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4.6 out of 5 stars
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4.6 out of 5 stars
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on 3 March 2005
Consisting of live performances from the late 60's American Rock Royalty on their eccentric boozy train ride through Canada - The Band, Janis Joplin, The Grateful Dead being the main players - this DVD is a must buy for any connoiseur of popular modern music. The picture quality is good and the sound is excellent. Narration of events comes from the surviving members of the Grateful Dead,Janis Joplin's backing band, some of the lesser known acts and the actual organiser - a man who stopped the train to go hunting for a bear! However, the Jewels in the crown here are the extras that include: 50 minutes of "extra" performances, a making of documentary and extended interviews of all concerned in putting together this vital document of the Canadian Woodstock...on wheels!!
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on 11 January 2006
Acknowledgements first to Mr. P. Kantner for the kind unauthorized use of his line for the title.
Before I begin on the DVD proper let me just say how welcome it is that all of these films and CDs from the sixties era are now making their way into the public arena. With a remastered Concert for Bangladesh on the horizon and the impending DVD about John Cipollina together with the wonderful remastered Blows Against the Empire, there is more about the time than ever before.
Turning to Festival Express, I originally was going to do a review based on the music alone and, from my vantage point as an oft-deprived of performance expatriat Brit fan of the Grateful Dead, I wanted to say that the rare footage of PigPen which graces this set was worth the price alone. But there was not really that much in the way of performances here that I chose not to and in the end, much later I returned to the movie.
This short rockumentary, ostensibly about the travels of a group of musicians across Canada in 1970 appearing at several festivals along the way, serves an unitended purpose in setting the backdrop to the lives of musicians in that era. Certainly for afficionados of the American music scene of the time, the existance of this film record is an affectionate look at how these drug crazed musicians are actually pretty normal people who work in a particular area and who rarely get the opportunity to share their talents and skills and even exchange views never mind just hang out and party together. The movie shows these people getting along, having a good time but also cross fertilizing the different shades of muiscal genres. Fans may mock Van Morrison's railings about life on the road but ask any salesman about going from town to town for weeks on end and you will gain some understanding. So from a musical point of view, this film about the rolling minstrels, is a little gem, especially as I said, for the all too brief footage of PigPen and the awesome power of janis Joplin. What a great shame that too large a number of that passenger list are no longer with us.
The really interesting thing for me was to re-examine the movie from a point of view that was dominating the news of the period. We all hear of the radicalism of the sixties of the sexual and drug revolutions and the creative maelstrom that was loosened but for a lot of mainstream America the dominance was the anti-war movement and the student radicalism which built upon that base. Hippie idealism was often hijacked by this other radicalism and it is this which is documented here. The anti-capitalist Canadian radicals, sometimes with orthodox political support, set about campaigning for the festivals to be free. One concert was faced with threats to break down the doors because the music belonged to the people. This threat was ameliorated after the Dead agreed to put on a live show on flatbeds outside the arena. It is the gap between the ideals of the radicals and the realities of the musicians which exposes many of the conflicts which existed in the broader American society and which are confronted in the movie. Although the musicians are shown as feted by the fetival promoters we are not left with the view that at the end of the day they got into their Rolls Royces and are driven off home. The travel, the drugs, the making a living for their people back home, are all shown up here and Garcia makes a telling point about how musicians, like fools, and their money, are soon parted. The idealistic radicals too do not face their own demands as discussed with the tale of how a musician tells a protestor that he will come down to the store when the protester works to collect the people's suit.
Similarly the views on authority are also instructive when Bob Weir relates his views about the attacks on the police. The principle he annunciates is of non-violence and his concern is for the cop as a working man not some vague stereotype of an agent of the authoritarian police.
All in all the movie is a very valid piece of social history from the time when the genie was let out of the bottle. never again can their be a summer of love. Tha last train has left and it will not be coming back.
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A line-up of remarkable music talents: Janis Joplin, Flying Burritos (without Gram Parsons, but including two Byrds!), The Band, Grateful Dead, Ian and Sylvia etc. There are some absolutely wonderful moments, such as Jerry Garcia jamming and flirting with Janis on the train, The Band rocking out on stage (Richard Manual's playing is blissful). I was hoping for more footage of Janis on stage with Full Tilt Boogie, because in those last few months of her life she was getting back to form, as the Pearl album would reveal. Still, this is a fascinating document of a unique musical journey.
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on 12 October 2005
Acknowledgements first to Mr. P. Kantner for the kind unauthorized use of his line for the title.
Before I begin on the DVD proper let me just say how welcome it is that all of these films and CDs from the sixties era are now making their way into the public arena. Turning to Festival Express, I originally was going to do a review based on the music alone and, from my vantage point as an oft-deprived of performance expatriat Brit fan of the Grateful Dead, I wanted to say that the rare footage of PigPen which graces this set was worth the price alone. So from a musical point of view, this film about the rolling minstrels, is a little gem, especially as I said, for the all too brief footage of PigPen and the awesome power of janis Joplin. What a great shame that too large a number of that passenger list are no longer with us.
The really interesting thing for me was to re-examine the All in all the movie is a very valid piece of social history from the time when the genie was let out of the bottle. never again can their be a summer of love. Tha last train has left and it will not be coming back.
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on 10 March 2005
If you are not moved by this DVD, then you are probably dead. This is the greatest collection of live and jammed 60's material I have ever seen. Janis Joplin jamming with the Grateful Dead - need I say more?
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on 17 March 2015
This is a film you can watch over and over again, and it never fails to make you smile. The musical content within the film itself, plus the ten additional bonus tracks, is great, but the story of the whole trip is simply amazing; it is almost unbelievable that such an escapade could ever have happened, even in the 70s.

