Another little piece of their art
Little-known footage from an all-star train ride across Canada has been preserved in "Festival Express," a would-be Woodstock on wheels featuring such luminaries as Janis Joplin, Jerry Garcia, Buddy Guy and the Band.
By LESLIE (HOBAN) BLAKE
God! Was anyone ever as young as the Rock 'n Roll Royalty who rode the Festival Express train of Bob Smeaton's eponymous rockumentary across Canada in 1970? The film of a forgotten moment in rock history, captures myriad R'n'R legends including a slim(mer) Jerry Garcia than memory can recall, a hairier Robbie Robertson, a happier Janis Joplin, an R&B-singing Buddy Guy plus Chris Hillman and The Flying Burrito Brothers along with a sprinkling of such Canadian groups as Mashmakan and Great Speckled Bird (folkies Ian and Sylvia Tyson).
Like the Rolling Stones' quirky "Rock and Roll Circus" circa 1968, "Festival Express" existed as scattered footage shot during a particular R'n'R event in 1970, before ever being made into anything resembling a film. Director Michael Lindsay-Hogg rescued the "R&RC" footage from oblivion, while Smeaton, another British director (and former lead singer with the rock band White Heat) performed a similar service for "Festival Express," the lost tale of what has been dubbed "The Canadian Woodstock."
|Directed by: Bob Smeaton.|
Featuring: Janis Joplin, The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin & The Full Tilt Boogie Band, The Band, Buddy Guy, Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, The Flying Burrito Bros, Ian & Sylvia & The Great Speckled Bird, Mash Makan, Sha-Na-Na, Lennie Baker, Buddy Guy Blues Band, Jerry Garcia, Jon 'Bowzer' Bauman, Bob Weir, Johnny Contardo, Phil Lesh, Frederick 'Dennis' Greene, Mickey Hart, Rick Danko, Jocko Marcellino, 'Dirty Dan' McBride, Ken Pearson, Richard Bell, Dave 'Chico' Ryan, Tony Santini, John Till, 'Screamin' Scott' Simon, Sylvia Tyson, Jerry Mercer, Donald 'Donny' York, Kenny Gradney, Eric Andersen, David Dalton, James Cullingham, Rob Bowman, Ken Walker.
Cinematography: Peter Biziou, Bob Fiore.
Edited by: Eamonn Power.
Related links: Official site
|UA Union Square
In the late summer of 1970, a young promoter named Ken Walker got the unheard-of idea of creating a Canadian traveling version of that monumental festival by transporting a trainload of rock, folk, country and blues musicians across Canada for a series of five concerts. He lured top names with the promise of "a party to end all parties" aboard a series of 24-hour rolling bar cars.
The fact that Chicago blues king Buddy Guy and aging folkie Bonnie Bramlett (Delaney and Bonnie) recently performed in New York is a testament to their having survived the "Festival Express." Janis would succumb to her own devils just three months later, but she did love that train ride! "The next time you throw a train, man, invite me!" she says happily at the end of it.|
The movie is a full-access backstage pass to a unique event that allowed the musicians to have as much or (in some cases) more fun as the audience the booze and joints flowed on the train. There was a separate car for every kind of music represented in the festival rock 'n' roll, blues, folk and country. To hear Garcia riff with Guy on "I Can't Do It Baby," or sing gospel with Sylvia on "Better Take Jesus' Hand," would be worth the price of admission alone, even if it weren't followed by Janis and the Band's Rick Danko blasted on something or other wailing on "Ain't No More Cane."
The concerts were a bust financially, as the counterculture of Canada proclaimed that the music should be free. But to his credit, Walker had the Band (and all the others) play on anyway. Smeaton has added dozens of interviews with surviving musicians, promoters and festival-goers to add a historical perspective to this singular event in R'n'R history.|
Whether viewed as a time capsule or a ride on a R'n'R ghost train, "Festival Express" is a joyous addition to Rock's filmography.
|AUGUST 16, 2004|
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