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Festival Express (DVD)
The vintage concert footage alone makes Festival Express a memorable and worthwhile endeavor, offering scintillating performances by Janis Joplin, the Band (their rollicking version of "Slippin' and Slidin'" is particularly mind-blowing), the Grateful Dead, Buddy Guy, and others (remember Mashmakhan?). In 1970, during the heyday of the rock festival, promoter Ken Walker decided to organize a traveling musical revue, bringing the mountain to Mohammed, as it were. In five days' time, the festival played in three Canadian cities with the entire conglomeration traveling, playing, and getting smashed together the whole way. Nearly as rewarding as the live performances are the candid scenes of the train ride itself, an endless jam session and party during which musicians of all shapes and sizes let their hair down--musically and otherwise. The contemporary interviews with Walker and some of the surviving musicians aren't particularly noteworthy, except as a way to prove that it all actually happened. Walker comes off as a hero in the film: he treated the musicians like royalty and insisted that the train roll on even though he was losing his shirt. (His financial failure is a large reason why this material stayed in the vaults for so long.) Perhaps the most remarkable scene is an off-the-cuff, LSD-fueled train jam featuring Joplin, the Band's Rick Danko, and the Dead's Jerry Garcia playing the old chestnut "Ain't No More Cane." Danko is so obliterated that even Janis has to ask him if he's OK--when Janis is worried about your state of mind, you must be pretty messed up. --Marc Greilsamer
- Over 50 minutes of bonus concert footage
- Uninterrupted music tracks
- Extended interviews
- Making-of featurette
- Photo gallery
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Top customer reviews
This film captured so much of the catalytic days of the late 60s and early 70s, including a youth movement that imploded on its own sense of unrealistic idealism.
The promoter seems a little embittered, rightly so, that these shows were protested and boycotted because they were not free like Woodstock. Despite losing his shirt on this event, he pulled out all of the stops for the acts that had signed on and as the result, his concert promotion has taken its place in history as a moment that transformed most of those on board the train.
The music of the 60s in its purest form was an experiment in free living, free thinking, and improvisation. These elements are present abundantly on this video. Heck, the footage of Janis alone is worth the price, but there are many more jewels in this disc, too many to mention. Suffice it to say that by the end of the train ride many of the traditional barriers had broken away, including who belonged to what band. The resulting free form explorations are an absolute joy to behold.
This may be one of the last vestiges of the "utopian experiement" that was the 60s. For what it is worth, it lives on in the hearts and minds of many of us who were involved.
This is a must have in any collection of music from this era.
I bought this the day the "extended two disc set" came out and should have written a review long ago. If you ever traveled long miles to see The Band, or The Grateful Dead then buy this dvd. Festival Express brings these bands right to you, young and vital and having fun.
It's funny, or fun to watch some of the other bands, and to see a glimpse of ourselves "as others see us" as concert goers.
This is a lot more natural and less showbiz than "The Last Waltz", more homey but not as epic as "Woodstock". It belongs in that tier of rock movies, though because how well it captures and presents performances of these bands, and because of the "backstage pass" onto the train.
The young and drunk Janis, Jerry and Rick on the train singing "No More Cane" is as bittersweet as several reviewers have mentioned. Jerry Garcia stepping forward to face the rioting freeloaders shows the real and wry and confident Jerry Garcia.
If you've got a spouse or friend who still buys "Dicks Picks" or "Road Trips" of the Dead or who still talks about how perfect "The Band" concerts were, they will love this. If you're the one who fits that description, either you have Festival Express, or you need it now.
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