"Semi-Nostalgic Trip to the Past"
What You Need To Know:
FESTIVAL EXPRESS is an accurate, entertaining depiction of a special time and place. Some of the most interesting parts of the documentary are the nostalgia that the musicians say they feel for the tour, as well as comments about how the tour promoters lost money. The movie is rated R, however, for some strong foul language, drug references and talk about drinking a lot of alcohol. Despite the movie’s utopian, pagan worldview, Jerry Garcia and his band twice sing a Gospel tune, “Better Take Jesus’ Hand.”
(Pa, C, Co, B, LL, V, N, AA, DD, M) Idealistic, utopian, mixed pagan worldview with positive references to Jesus Christ in a song, “Better Take Jesus’ Hand,” that’s played twice, and some content alluding to Communist anarchy and anti-authoritarianism, but one musician gives a strong moral defense of policemen trying to keep the peace and risking physical danger to prevent riots by “people looking for trouble”; eight mostly strong obscenities, one strong profanity and four light profanities in two songs (including “Oh, Lord” and “Good God, no”); some fighting between police and protestors, with one policeman shown staggering and musician mentions that one policeman is in critical condition because of a blow to the head; surprisingly, no sex scenes or sexual references; upper male nudity; alcohol use, drunkenness, people remark several times about how much booze was flowing during last party on a train trip, train makes special stop to buy more liquor; smoking, brief but positive references to cocaine, pot, LSD, and psychedelic drugs, and police appear to be talking to one very stoned hippie whom they are about to arrest or send for treatment; and, wild partying and people try to crash concert.
GENRE: Documentary/Concert Film
FESTIVAL EXPRESS is a documentary about a train tour that several famous rock and rollers took in the summer of 1970 in Canada. In between concerts in Toronto, Winnipeg and Calgary, the musicians and their crowded entourage spend time partying and playing music while the train is rolling.
Shot a year after Woodstock, it took nearly 35 years to compile and release this footage from the tour. The documentary features music and appearances by the late Janis Joplin, the late Jerry Garcia and his group The Grateful Dead, The Band, and Buddy Guy (“Money [That’s What I Want]”), the blues guitarist who influenced a generation of white rock acts and became the inspiration for The Blues Brothers. Reportedly, the DVD contains 12 additional songs.
FESTIVAL EXPRESS is an accurate, entertaining depiction of a special time and place. The photography is amazingly crisp and clear. Viewers get to see several of the most famous songs sung by Janis Joplin, The Band, The Grateful Dead, Buddy Guy, and others. The movie also contains recent interviews with some of the surviving musicians and the main promoter. The movie is rated R, however, for some strong foul language, drug references and talk about drinking a lot of alcohol. In fact, one of the Grateful Dead members recalls how someone at one point put some psychedelic drugs in a large display bottle full of liquor. “That train was buzzing down the rails,” he adds. “We achieved liftoff for sure.”
Some of the most interesting parts of the documentary are the nostalgia that the musicians say they feel for the tour, as well as comments about how the tour promoters lost money. Apparently, some radical protestors made a big fuss and got into some scuffles with the police, because they thought that the three concerts in Toronto, Winnipeg and Calgary should all be free. Some of the protestors even wanted free food and free dope, a witness recalls. To prevent riots, the tour promoters had to make arrangements for smaller, free concerts away from the sports stadiums where the main concert played. Although the musicians were glad to do the free concerts, one of the musicians speaks strongly against the protestors and defends the policemen trying to keep riots from breaking out. He even angrily denounces them for “busting” some cop “wide open.”
A surviving member of Janis Joplin’s band, recalls, “Time was sort of suspended (on the train). We wanted it to go on forever.” Ken Walker, the main promoter, recalls, however, “I gave the public too much, and they didn’t deserve it.” He admits the musicians had a good time partying and jamming with one another and that he was happy to provide them with all the food and drinks they wanted. In fact, he was so generous that the train had to make a special stop on the way to Calgary to pick up more alcohol because the musicians had drunk the train dry.
Despite the movie’s utopian, pagan worldview, Jerry Garcia sings “Better Take Jesus’ Hand” on the train, and his band’s recording of that song is played over the end credits. Even the radical utopian 60s had time for Jesus. If people back then had made more time for Jesus, maybe that generation would have actually attained more of their dreams, especially the good dreams. Certainly, the world would be a better place now if they had.