Various Artists: Crossroads Guitar Festival 2010

Eric Clapton and Various Artists
Crossroads Guitar Festival 2010
Rhino Entertainment
Rating: ★★★★☆

For the third installment of his Crossroads Guitar Festival (previous festivals were held in 2004 and 2007), Eric Clapton has once again invited some of his closest friends, and some people he may or may not have had fallings out with decades ago, to perform to raise money for the substance abuse center he champions. Out of this day-long event last summer in Chicago, more than four hours of footage was put into this two-DVD set that should be a delight for any guitarist, no matter what genre he or she is into.

Clapton, one of the DVD’s producers, chose wisely when he picked this year’s lineup. He made sure to include the three current under-35 guitar heroes (John Mayer, Derek Trucks and Jonny Lang), as well as soulful alt-folk singer Citizen Cope, to appeal to audience members whose parents weren’t yet born when Clapton gained fame as a Yardbird. Slide wizard Sonny Landreth shows why he’s known as perhaps the best slide player alive, and pedal steel anomaly Robert Randolph burns up the strings with some slide work of his own. Hubert Sumlin, late of Howlin’ Wolf’s band, makes an appearance (weakly, but he’s almost 80 with an oxygen tank), and a campy-as-ever ZZ Top checks in, thankfully not playing “Tush” (at least not on this DVD).

Perhaps the most pleasant surprise is the appearance of Gary Clark Jr., a blues/soul vocalist and guitarist from Austin who is well-known in that city, but who certainly has not received the international acclaim of his peers. He appears here with Doyle Bramhall II, Sheryl Crow and others (with Nashville songwriter Tommy Sims on bass) in what will probably be a major boost to his career. Vince Gill represents the country contingent and the Telecaster players of the world, performing with James Burton and Albert Lee.

David Hidalgo and Cesar Rosas of Los Lobos and Trucks’ wife Susan Tedeschi team up for “Space Captain,” and Buddy Guy and Ronnie Wood play a couple of tunes together, including the Stones’ “Miss You.” The highlight of the show for many might be the appearances of the awesome Jeff Beck (with legendary drummer/songwriter/producer Narada Michael Walden on drums) and Clapton’s old Blind Faith bandmate Steve Winwood, who reunites with Clapton for several numbers.

Not everything here will work for everyone. Those who want to watch John Mayer (with his stellar rhythm section) might not be into acoustic fingerstyle legends Bert Jansch or Stefan Grossman, and Sheryl Crow fans might not be all that interested in the smooth but smokin’ jazz of George Benson protégé Earl Klugh, who turns in an excellent performance. But any guitarist who is worth his or her salt wants to progress and be exposed to new styles and artists, and this DVD provides that opportunity.

The direction by veteran music video and documentary director Martyn Atkins is top-notch, as is the editing, with appropriate amounts of time spent on close-ups, wide shots and backstage footage. Sometimes the narration by the artists talking about each other is a little hard to follow, and the DVD’s climax with B.B. King is almost a little anti-climactic. But that’s definitely splitting hairs. Guitar players, and fans of guitar players – especially blues-influenced ones – should love this DVD. It’s also available in blu-ray, and a great idea for Christmas.