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Festival Express
15 Festival Express (2004)

updated 18 August 2004
reviewer's rating
3 out of 5
Reviewed by Neil Smith
average user rating
4 Star


Director
Bob Smeaton
Stars
Janis Joplin
The Grateful Dead
Sha Na Na
Buddy Guy Blues Band
The Flying Burrito Brothers
Length
88 minutes
Distributor
Optimum Releasing
Cinema
03 September 2004
Country
USA
Genre
Documentary
Web Links
Official site


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Average star rating: 4 from 342 votes

"I don't know where you've been all week, but we've been at a party!" The party that Janis Joplin refers to is the subject of Festival Express, a new rockumentary revisiting - in all its drug-fuelled, hedonistic glory - a five-day tour in June 1970 that took some of the era's most influential bands across Canada by train. Though a few of the outfits involved have since slipped into obscurity (Sha Na Na, anyone?), Bob Smeaton's film contains enough concert footage and outrageous behaviour to fill a dozen Spinal Taps.

Dubbed "the million-dollar bash" by Rolling Stone magazine, the tour was billed as Canada's answer to Woodstock: a moving extravaganza that would begin in Toronto before steaming west to Winnipeg, Calgary, and Vancouver. With over 20 groups on the bill, the organisers thought they couldn't lose. But some fans objected to the $14 ticket price and chose to storm the gates instead. The Mounties reacted, and soon the promoters had a riot on their hands.

"JANIS JOPLIN FITTINGLY TAKES CENTRE STAGE"

Things continued in a similarly deranged fashion as The Band, The Grateful Dead et al spent the next five days jamming, toking, and drinking the train dry. (One priceless section shows them making an unscheduled stop in Saskatoon to stock up on booze.) The tour was a disaster and never made it to its destination. With hindsight, however, it emerges as one of the last howls of defiance from the counter-culture decade, made all the more poignant by the fact that many of those involved are no longer around to remember it.

Joplin, for one, died of a heroin overdose just three months later, so it's fitting that she takes centre stage. Her thrilling renditions of Cry Baby and Tell Mama are obvious standouts in a movie that gives a whole new meaning to the phrase rock'n'roll.

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