September 13, 2004

Festival Express @ KIFF

Imagine this: A train. Not just any train. This train has musicians on it: The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, The Band, The Flying Burrito Bros., Buddy Guy, Delaney & Bonnie, Ian & Sylvia Tyson, The New Riders of the Purple Sage, plus several others. This train is on the track for five days travelling to three different stadium gigs across Canada. Like a portable Woodstock.

This really happened.

In the summer of 1970 a Canadian concert promoter put together this tour and called it the Festival Express. And this other guy and his crew shot film of it to make a movie. For various reasons which you can read about at the film website, the movie didn't get made then, but it did get put together last year. The film features current interviews with the promoter, Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Buddy Guy, Kenny Gradney (now of Little Feat who played with Delaney & Bonnie at the time of this tour), Sylvia Tyson and a few people who saw the concerts.

The interviews are interesting but this film contains some of the finest concert footage that exists from that era. In my opinion the concert sequences are superior to those from both the Woodstock and Monterrey Pop Festival films. This is especially true of the Janis Joplin scenes. I confess that I've never really appreciated her too much but this movie really demonstrates her soulful passion, right along with her nail-on-the-blackboard voice.

The stage clips are great but the footage from the train ride is excellent frosting on this rock-n-roll cake. There is one really precious scene where Rick Danko of The Band, completely drunk on his ass, is singing to Janis Joplin with Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir. They all, except Janis, have guitars and at one point Jerry tells Janis that he loves her.

During a modern day interview, a gray-haired Phil Lesh explains that at the time, they didn't have that much experience with drinking. They had smoked pot and taken acid, but drinking was new to them. Apparently they couldn't get too much of the illicit substances they were used to into Canada for the tour.

At one point I guess 3 to 4 days in, they ran out of booze. So the promoter orders an unscheduled stop at Saskatoon. According to the report the train stopped right at a liquor store. The passed the hat and collected $800 to buy liquid, bought it and loaded it up, started the train and went back to partying.

Peripheral to the concerts was some strange controversy. There was a group of kids in Toronto (the first stop) who somehow got it in their minds that the shows should be free. Their reasoning is never satisfactorily explained, but they raise a ruckus outside the show and try to crash the gate and a cop gets injured and it was all really stupid. Just symptomatic of the times I guess.

I suppose we didn't hear about this unique event because it happened north of the border. If we had heard about it I think it would've been attempted here.

At any rate, if you are an aging hippy or an old rocker, or anybody who loves the music from that era, you absolutely must see this movie. It is excellent. I can't wait for the DVD and any extra footage it might contain. According to the website, there was 45 hours of film recovered from the initial 70+ hours that were shot.

We saw this Saturday night as part of the Kansas International Film Festival described in an earlier post. I hope to write another entry about the fest. It is way cool. I've never experienced a film festival before. Next, I will write an entry about the other film we saw Sunday.

Posted by Wayne at September 13, 2004 11:48 PM
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