SongTrain.com has potential applications that excite and stagger the imagination. One of these visions is the re-birth and activation of the Festival Express of 1970.
Festival Express is a 2003 rockumentary film about the legendary 1970 train tour across Canada taken by some of the world's biggest rock bands, including The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, and The Band. The documentary film combines footage shot during the 1970 concerts, as well as the train ride itself, interspersed with present-day interviews with tour participants sharing their often hilarious recollections of the time.
The film was produced by Gavin Poolman (son of the original 1970 film shoot's producer, Willem Poolman) together with John Trapman, and directed by double Grammy Award-winner Bob Smeaton (The Beatles Anthology), with music produced by Eddie Kramer (Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin), and features original footage shot in 1970 by Academy Award-winning cinematographer Peter Biziou (Mississippi Burning, Pink Floyd: The Wall, The Truman Show). The original 1970 footage was filmed by director Frank Cvitanovich. A DVD release followed the film's theatrical run.
Festival Express was unique among rock festivals - rather than being held in one location, it was staged in three - Toronto, Winnipeg and Calgary (Vancouver was to have been the third city, but Calgary was chosen instead due to "anti-hippie" edicts from Vancouver mayor Tom Campbell). And, rather than flying to each city, many of the musicians traveled by chartered Canadian National Railways train, fostering an atmosphere of musical creativity and closeness between the performers. The trips between cities were a mix of jam sessions and partying, fueled by excess alcohol. Among the memorable scenes depicted in the film was a drunken and acid-fueled jam with The Band's Rick Danko, the Dead's Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir, and Janis Joplin.
By the time the festival started, there was a movement amongst North American youth that rock concerts should be free. As at Woodstock, many kids showed up with no intention of paying the $14 admission. Despite the financial hardship this caused promoters Ken Walker and Thor Eaton, the train continued on, providing a rich environment in which the traveling bands could jam and interact.
In the film, musician Kenny Gradney, who performed with Delaney and Bonnie and Friends, said: "It was better than Woodstock, as great as Woodstock was."
The traveling show highlighted several points in the transitioning effects of music in the post-idealism of the late 60's, as large groups of protesters started riots to get into the shows for free, and the promoters attempted to bring a traveling festival to a host of cities. Even the intervention of various Canadian police forces couldn't reconcile the resulting chaos.
While the promoters took a major hit, the shows were still a fantastic success, featuring now legendary performances by the Grateful Dead, The Band, Janis Joplin, and Buddy Guy. The Dead were just beginning to transform their sound from roots, folk and blues into a more improvised and psychedelic feel; The Band's performance showed them at the very pinnacle of the their powers; and for Joplin, this would turn out to be one of her last recorded performances