I may be late to this party -- and what a party it was! -- but I've just watched Festival Express and I've got to tell somebody about it.
I've been on a bit of concert-movie binge lately. It started when I dug out my old copy of The Last Waltz, probably the best concert movie ever made. And I'm not the only one that thinks so, either. If that's what it says in Wikipedia, it must be true, right?
Wikipedia has become a constant companion when I'm watching these concert events. It's amazing how much the background articles can add to the movie. Try it out yourself.
That lead me to Heart of Gold, Jonathan Demme's homage to rocker Neil Young, shot in Nashville's legendary Ryman Auditorium as part of Young's Prairie Wind tour.
The other day, I picked up Festival Express at my local DVD rental place. The guy who owns it is a musician and he's got a great selection of concert videos. I'd heard of Festival Express when it was released in 2004, but I'd never actually seen it. (I've also got Bird and The Ballad of Ramblin' Jack queued up.)
I wasn't prepared for how powerful this movie is. It features some absolutely stunning performances from legends like Janis Joplin, The Band, Buddy Guy, the Grateful Dead - and the list goes on.
The Festival Express was a unique musical adventure which took place over a week in July, 1970. (Here's a more complete piece on the tour itself.) It was an amazing time. It was the summer after Woodstock and music, drugs and love were everywhere.
The footage comes from three outdoor concerts - in Toronto, Winnipeg and Calgary, culled from the day-long events in each city. But what made the Festival Express unique was that instead of flying from one city to another, the tour organizers chartered a train to carry the performers. And it turned into "the longest party in rock-n-roll history," as the movie poster attests.
It's a priceless slice of musical history. Janis Joplin's "Cry, Baby" (just three months before her death) rates as one of the most powerful performances I've ever seen. You can really understand why even today her legendary status is still untouchable.
There are other memorable moments from artists who are no longer with us, like Rick Danko, Richard Manuel and Jerry Garcia. But thanks to this amazing footage, their music and their part in this unique event will live on forever.
Thank goodness that someone documented this event and others, like The Last Waltz. It lets us all share in those special moments. As Sylvia Tyson says, "It was a totally unique experience. I've never had one like it before or since."
The power of music to affect us is undeniable. That's why strict regimes prohibit it and why it thrives in adversity. When that power is paired with a stunning visual experience, we all benefit.
What about you? What are your most memorable musical experiences? Perhaps it was that Meatloaf concert you never got over, or the first time you saw K.D. Lang performing in her Patsy Cline get-up at the student union building. Let me know. The comment box is always just a click away.
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