I was less than thrilled at the idea of running the frigid marathon between the parking lot and the Mark of the Quad Cities in Moline, Ill. As though we could escape from the below freezing temperatures if we went fast enough, we decided to sprint. My mom cursed like a sailor into the pinching wind as my brother ran like an escaped convict toward the venue. We finally made it inside and joined the stream of people hiking up the stairs. I got to my seat right as Robert Cray took the stage.
He softly whispered his secrets into the microphone until the crowd was putty in his hands. Casually dressed in a white button-up shirt and jeans, his gorgeous, rippling voice weaved its way through the thousands of fans already gathered in the audience. His bluesy guitar solos and impeccable voice grabbed the attention of the crowd and refused to let go. This was when my dad showed up, binoculars in tow. Fantastic. During the live rendition of the 1983 hit “Bad Influence,” my mom shelled out 20 bucks for a program and 15 dollars for Eric Clapton signature guitar picks. Now that we were equipped with our gear, it was time for Slowhand to take the stage.
The lights dimmed, and the crowd rose to its feet as if it were one unit. One by one, the band strolled onto the stage until – at last – the 16-time Grammy Award winner took his throne in front of the microphone. There was no need for an introduction as 62-year-old Eric Clapton began his legendary set. His black Polo shirt matched the slick ebony face of his Fender Stratocaster. His wire-rimmed glasses and yummy facial hair were classic Clapton, as his weathered fingers strummed his six-string. I noticed how small he looked compared to the massive curtained backdrop, but his persona had filled each crevice of the room.
As he crooned “Butterflies,” “Keys to the Highway” and “Tell the Truth” into the microphone, the audience became a canvas for his talent as he splattered out energized riffs and soft melodies. An assistant brought out a chair and Clapton’s old friend, his acoustic guitar. The crowd melted into each note of “Wonderful Tonight.” This is when I first noticed that the middle-aged blonde in front of me, clad in leather, had already had a few too many alcoholic beverages for the night. She was in for a long concert.
Clapton had sprinkled in signature guitar solos and shared the spotlight with his incredible band. His right-hand man (who is actually left-handed) was Doyle Bramhall II, who has previously collaborated with Stevie Ray Vaughan and B.B. King. He’s obviously not intimidated by the stage. Chris Stainton’s spider-like hands glided over the keyboard during a few fantastic solos of his own. The crowd almost fell to its knees for “Layla” – some, such as my dad, burst into rousing fist-pumps – and they finished up the night with an electrified encore of “Cocaine.” Miss Blonde at this point was ready to expose herself to anyone in the audience willing to take a peek, and her husband had to help her crawl on the stairs afterwards. The marathon back to the car wasn’t quite as bad the second time around as I leafed through the program and watched the drunk 40-somethings stumble home. It was worth every penny spent to see Clapton reign over 10,000 loyal fans, but nothing compared to witnessing my mom scream out “Yeah! Cocaine!” Oh, what a night.