FESTIVAL EXPRESS

By Bob SMEATON

CELSIUS ENTERTAINMENT - as SALES All rights, World

Musical - Completed 2003

Festival Express is a spellbinding documentary that nostalgically chronicles five days in the summer of 1970, when a train full of now- legendary rock perfomers jammed its way across Canada.

    • Year of production
    • 2003
    • Genres
    • Musical, Documentary
    • Countries
    • CANADA
    • Languages
    • ENGLISH
    • Duration
    • 85 mn
    • Director(s)
    • Bob SMEATON
    • Producer(s)
    • Gavin POOLMAN (Apollo Media)
    • Synopsis
    • The Trans-Continental Pop Festival (better known as the Festival Express) set off on this day in 1970. The now legendary tour was unique in that rather than flying to each city, most of the acts traveled on a chartered train. The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin (with her Full-Tilt Boogie Band), The Band, Delaney & Bonnie and Friends, The Flying Burrito Brothers and Buddy Guy Blues Band all jammed, drank, slept and rode the train in between playing shows in Toronto, Winnipeg, Saskatoon and Calgary.

      The chartered Canadian National Railways train consisted of 14 cars, equipped with lounges and sleeping compartments, with electricity sockets so that musical instruments could be plugged in. Allegedly, during the trip, a coke-fuelled Jerry Garcia talked his way into sitting in the driver’s seat and was left at the controls, regularly sounding the train’s whistle.

      The train journey between cities ultimately became a combination of non-stop jam sessions and partying, fueled by alcohol. One highlight of the documentary is a drunken jam session featuring The Band’s Rick Danko, Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir from the Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin.

      Unsurprisingly the passengers drank the bar dry and, as is shown in the film, the musicians passed around a hat and the train made an unscheduled stop to find a liquor store for much needed supplies. I seem to remember that, much to the bemusement of the owner, they bought most of the contents of the store.

      The tour featured now-legendary performances by the Grateful Dead, The Band and Janis Joplin. The Dead were in the process of 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 pinnacle of the their powers and for Joplin, it would turn out to be some of her last performances, as she died two months later.

      Because the Festival Express tour turned out to be a complete financial disaster, the film project was shelved as the promoters sued the film-makers, and the footage mysteriously disappeared. Some of the film’s reels turned up in the garage of the original producer Willem Poolman, where they had been stored for decades and used at various times as goal posts for ball hockey games played by his son Gavin.

      Eventually, in 1999, a plan was hatched to resurrect the film, and many more reels were found in the Canadian National Film Archives vault, where they had been kept in pristine condition.
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