I was watching a video of Eric Clapton last night and it made me remember the time I met him. It was a thrill then and still is now 21 years later. I thought I might as well blog it before I get to old to remember it. 🙂
Alpine Valley East Troy Wisconsin –
My girlfriend Anne and I had just been walking up the path toward the south gates when for some reason Eric Clapton decided to move his white Porsche 911 from the parking lot. Maybe he realized it was in the middle of the fan parking lot and might get dinged. What ever the reason he decided to sneak out the back gate. It was around 6:00 pm and getting dark earlier then normal being mid September. The crowd was slowing filing in the entrance and my girlfriend and I were arguing about a blanket for the lawn or something as we walked up the long cement path. Had it not been for the couple in front of us we would have never seen Eric coming out of the darkness on our left side. He had to cross the path to get back into darkness and the parking lot. With a hand covering his face he walked right past us. I would have never seen him if it wasnt for the guy in front of me. Dumb founded the guy turns to me and says “Was that Eric Clapton?” You could tell he couldnt believe his own eyes and was a little bit embarrassed to even mention it. I mean why would a Rock Star be walking down the path toward hundreds of people coming to see him play with out any body guard or protection? It was crazy! So all four of us just stood in shock for a split second like a dog hearing a strange sound. Then Anne quickly says “Bill, go find out, go!”. I snapped out of it and like a puppy running after a stick went jogged off into the darkness toward him. At that point Eric was trying hard to hide by covering his face but he knew we saw him. He must have been scared to be out in the open away from all security too because he face had the Oh **** look. I jogged tyhe 20 yards up to him and being in shock myself politely asked, “Excuse me sir,..Are you Eric Clapton?” He stopped walking, looked at me and said “yes, but please keep it down”. There it was! That English accent! It was him! I couldn’t believe it! I nodded ok like that trained puppy but still mustered up enough babble to ask for an autograph. He kindly obliged reaching out and asking me for a pen and paper. Of course I had nothing but the blanket. I felt like an idiot and began looking around me as if some where laying in the grass at my feet. Thankfully he was so cool about it and said he might have something in his car and we began walking together. My girlfriend was watching all this from a distance realized it was him and ran up with the other couple. I asked her if she had a pen, which she didnt. In her excitement (as we all were) she turned toward the fans walking down the path about 20 yards away yelled “Anyone have a pen?” Eric must have just thought “bloody hell kid!!”, He began to walk much, much, faster toward the safety of his car. I grabbed her and said come on and we all walked as a group with him the next 50 yards or so toward the tailgating crowd. We happened to pass my own car and quickly got some paper and a pen. When Eric reached his car he accidentally set off the alarm causing the slightly drunk tailgating crowd to look over. You could see the dumb founded looks from acroos the lot as fans mumbled to each other, “Is that? Nooooo…..It…nooo”. By this time a few people had noticed him and walked over. In fact one woman had a camera to my left side and was about to take a picture when I said don’t, shaking my head. I guess we all knew the risk he was taking by trying to sneak to his car. She pulled the camera back down realizing the danger too. I feel bad about it because it was a once in a lifetime thing but, still I was lucky enough already I guess.
Eric signed Anne’s paper and a couple others then mine as he stood at his open car door. He asked my name and wrote, “To Bill Enjoy the Show Eric Clapton” in a shaky script. He was a little nervous at that point being 100 yards from the gate and safety im sure. I was still completely star struck though and didn’t mumble a word unlike the others saying “I play Bass”, etc. I think everyone gets a little dumb in front of legends. Some talk, some stare. After he wrote out my autograph in the most amazing moment Eric handed me back the paper and stuck his hand out to shake mine. I think I stared at his hand for 20 seconds even though it was a mere millisecond. He must have seen my deer in the head light look and maybe relate to it when he met BB King or Buddy Guy. He smiled and I shook his hand, saying “Thank you”. Then Anne and I walked away in a daze. I think we both knew the incredible moment we just had and felt it was best to leave him be. Eric got in his car a minute later and slowly drove up the path into the back stage area.
Anne and I walked back to the gate in a fog at that point with the biggest smiles across our faces. Of course the show was great but I kept staring at my hand all night in disbelief. I think I sat in my bedroom playing guitar to his records for the next month non-stop. To this day whenever anyone tells me I play with feeling, or good solo. I like to think maybe, just maybe, a little tiny bit of magic mojo rubbed off from that hand shake with Eric. Yeah, its crazy but its my mojo. 😀