Blues at the Crossroads: the Robert Johnson Centennial Concert

Sophie Davis

This year, Hill Auditorium had the honor of hosting Blues at the Crossroads: the Robert Johnson Centennial Concert featuring a multitude of exceptional blues artists all paying their tribute to Robert Johnson, one of the great blues icons who died at age 27.

The first artist to perform was Big Head Todd, followed later by Cedric Burnside and Lightning Malcolm. Before beginning the concert, he said in a hushed tone, “There will be no rock n’ roll tonight. Only blues.”

Big Head Todd performed a stunning blues solo, “Love In Vain,” playing guitar and heaving careful groans and sighs that resembled a mix between an old delta musician and Eric Clapton. Then he was joined by the drummers, the bassist, the keyboardist, and an eager Lightning Malcolm, who informed the audience that his “GEE-tar” was an exact replica of the one owned by Robert Johnson. The five of them hit Hill Auditorium like thunderbolts in a storm.

To go any further without the mention of the band’s drummer would be sacrilege. On the right of the stage (from the audience) sat the delta version of Keith Moon, Cedric Burnside. This man was a percussion god, and every beat of the drum, every tap of the cymbal was a dance move in the flow of his infectious groove, which served as the backbone for every song. His vocals and infrequent guitar playing were also sprinkled throughout the performance.

The celebrity of the show was 94-year old David “Honeyboy” Edwards, the only living person to play with Robert Johnson.  His name is a mystery only to those who have not heard him sing, and his vocals still ring with a youthful charge. He was accompanied by another man on blues harp and had several songs with various musicians from the performance, such as Hubert Sumlin, a veteran guitarist of Howlin’ Wolf’s band.

Towards the end of the show, all of the musicians collaborated on an exceptional “Cross Road Blues,” which was the highlight of the night. At that point, the musicians had every joint in the audience uncontrollably twitching like puppeteers with marionettes. When the song finally rose to a crescendo, the audience gave a roar of satisfaction, followed by a deafening applause. Although it was strictly blues, the night was rocking.