jeff Beck, dressed in black, rolled up in his black Escalade just ten minutes before his set, which rocked the stadium to its core. Mayer didn’t need no doctor, and Beck didn’t need no vocals — he let his guitar do the talking. As sweat poured off of Beck’s sleeveless shirt, he dowsed his underarms with talcum powder in front of 20,000 screaming fans.
The show came to a close with Clapton announcing, “I’ve been dying to play with this person for twenty-five years, and now the time has come,” as Steve Winwood strolled onstage. After the Buddy Guy-led finale jam came to its blistering conclusion, you could catch Trucks and his wife playing foosball while the fest’s emcee Bill Murray donned a ’70s-style wig and tie-dye get-up and asked Clapton, “It’s like looking in the mirror isn’t it?”
Check out the Crossroads photo gallery here