Crossroads Guitar Festival makes for an uncommonly electric Great Performances special | None | Uncle Barky's Bytes

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Clapton's third Crossroads Guitar Festival makes for an uncommonly electric Great Performances special


Steve Winwood and Eric Clapton join forces at show's end. PBS photo

String music on Great Performances usually means symphony orchestras in full regalia.

Not on Eric Clapton's watch, though. His third Crossroads Guitar Festival, which unfolded at Chicago's Toyota Park last year, gets the highlight reel treatment in this thoroughly electrified two-hour recap. It aired in most markets on Monday night, but Dallas-based KERA-TV (Ch. 13) has it slotted for Wednesday, June 8th at 8:30 p.m. central. (Be forewarned that pledge drive breaks will stretch the program until 11 p.m.)

Sixteen performances, ranging from sturdy to truly great, are included in a mix that ranges from Vince Gill and company's terrific pickin' and grinnin' cover of Clapton's "Lay Down Sally" to ZZ Top's nicely done "Jesus Just Left Chicago."

Host Bill Murray dresses up as Buddy Holly to laud ZZ as "three guys who never ever bought into the whole goatee crap. Ever!" Murray also semi-disguises himself as Elvis Presley and Jimi Hendrix for this condensation of an 11-hour show that also gathered guitar heroes Jeff Beck, Buddy Guy, Steve Winwood, Ronnie Wood, Gary Clark, Jr., John Mayer and Sonny Landreth among others.

Clapton and Landreth trade some smokin' riffs on the opening "Promise Land." And the show also has a big finish featuring the host and Winwood in superlative form on "Voodoo Chile" and "Dear Mr. Fantasy." Clapton earlier has a smashing solo while reprising one of his biggest hit singles, "I Shot the Sheriff."

The editing and photography are first-rate throughout, with enough movement to keep the production from being static but enough discipline to stop it from constantly jumping around. One exquisite shot catches Clapton and Winwood simultaneously working their fretboards during "Had to Cry Today."

This third Crossroads event doesn't quite reach the sizzling heights of A Black and White Night, the Roy Orbison and friends masterpiece that originally aired on Cinemax in 1988 and since has become a PBS pledge drive staple. You won't be bored, though, and you might even want to contribute a little money to KERA in return for all of this otherwise free music.

Added advisory: Midway through the concert is "Midnight in Harlem" by the Derek Trucks & Susan Tedeschi Band. Don't miss it.

GRADE: A-minus