Tuesday, October 5, 2010
Festivus For The Rest of Us
If you've never seen the movie, you need to see it TODAY. But if you can't see it today, you can listen to it - all 146 minutes of it! - starting at 12N Jerusalem Time - you won't have wasted your day, not at all!
Festival Express is a 2003 documentary film about a 1970 train tour across Canada taken by some of the world's biggest rock bands, including The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, The Band and Delaney & Bonnie & Friends. The film combines live footage shot during the 1970 concerts, as well as footage aboard the train itself, interspersed with present-day interviews with tour participants sharing their often humorous recollections of the events.
The film was produced by Gavin Poolman (son of the original 1970 film shoot's producer, Willem Poolman) together with John Trapman, and directed by double Grammy Award-winner Bob Smeaton (The Beatles Anthology), with music produced by Eddie Kramer (Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin), and features original footage shot in 1970 by Academy Award-winning cinematographer Peter Biziou (Mississippi Burning, Pink Floyd: The Wall, The Truman Show). The original 1970 footage was filmed by director Frank Cvitanovich. A DVD release followed the film's 2003 theatrical run.
Festival Express was unique among rock festivals - rather than being held in one location, it was staged in three - Canadian cities Toronto, Winnipeg and Calgary during the summer of 1970. Montreal was initially to have been the fourth city, but this concert was canceled as the date would have coincided with St. Jean Baptiste Day, and the city felt it couldn't provide adequate security. The idea was that rather than flying in to each city, the musicians would travel by chartered Canadian National Railways train, with the hope of fostering an atmosphere of musical creativity and closeness between the performers. The train rides between cities ultimately became a combination of non-stop jam sessions and partying, fueled by excess alcohol. Among the most memorable scenes depicting these informal jam sessions is a drunken jam featuring The Band's Rick Danko, the Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir, and Janis Joplin.
As the festival was taking place, there was a movement amongst North American youth centering on the notion that rock concerts should be free. As at Woodstock, many kids showed up with no intention of paying the $14 admission. Despite the financial hardship this caused promoters Ken Walker and Thor Eaton, the train continued on, providing a rich environment in which the traveling bands could jam and interact.
In the film, musician Kenny Gradney, who performed with Delaney & Bonnie, commented on the atmosphere during the tour: "It was better than Woodstock, as great as Woodstock was."
The traveling show highlighted several points in the transitioning effects of music in the post-idealism of the late 60s, as large groups of protesters allegedly incited riots in order to get into the shows for free, and the promoters attempted to bring a traveling festival to a host of cities. Even the intervention of various Canadian police forces couldn't reconcile the resulting chaos.
While the promoters took a major financial hit, the tour was still a success, featuring now legendary performances by the Grateful Dead, The Band, Janis Joplin, and Buddy Guy, among others. The Dead were just transforming their sound from dense, jammed psychedelia to the country/folk harmonies of Workingman's Dead and American Beauty; The Band's performance showed them at the very pinnacle of the their powers; and for Joplin, this would turn out to be one of her last performances, as she died approximately two months later.