Festival Express

I recently rented the DVD Festival Express, the documentary released last year about the summer 1970 trio of rock festivals in Canada. That summer, a number of musicians took part in a traveling rock show offering Woodstock-style festivals in three Canadian cities -- Toronto, Winnipeg, and Calgary -- and traveled by train between cities. The train took days at a time to reach each destination, and in between stops, the various musicians jammed on the train. Fortunately for us, a film crew also went along for the ride.

The main acts featured are the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin (three months before her death), the Band, Buddy Guy, and the Flying Burrito Brothers. (The FBB lineup was Chris Hillman, Bernie Leadon, Sneaky Pete Kleinow, and Michael Clarke. No sign of Gram Parsons, or even Rick Roberts). All of those artists get good showcases here. There is even a brief appearance by Sha Na Na; how did they fit into these hippie festivals?

One phenomenon this film shows (which was also evident in Message To Love, a documentary of the Isle Of Wight festival that also took place in summer 1970) was the sense of entitlement that the hippie generation had. At all three stops, hippies demanded to be allowed into the festivals for free, a la Woodstock, and sometimes became violent when they were not given free admission. The so-called "peace and love" movement was clearly on its last legs. Any constituency with an entitlement attitude such as this cannot hope to survive; this is a lesson that contemporary freeloaders ought to heed.

Most of the bonus performances on the DVD are from the lesser-known acts that were on the bill. But the ones by the Grateful Dead feature lead vocal turns by Ron "Pigpen" McKernan, three years before his death from a liver ailment. Janis Joplin also gets two bonus tracks.