Festival Express Is A Concert Film Unlike Any Other Concert Film

Festival Express Concert Film

Photo: © 2004 Apollo Films Ltd. All rights reserved. Used for review purposes.

Festival Express is a concert film that is unlike any other concert film we have ever seen. It’s not just a film about a concert or about a series of concerts. It’s a documentary that defines the spirit of the 1960s turning the page to the decade of the 1970s. That spirit is not captured by the fans as many concert films usually focus on. The Festival Express concert film focuses on the musicians who participated in the Festival Express tour and the experience they shared together on the train that took them to the shows. While most bands took planes or individual buses to their shows in the 1960s, these musical acts all road the same train that took them to each stop on a Canadian concert tour that only lasted from June 24 1970 to July 5, 1970. It was also no ordinary train, it was a Canadian National Railways train that was privately charted by the concert promoter for the musicians.  It’s all captured on a film that took over thirty years to make.

The Festival Express Concert tour is not well known in the story of classic rock. Unlike the Woodstock Festival which took place a year earlier and has long become one of the defining symbols of 1960s counterculture, the Festival Express tour documentary film was never released at the time. Woodstock had their film, their albums, and all the US  press coverage that made sure everyone knew everything about it. The Festival Express Tour had none of that. It’s a shame because once you begin watching the film you will ask yourself how did I not know about this series of events?

What is so magical about the film is the footage capturing the musicians jamming together on the train that took them to each show.  This group of musical artists are exposed for who they truly were. They were a group of individuals who were really trying to change the world through their music, their attitudes and their love for life in general. It’s as clear as the smile on Janis Joplin’s face that we see frequently in the film.

The Festival Express tour featured some of the biggest names of the 1960s music scene in The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Buddy Guy, and The Band.  Also aboard the train and some that were just part of the concert series were the groups Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, Mashmakhan, Sha Na Na, Ian & Sylvia and Great Speckled Bird, The Flying Burrito Brothers, New Riders of the Purple Sage, Tom Rush, Eric Anderson, and James and the Good Brothers.

Fans of The Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin will be blown away by some of the concert footage that appears in the film. Jerry Garcia shines bright on the stage as an entertainer and peacemaker. His moments in the jam sessions on the train will leave you breathless. Of course, it’s Janis Joplin who really has some of the biggest moments in the film just like Jerry. Her live performances will knock you out, as she once again she defines why she was one of classic rock and roll’s biggest musical losses when she passed away at the age of twenty-seven. The performance on the train in which Janis Joplin is sitting with members of The Band and New Riders singing together while Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir play guitar is worth watching the film for that moment alone.

The film is not without drama. Highlights throughout the film are presented by Festival Express concert promoter Ken Walker talking about the issues he had with many of the local town’s politicians and kids who were demanding that the concerts be free to everyone.  There is a moment in the film where after tensions had gotten pretty high, the promoter decides to open up an extra field next to the paying field and offered a free concert to calm things down.

Watching Jerry Garcia deliver the news to the fans is interesting as he also seems upset with the fans who were being unruly. One can sense that the 60s were truly over, as rock and roll and all that comes with it was heading into a decade that would see peace and love dramatically transformed into new musical genres and a culture that would spilt down many different roads.

The Festival Express film was not released until 2003. Even after its initial release, it went largely unnoticed by rock fans. The film is available on Blu-Ray. Additionally, it can be streamed on the Qello Concerts music channel which is a paid music streaming channel. As of now, we were not able to find the film on any other streaming service. But you how that goes. Nonetheless, this is a film that many fans of classic rock and 1960s music and culture will really enjoy.

Festival Express Is A Concert Film Unlike Any Other Concert Film article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022

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