Monday, July 16, 2012

Festival Express, Transcontinental Railway, Canada

The Canadian National Railways (CNR) was created in 1919 on June 6, comprising several railways that had become bankrupt and fallen into federal government hands, along with some railways already owned by the government.
The Canadian National Railway Company is a Canadian Class I railway headquartered in Montreal, Quebec. CN's slogan is "North America's Railroad".
CN is the largest railway in Canada, in terms of both revenue and the physical size of its rail network, and is currently Canada's only transcontinental railway company, spanning Canada from the Atlantic coast in Nova Scotia to the Pacific coast in British Columbia. Known as Canadian National Railways (CNR) between 1918 and 1960 and as Canadian National/CanadienNational (CN) from 1960 to present.

In 1968, CN introduced a new high-speed train, the United Aircraft Turbo, which was powered by gas turbines instead of diesel engines. It made the trip between Toronto and Montreal in four hours, but was not entirely successful because it was somewhat uneconomical and not always reliable. The trainsets were retired in 1982 and later scrapped at Naporano Iron and Metal in New Jersey.

In 1970, with seemingly every North American city of any size holding a rock festival after the success of Woodstock, Ken Walker and Thor Eaton, a pair of Canadian entrepreneurs and music buffs, had an idea: instead of setting up one massive show with a bunch of top-name acts, why not stage a series of them across the country? With this in mind, Walker (then only 22 years old) and Eaton (whose family owned one of Canada's most successful department store chains) signed up Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead, the Band, Buddy Guy, the Flying Burrito Brothers, and several others and hired out a private train that would carry the musicians in high style for a string of five shows from Toronto to Calgary. The jaunt was called "The Festival Express," and a camera crew tagged along to capture the shows on film, as well as the constant party that took place en route. The tour proved to be a financial bust and, as a result, the footage sat on the shelf for over thirty years until director Bob Smeaton recut the material into Festival Express, which not only documents the glorious folly of the tour, but offers a hindsight look at the events from some of the surviving participants. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi
For five glorious days in the summer of 1970, the customized train rocked its way across Canada's heartland, delivering its talented passengers -- an all-star lineup of musicians -- to daylong mega- concerts in Toronto, Winnipeg and Calgary.
As fondly captured in the new documentary "Festival Express," the train hauled the Grateful Dead, the Band, [Janis Joplin] and dozens of other musicians as they jammed and partied 'round the clock, stopping only to perform, occasionally sleep and make a special layover in Saskatoon to restock the alcohol.(1)
The musicians traveled by chartered Canadian National Railways train, in a total of 14 cars (two engines, one diner, five sleepers, two lounge cars, two flat cars, one baggage car, and one staff car).[5]

The event, initially billed as the Transcontinental Pop Festival, was being promoted by Eaton-Walker Associates (consisting of Thor Eaton, George Eaton, and Ken Walker) and the Industrial and Trade Shows of Canada (ITS) division of MacLean-Hunter Publishing Company.[5][7][8]

  • Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter was on the trip, and soon after wrote "Might as Well", a song filled with imagery from the legendary trip that was often played live by the Grateful Dead, but released as a studio tune on the 1976 Jerry Garcia solo album Reflections.[31][32]


Jerry and Sylvia Tyson on board Festival Express
The Cast of the film Festival Express Janis Joplin & The Full Tilt Boogie Band
Janis Joplin
Delaney & Bonnie & Friends
The Flying Burrito Brothers
Sha Na Na
Buddy Guy Blues Band
Buddy Guy
The Grateful Dead
Jerry Garcia
Bob Weir
Phil Lesh
Mickey Hart
The Band
Rick Danko
Ken Pearson
Richard Bell
John Till
Ian & Sylvia & The Great Speckled Bird
Sylvia Tyson
Jerry Mercer
Kenny Gradney
David Dalton
James Cullingham
Rob Bowman
Ken Walker

