Festival Express

by Andrew Tuesday, January 11th, 2011 11:08am Part of the Music Films series

There was a time before YouTube, believe it or not, and if you wanted to see clips of your favorite band playing live, you either had to try and bootleg them from the next show you went to, which was not generally encouraged by most bands, or you could buy a concert video.

Festival Express chronicles a traveling music festival in 1970 with a rather bizarre but very innovative concept: it was scheduled all over Canada and all the band members and crew — among them The Grateful Dead, The Band, Janis Joplin and Buddy Guy — travelled together by train.

The film is a documentary about a traveling music festival in 1970. The concept behind this festival was rather bizarre, but a very innovative idea for the time. The music festival was scheduled in various towns all over Canada, and the real kicker is that all of the band members and crew were going to be traveling on a train to the various locations. The entire train was filled with band and crew members alike, as well as an array of musical instruments and alcoholic beverages.

A bunch of famous rock stars, on a train filled with booze and instruments, all with the intention of having a good time for the video cameras; sounds like a good concept for a film, right? Precisely.

The most amazing parts of the film are the collaborations between all of the musicians on the train. The line-up for the ‘Festival Express’ is chalked full of amazing acts. The Grateful Dead, The Band, Janis Joplin, Buddy Guy, The Flying Burrito Brothers, and many others. A lot of these guys would never have had the chance to play music with each other if it weren’t for this festival, and you can tell they are really enjoying themselves, because they create some truly magical music.

The interviews with the bands about the whole experience are very entertaining, as well. Stories about someone spiking the booze with various illicit substances and others about Janis Joplin having not-so-quiet orgasms in the wee hours of the morning; it’s just about everything you would expect from a bunch of rowdy rock-n-rollers partying it up on a booze train, and then some.

The guy running the whole festival is very down to earth, as well. At one point in the trip, the train runs out of booze, so the guy in charge makes an unscheduled stop in the nearest town, and proceeds to buy out a whole liquor store, just so the party could live on. At another time on the trip, a group of kids are protesting the event’s prices at one of the shows, and since it’s such a hassle for everyone involved, he just lets everyone in for free. If that’s not a good man, I don’t know what is.

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