Eric Clapton and his pals Bob Dylan, Sheryl Crow, and Mary J. Blige performed a benefit on June 30 for Clapton’s Antigua drug and alcohol rehab facility, Crossroads Centre. (The week before the show, Clapton auctioned off 100 of his guitars to raise $5.1 million for Crossroads.) Some 15,000 fans paid up to $250 a ticket for the Madison Garden extravaganza, which raised more than $1 million. The three-hour-and-fifteen-minute set of classic rock tunes (which will air in an edited version on VH1 beginning July 17) was so successful that EW Online hereby offers the ”Eight Commandments of Benefit Concerts,” which all future organizers would be wise to follow.
1. PAPA, DON’T PREACH Aside from a 90-second video introducing Crossroads, not one word was spoken about the charity. Clapton, in fact, took the stage by saying, ”I’m not gonna do any talking. I’m just here to play for you.” Bravo! The tickets had been sold, the money banked — it was time to play, not proselytize.
2. DRESS FOR EXCESS Clapton, Dylan, and the night’s backing band all wore black suits, which was a classy move. But Mary J. Blige took the fashion award. In her ostrich-feather cowboy hat, dangerously low-cut top, and faded blue jeans, she might have just stumbled off the runway of a Prada show (or the tackiest thrift shop in Vegas). Add in her dagger tattoos and pink lip gloss and she was, dare we say, da bomb.
3. NO JOY OF SAX Unless you’re Bruce Springsteen with Clarence Clemons, leave the sax player home. True, David Sanborn — the thinking person’s Kenny G — wowed the crowd with his overexcited solo on the Jimi Hendrix classic ”Little Wing.” But his shrill honking on ”Layla” drowned out Clapton’s delicate guitar solo and almost turned the music into Muzak.
4. DON’T SCREW WITH THE HITS The crowd’s most fervid air-guitar playing came during the encore of ”Sunshine of Your Love,” which Clapton performed in the hard-rocking style of his Cream days. But the shuffle-blues version of ”Crossroads” was less inspiring. Though it was great to see Dylan and Clapton sharing a mic, fans wanting to strum along were struck motionless by the tune’s new slower tempo and suddenly absent power chords.
5. DARE TO BE DIFFERENT Mary J. Blige’s soulful hip-hop set stole the show, perhaps because of its stark contrast to the more mainstream style shared by Clapton, Dylan, and Crow. Scat-singing, rapping, and urging the crowd to ”get up and shake it” were three things no one else thought to do, and by the end of Blige’s six-song set, she had won new fans among the audience, even though when she started many Clapton lovers hadn’t seemed to know exactly who she was.
6. INVITE BOB DYLAN For whatever reason, Dylan has been reborn as a performer. His mere presence on the stage raises the temperature of the house. And his devilish grin, free-form vocal improvisations, and kick-ass black-and-white cowboy boots only add to his charm.
7. UNPLUG FOR POWER Who could have guessed the night’s most electric performance would be an acoustic version of the Clapton ballad ”Change the World.” Compensating for the lack of Marshall amps, Clapton played a rhythmic riff on his signature Martin and kept it up until the whole house was rocking along. Bet your life on it: VH1 will be replaying this cut well into the next millennium.
8. GLAM IS GOOD Nothing incites a crowd like celebs and skimpily dressed models. In one four-row section of box seats alone, ”Bound” star Gina Gershon (in a snug snakeskin jacket) danced to Clapton’s blues licks, while four models in tiny tube tops sipped champagne and chatted away on their cell phones. Talk about being a good friend: The people on the other end of their calls got treated to one helluva concert!