A gathering of guitar gods: B.B. King, Eric Clapton and Eric Johnson
A gathering of guitar gods: B.B. King, Eric Clapton and Eric Johnson

A New Texas Jam

Sure, I play guitar, but I play it like a rock critic--which is to say I play about as well as a food critic bakes a soufflé. Still, it's fun to plug in and turn up the amp to a respectable seven or eight. And I'm not alone. All around there are people like me who meet in garages, basements and at campfires to slog through barely recognizable versions of songs--in fact, you may be one of them. We Americans are a nation of six-string devotees. And I'd like to think that those few who don't play at least appreciate those who do. Ever seen a keyboard player with groupies? This simple aesthetic is what keeps music stores in business and is sure to drive the masses to the Crossroads Guitar Festival this weekend for the worship of all things guitar.

Initiated and coordinated by the world's reigning guitar god, Eric Clapton, the three-day event features concerts, clinics, vendors and more guitarists than you can shake a drumstick at. Undoubtedly, though, the festival's main draw is Clapton himself. Guitarists want to jam with him, and fans just want to shake hands with "Slow Hand."

Even Eric Johnson, an Austinite and Grammy winner who plays Saturday night, hopes to meet the great Clapton. Originally, Johnson was slated to jam with him, but now he's not so sure he'll make the cut. "From what I hear now," he says, "he's just been overwhelmed with people to jam with, so he's planning on only playing with a few people. I'm sure he'll jam with [Carlos] Santana, B.B. King, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page if he shows up. I'm not really counting on getting a chance to play with him, because there's just so many people involved." But, like everyone else at the festival, Johnson sure wants to. "I've never really even met him. He's one of my heroes--I literally learned to play guitar from listening to him. I hope I at least get to meet him. I'm usually not nervous around famous people, but I might be around him just because of the history."


Crossroads Guitar Festival takes place June 4-6at Fair Park. Tickets are available from Ticketmaster and cost $15 to $60. For a full schedule see www.crossroadsguitarfestival.com.

Guitar Geeks, Unite

Opening at 4 p.m. on Friday, the Guitar Center Village will be the nexus of unbridled guitar lust for the weekend. It's the place for exhibitions and clinics as well as one of the festival highlights, the unprecedented collection of guitars that will be auctioned on June 24 at Christie's in New York to benefit the Crossroads Centre. Guitars on display include Clapton's most famous guitar, Blackie--maybe the most famous guitar--and one-of-a-kind guitars from Pete Townshend, Brian May and B.B. King.

Christie's estimates Blackie will sell for at least $100,000. Johnny A., a Boston-based, old-school rock guitarist hitting his stride as a front man with his new album, Get Inside, is sure that "whatever I bid--all my possessions combined--will not be enough for what that guitar will bring. It has so much history and mystique to it that I'm not really sure there's a price that can be put on it."

Fender, Blackie's maker, will show how the famous stratocaster was made with on-site luthiers and craftsmen from the company's custom shop. John Cruz of Fender will build an exact replica of one of Stevie Ray Vaughan's guitars, and the company will also have a 48-foot semitrailer featuring its guitars and basses with amps so that anyone can immediately plug in and rock out.

They Will, They Will Rock You

But the real thrill for us wannabes will be watching all the professional guitarists showing off and collaborating with their peers. As a warm-up, the next generation of guitar heroes will vie for a new car and some respect at the Guitarmageddon grand finals on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. at the Guitar Center Village Main Stage. The event will be the culmination of a series of competitions held in each region of the country.

Saturday's main event will be the massive concert consisting of half-hour sets from Eric Johnson (5:30 p.m.), Doyle Bramhall II (7 p.m.), John Mayer (8 p.m.) and about a dozen others. Clapton is scheduled for a "surprise" blues jam with Buddy Guy, Jimmy Vaughan, Robert Cray and Robert Randolph at 9 p.m.

At the more massive concert on Sunday at the Cotton Bowl, Clapton will hold court with his top-notch band, including keyboardist Billy Preston, Bramhall and drummer Steve Gadd. He'll follow that with a grand finale jam with Jeff Beck and ZZ Top. The "opening bands" include Steve Vai (12:10 p.m), Jimmie Vaughan (3 p.m.), Bo Diddley (3:50 p.m.), Joe Walsh (4:30 p.m.), James Taylor (5:30 p.m.), Buddy Guy (6 p.m.), B.B. King (6:30 p.m.) and Carlos Santana (7 p.m.). The show is guaranteed to be either inspirational or overwhelming. You'll either leave desperate to play guitar or hoping to never see one again.

The Road to Crossroads
The worlds best guitarists converge in one place. Dallas?!?

Dallas isn't exactly a rock-and-roll town. Sure, it has some great bands, but when people think of Dallas they think oil and ranches and plastic surgery. Los Angeles is a music town. But Big D?

Dallas isn't a city renowned for marquee conventions, either. With all respect to the Dallas Boat Show and Mary Kay's Salesforce Seminar, Dallas hasn't hosted a multiday, headline-grabbing, non-sports event since the 1984 Republican Convention. So how did the Crossroads Guitar Festival--a nationally recognized, three-day music festival hosted by Eric Clapton--end up here?

It's not just because of the weather.

Part of the reason is simply that Clapton wanted it here. The event is designed to raise money for and awareness of Clapton's Crossroads Centre in Antigua, West Indies, an addiction treatment center he founded and helps manage. In 1999, he staged a one-day benefit at New York's Madison Square Garden, but this time he wanted something bigger, something different. "Basically, Clapton didn't want to do this on the East Coast or the West Coast," explains Peter Jackson, Clapton's longtime tour manager. "He just wanted to do it in the middle of the country. So he said, 'Why not Dallas? We always have a great time there.'"

Clapton is familiar with Dallas, having rehearsed for his tours at the Studios at Las Colinas. Jackson and his crew visited the various local venues and considered Texas Stadium, the Texas Motor Speedway and a combination of the American Airlines Center and Reunion Arena before settling on Fair Park, with the Cotton Bowl and its vast surroundings. Dallas undoubtedly has the facilities. It remains to be seen, however, if Dallas can bring the audience. Blues music put Deep Ellum on the map in the 1920s, but will Dallasites turn out for a concert that, although loaded with celebrities, barely features anyone under 40?

Even if Clapton's gamble doesn't pay off, the city has benefitted. Bands, crews and vendors are expected to account for at least 3,000 hotel room nights, not to mention all the car rentals and meals during their stay. Plus, the city takes a percentage of the concessions sold during the festival.

Maybe Dallas could be known as a rock-and-roll town after all. If anyone can put us on the road to redemption, Clapton's the man. The rest of the journey is up to us. --S.W.


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