by Tom Hallett
The ‘Dial’s on the road this week, gang—or, to be a bit more specific, off the frickin’ rails on a whirlwind, cross-Canada train ride with some of your favorite Sixties rockers. Get yer ticket an’ climb on, there’s room for everybody. All aboooaarrdddd ... !!
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “I’m gettin’ it now, today. I don’t
even know where I’m gonna be twenty years from now, so I’m just
gonna keep on rockin’, ‘cause if I start saving up bits and pieces
of me, man, there ain’t gonna be nothin’ left for Janis.”
— Janis Joplin
SONG OF THE WEEK: “Mystery Train” — Elvis Presley
2004 New Line/Think Film
Rock history is rife with tales—some tall, some true—of famous
artists running into each other (you know ‘em—Harry Nilsson and
John Lennon getting stinking drunk and thrown out of bars, Janis Joplin blowing
Leonard Cohen, a lubricated Jim Morrison pouring himself on stage with Jimi
Hendrix and making a total fool of himself [that one’s true—I heard
the record –ed.]) and committing acts of perversity, atrocity and
decadence. But imagine taking two dozen of those Sixties counterculture icons,
throwing them willy-nilly on a train and booking them a tour through Canada.
Whatever would happen?
Everything you can imagine, and more, as it turns out. That is, after promoter/booker
Ken Walker rounded up The Band, Janis Joplin, The Grateful Dead, Ian & Sylvia,
The Buddy Guy Blues Band, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Delaney & Bonnie
& Friends and Mashmakhan in 1970, hooked ‘em up with festivals across
Canada and hired a train and a film crew. Interspersed with gorgeous footage
of the open, green Canadian countryside, shots of the bands both in concert
and in spontaneous, off-the-cuff, mobile jam sessions—along with interviews
with Walker and a few of the surviving members of the journey—make for
a thrilling, eye-opening experience.
Overshadowing the whole rolling rockfest, though, are the Vietnam War, the Nixon
administration and the ongoing cultural/social revolution—all of which
were felt nearly as keenly by our neighbors to the north as they were here in
the U.S. At some of the festival stops, angry mobs of would-be hippie kids threaten
to (and sometimes actually do) storm the gates, induce riots and take over the
shows unless they’re given certain special favors by Walker and his crew.
Though they acted under the banner of “positive resistance,” the
truth was that they wanted to get into the gigs for nothing, expecting the artists
to give them a free show, free food, free booze and free dope. At one stop,
the list of demands even included a cash donation of twenty bucks by the promoter
to every audience member. Eventually, the Grateful Dead agreed to put on a free
concert a few miles from the original spot, and though a small number of police,
rioters and legitimate festival attendees were injured in the melee, major damage
Walker, in recent interviews, recalls that neither he nor his company ever recouped
their losses from the Express trip, which is all the more reason fans of these
artists and rock history in general should find and pick up this footage ASAP.
If the drama, violence and stargazing doesn’t grab you, the musical performances
damn sure will.
rare concert footage from The Dead, The Band, Janis, Sha Na Na (who were at
one festival but not on the train) and Buddy Guy, this DVD captures some of
these artists at their creative peaks, others near their untimely demises (Joplin
died of a heroin overdose just a few months after this tour) and all of them
at their raw, unrehearsed musical best. Or worst—as the case (of beer)
may be. Either way, it’s fascinating to watch, listen to and soak up the
And what vibes they are. A train full of psychedelic-era heroes, ripped to the
gills on high-powered LSD, rails upon rails of pure blow—the film kicks
off with the Dead rippling through “Casey Jones”—and gallons
and gallons of liquor. And I do mean GALLONS. Despite Bob Weir’s claims
in a recent interview that most of the famous passengers didn’t have much
experience with booze at that point; the dining/bar car is packed throughout
the film, and at one point Walker has to order the engineer to stop at the very
next town to replenish the train’s alcohol supply. They take up a collection
of $800 and actually buy out the entire stock of a Saskatoon liquor store. There,
Walker finagles a gigantic display bottle of Canadian Club for the bands, the
bottom of which is soon littered with a healthy assortment of capsules, tabs
and half-dissolved pills. Talk about your long, strange trips.
Man, you can have your Orange Blossom Special, your Kansas City Southern and
your Orient and Marrakesh Expresses—the Fest is the Best!! “Gonna
take a freight train, down at the station, Lord ...” wait, those guys
weren’t there. Oh well, back to the electric Kool-Aid ... HIGHLY recommended.
Check it out at FestivalExpress.com.
That wraps ‘er up for this installment, kiddies. Tune in again, same
sweaty time, same sweaty page, for more ‘Dial. Until then—make yer
own damn news.||
If you have local music news/gigs/events/CDs you’d like to see mentioned
in this column, or you’d just like to shovel some coal into my furnace,
send replies to: Tmygunn777@peoplepc.com.