Eric Clapton and other guitar gods at Madison Square Garden
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Although named for a song by a tortured bluesman and benefiting an Antigua center for recovering addicts, Eric Clapton's Crossroads Guitar Festival celebrates the bluesy side of rock and roll history with hours of happy all-star jams. The fourth fest (it's not exactly annual) unites guitar heroes of all genres and backgrounds, from Clapton to L.A. stalwarts Los Lobos to country stars Keith Urban and Vince Gill. Expect familiar faces, songs you love and the occasional Big Moment -- like in Chicago three years ago, when unknown Gary Clark Jr. sang, "You're gonna know my name," and proved it.
Here are some of the folks playing Friday and Saturday at Madison Square Garden.
KNOWN FOR Being God. That's what they used to scrawl on walls in England in the '60s, anyway. Throughout his career as a blues guitarist, "Slowhand" has made some of the best albums of all time (Derek and the Dominoes' "Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs") and some of the dullest ("Behind the Sun") before becoming a sort of relaxed elder rock statesman. His new "Old Sock" is peppier than the title suggests.
KNOWN FOR Being the last bluesman standing. Born in the Mississippi Delta, Riley B. King took off for Memphis, then became a radio star and a recording star. With his trusty guitar, Lucille, he has made some of the most memorable electric blues of all time, from "The Thrill Is Gone" to "Every Day I Have the Blues," and is still touring at age 87.
KNOWN FOR That Taylor Swift Song. Just kidding. Hunky Mayer has dated his share of starlets (he was on Katy Perry's arm during the Grammy Awards). And he's best known for schmaltzy pop hits like "Your Body Is a Wonderland." But his secret identity is Blues Guitar Man; he's good enough at it for Clapton to invite him back.
KNOWN FOR Competence. Beck isn't flashy like Clapton or loud like Pete Townshend, but his ridiculous talent earned him the best gigs in England for much of the '60s -- he famously replaced Clapton in The Yardbirds, and Rod Stewart fronted The Jeff Beck Group. His 2010 instrumental "Emotion & Commotion" is a sleeper for rock-guitar fans.
Gary Clark Jr.
KNOWN FOR The Future. The 29-year-old guitarist from Austin, Texas, is the Robert Cray of his generation, kicking blues in the butt by simultaneously honoring his heroes (he talks about Albert Collins and Jimi Hendrix a lot) and making explosive albums.
Allman Brothers Band
KNOWN FOR Surviving.
The Macon, Ga., band known for such rock classics as "Whipping Post" and "Sweet Melissa" originally centered on brothers Gregg (keyboards) and Duane Allman (lead guitar). Duane died in a 1971 motorcycle accident. The band has since had its ups and downs, finally settling into a comfortable family vibe, these days starring hotshot guitarists Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks.
KNOWN FOR Economy. His short, memorable solos in Stax Records' '60s house band Booker T. and the MG's enlivened tons of hits, from Sam and Dave's "Hold On, I'm Comin' " to Otis Redding's "(Sittin' on) The Dock of the Bay." Cropper has faded into the background recently, but his 2011 Five Royales tribute "Dedicated" is not to be missed.
KNOWN FOR Chicago. Born in Lettswerth, La., Guy drifted north to Chicago and slowly started to take on established guitarists in local "cutting contests" with his powerful, loud, crowd-pleasing electric-guitar style. At 76, he plays in that same style, whether at his hometown Legends club or with younger cats like Mayer and Jonny Lang.
WHAT Eric Clapton's Crossroads Guitar Festival
WHEN | WHERE 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Madison Square Garden
INFO $75-$500; 800-745-3000, ticketmaster.com