You really do get a chance to see the participants just having a good time, and there is not the slightest pose or pretence about any of them. I was particularly struck by Jerry Garcia and Janis Joplin, and Rick Danko from the Band. What brilliant characters they were! Also the long-suffering tour organiser, Ken Walker, who was totally indefatigable.

The actual film was not put together until donkey's years after the actual event but it retains the genuine feel of the period when it was made. Notably, the film shows the problems that were caused by the persistent attempts to disrupt the tour caused by the troublemakers who demanded that 'Music should be free!'. This now seems totally bizarre, but it was a major phenomenon in the late 60s/early 70s, which was a shame.
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on 18 March 2012
'Woodstock was a treat for the audience, the train was a treat for the performers' was how one passenger described this week long event staged in 1970. Some of the biggest names in rock travelled across Canada by train with the occasional festival interrupting the revelries; it was one of those crazy, off the wall ventures that could never happen today.
Using recently unearthed footage this film follows its ups & downs: along the way we see radicals protesting about ticket prices, a drunken Jerry Garcia declaring his undying love for Janis Joplin, the passengers buying the entire contents of a liquor store, and everyone generally having the time of their lives.
Musically, The Band and Grateful Dead are in great form but it's Janis who steals the show, singing "Cry Baby" as if her life depended on it - she could teach the Mariah Careys of this world a thing or two about singing from the heart. The picture quality is astonishing considering it was kept in someone's garage for thirty years.
When the train hit the buffers at Calgary it was not just the end of the journey but an era as well. In the 1970s big business sank its claws into Rock and freewheeling events like this gave way to soulless stadium tours with bands being ferried around in private jets and limos. This film is a wonderful snapshot of a more naive and innocent time.
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on 8 March 2005
This is probably the last great rock n roll film that will ever be made. Most people (including me) will not have witnessed live footage of The Grateful Dead with Pigpen, they are veeeery hot. Special mention also for Buddy Guy who plays guitar like a tornado. In the end it's not even a matter of taste... This is the best there is. Any magazine that has rated this at 4/5 will regret it. Mark my words.
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on 13 October 2012
A must see for any rock n' roll fan, as more than any other film, this shows how the music was (and still is) what matters the most. The story of the promoter Kenny Walker's crazy dream to take the show on the train tracks and how it all falls apart around him while the performers have the greatest party of their lives is both hilarious and charming, and the Janis, Dead and Band footage (and sound) are nothing short of fabulous.

Watch this - it's great. And then watch it again!
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on 18 July 2011
Great little DVD, contains some of the best Janis performances, as well as giving a great documentary footage of the non-stop one week party on the train partaken by all musicians. The only dissapointment is that it is not sufficiently long - DVD ended too soon for me. Good old times, great music, great music promoters who didn't care about the money - all gone but not forgotten!
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