Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival @ Madison Square Garden

MANHATTAN, NY—It was an evening of guitar slinging at the first of a two-night stand at Madison Square Garden for Eric Clapton’s fourth installment of his Crossroads Guitar Festival to benefit the drug rehab center he founded in Antigua. Clapton put his Crossroads Centre drug rehabilitation clinic on the map in the mid-‘90s as a way of helping out others sort through their addictions and per his 2007 autobiography, “In order to stay sober, I had to help others get sober.”

Guitars twanged, banged and bolted into the blues for the five-hour marathon as the genre got twisted and shred but stayed true to its roots, as Clapton stood tall captaining the ship and steering the generational divide that went from the Chicago blues of BB King and Buddy Guy and back to 14-year-old Quinn Sullivan, who took his mentors’ licks and tossed them back in reverence to the masters.

John Mayer, Keith Urban, Doyle Bramhall II and Citizen Cope added a rocked out, countrified edge of urban twang to the mold as the show worked its way to the grand finale Allman Brothers set that Clapton poked a few riffs through. Robert Cray added his clean-cut, slinky ‘80s style take on the genre while newcomer Gary Clark, Jr. fired from the hip, bringing things up to date.

Booker T. & Co.—including guitarist Steve Cropper and Matt “Guitar” Murphy from the original Blues Brothers band—added some Muscle Shoals soul to the mix. Blues Brother Dan Aykroyd emceed the event and beamed throughout the night, playing harp on a Muddy Waters number “Louisiana Blues” with Keb Mo. Jimmie Vaughan, Cray, King and Clapton played “Every Day I Have The Blues,” turning the stage at the Garden into a back porch on the Bayou that was fingerpickin’ good.

Doyle Bramhall II’s take added some soulful horns New Orleans style to Citizen Cope’s stoneyed drawl on a few numbers including “Bullet And A Target” and “Son’s Gonna Rise.” Slide guitar virtuoso Sonny Landreth provided a brief musical interlude as he tweaked notes from his axe using a glass slide and the nimblest hands this side of Dixie into an earthly blend of swamp music. Kurt Rosenwinkel and Allan Holdsworth bridged the blues and jazz worlds as they countered Slowhand’s stingy leads with melodic swipes of floating notes that swirled above, beyond and below the mix.

John Mayer’s mini set was a low-key one that showcased tunes off his last disc, Born And Raised, that pays homage to 1970s singer-songwriter fare. On “Queen Of California,” things started off slowly before taking off, as Mayer cranked out the blues and sent things into the stratosphere as things got very jammy. Keith Urban joined him on the Beatles’ “Don’t Let Me Down” that ended with both gents trading riffs off their Fender strats and telecasters. Urban’s rough and countrified rockabilly was countered nicely by Mayer’s tasty licks from the Robert Cray songbook.

The Allman Brothers were the closers. Starting off with “Not My Cross To Bear,” the dual guitars of Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks ripped, rattled and rang to the rafters. Gregg Allman was in fine form, adding his lo-fi growl and some oozing Hammond organ to the dynamic weave of dual guitars that collided, spilt off, and then fused into one. Taj Mahal joined in on “Statesboro Blues,” handling harp duties. Clapton played “Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad?” from the Derek And The Dominos Layla album with them, ending his night of collaborations. The Allman’s capped it off with a rousing “Whipping Post,” ending a big evening of guitar rock all for a great cause.