Festival Express is set in the 70’s and everything portrayed in this new documentary is old 70’s footage. Imagine being transported into the glorious past when all the best performers were still alive and giving off their best.
Set in the summer of 1970, a series of music concerts were held across Canada from Toronto to Winnipeg to Calgary. The Festival Express full movie online was the brainchild of promoters Ken Walker and Thor Eaton. Instead of having the performers fly in and out of each city, Walker and Eaton assembled them on a rented CN (Canadian National) train, where the bands jammed, smoked pot, did LSD and drank watching Festival Express free and made its way across the great landscape. “No one sleeps on this train”, one performer quips, and it is so true – this is one big party. In the words of Janis Joplin: “the next time you throw another train, call me!”
Director Bob Smeaton, a music documentarist who had worked before with The Who, The Beatles and Genesis, captures the spirit of the then current performers and the atmosphere of the times. His decision to concentrate particularly on the more well-known bands works well as Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead, Sha-Na-Na, the Band and the Flying Burrito Brothers are extremely charismatic on the big screen and also online. Smeaton balances the success of the trip with the problems faced by the promoters.
In every Canadian city, trouble in one form or another raises its ugly head. In Toronto, protesters demand to watch a free show as music is free, as they claim. In Calgary, the mayor decides to be a hero and demands the gates be open for the children. Little do these people realize (which Smeaton tactfully demonstrates), the amount of money that goes into assembling the bands, hiring the security and renting the equipment, venue and props. And the $14 ticket price amounts to less than $1 per major band.
A fair bit of screen time is given to the performances of the various artists, spread out appropriately throughout the film. And it is quite the treat to watch Festival Express online and these famous performers let loose in the train, jamming, talking, laughing and just having the time of their lives. The good times rub off to the audience.
One would naturally wonder why it took more than 30 years for the documentary to reach theatre screens. But the legal battles were finally solved and the hundred hours or so of raw footage were finally gathered into this fascinating period piece. It is a special treat for those who especially love the music of these great bands. And for those who don’t, it is still worth the journey to experience what might have been missed. Simply extraordinary!