A first hand account:
"A fellow with a long beard and overalls, a dead ringer for R. Crumb’s Mr. Natural, invited me on board. You’re either on the bus or off the bus… I got on. We were halfway to Canada before I asked where we were going. “They’re having a festival, man. Traveling by train from Toronto to Calgary, stopping in all the cities.  Janis, the Band…the Grateful Dead.”
Oh yeah.
Things being loose the way they were in those days, we somehow got invited to park the bus in each outdoor venue , and attend the concerts - free. We acted as a kind of sideshow, festival goers boarding the bus to see us sprawled out on mattresses. Far out, real Hippies! Actually we were college students, though our hair was real long.
In Winnipeg we got invited on the train, which was stopped on a siding. I climbed on (You’re either on the train or off the train), wandering through cars where famous musicians lay on bunks recovering from the previous night’s party. I opened the door into the dining car, and there, sitting like a couple of normal everyday freaks, mortals, just eating their scrambled eggs and toast, were Jerry Garcia and Phil Lesh. I stood thinking furiously for something to say. Phil got up, excused himself and fled down the car.
“Uh, I’m a reporter for the Wesleyan newspaper – remember playing there?”
“Yeah, man.”
“Could I, um, interview you?”  Up to that moment I’d never had a thing to do with the paper, but never mind, now I was a reporter.
He grinned at me, that famous grin, and said, “Sure. How about now?”
Well yes.
Though I had plenty of questions, it was no interview, just us rapping about music. He told me about the Tibetan throat singers, I told him about the Javanese Gamelan and drummers from Ghana at Wesleyan, and suddenly had an idea – Hey you guys could come back and jam with them…”Yeah, arrange it, we’ll come.” (The music department later shot down the idea).
As the conversation lengthened to over an hour, and Garcia showed no signs of boredom, I felt this glow growing in my chest –a feeling of acceptance into the tribe of freaks, of validation for the lifestyle I’d embraced. For if ever there was a king of the hippies, he was Jerry Garcia. And smiling like that – and being able to play guitar like that – I knew surely that he must be a good and wise king.
Then he sealed the deal. On a whim, I asked, “Did you ever read Something Wicked This Way Comes?” It had been the most important book of my youth. “Oh yeah, man! That was my favorite book.” It was no longer him and me, but we. We freaks. We musicians…
I sought his advice, telling him of my frustration trying to get a band together.  He laughed, “Oh just get your friends to play. That’s what I did.”
By now we’d really been talking for a long time. I wondered why he was wasting time with some kid like me. He offered a clue, “There was a birthday party last night for Delaney,” (of Delaney and Bonnie) “Somehow with the Dead, whenever there’s a birthday someone always manages to dose the cake…I had a piece.”
That hadn’t been breakfast they’d been eating, as in just woke up and had breakfast. That was breakfast after staying up all night and finally coming down from acid. Though I’m sure that was a common enough occurrence for him, it struck me as if I’d gone on a pilgrimage to see St. Francis, and seen the stigmata pop out on his hands.
The train started hissing and snorting, like it was going to leave. I had to get back to the blue bus.  “Hey, great to meet you.” “You too, man!”  At that moment the door at the other end of the car slammed open and a human whirlwind blew through the car and out the other door, trailing a slipstream of bright scarf.  It wasn’t until I was back on the bus and inspected the image etched on my eyeballs that I realized that grinning storm was Janis Joplin.
In the fall I remembered Jerry’s words, “Get your friends to play.” My friends and I had been screwing around for years trying to get a band together. We could never find the right drummer. Within days of getting back to school we found him, and finally had our band.
And the memory of Jerry sitting, grinning across from me on the train, came to me when the going got tough in the music business, “That’s what I did…” After hearing that, I could do it too."(9)

In 1995, the federal government privatized CN.


Jerry jammed  on board this train during
The train journey between cities ultimately became a combination of non-stop jam sessions and partying, fueled by alcohol. One highlight of the documentary is a drunken jam session featuring The Band's Rick Danko, the Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir, NRPS John Dawson and Janis Joplin.[4][6]

In another, Garcia, Weir, Dawson and Janis led drunken revelers through a bunch of Beatles songs, like "I've Just Seen a Face" and "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away."

One jam featured Delaney Bramlett, Garcia, bassist Kenny Gradney and the three members of Mountain all playing a lazy Delta blues. 

Janis led a gang of players through "Goodnight Irene" and the song that became the Festival Express' poignant and somewhat ironic unofficial theme song, "Me & Bobby McGee," with its refrain, "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose/ Nothin' ain't worth nothin' but it's free." Bob Weir brought that song into the Dead's repertoire in November 1970, and an old folk song Garcia relearned from Delaney on the trip, "Going Down the Road Feeling Bad," became a Dead staple that fall as well.

The footage in "Festival Express" bears witness to this: as the countryside chugs by outside, Garcia gets into a deep blues jam with Buddy Guy.(2)

Jerry Garcia solos with Sylvia Tyson in an ethereal rendition of “Better Take Jesus’ Hand” and rocks the house with a Buddy Guy duet of “I Can’t Do It Baby.”(10)
How much footage is still missing? And what did this footage contain?
Allegedly there are many hours of filmed material still missing. This became evident when I would hear audio materials but be unable to find the relevant footage to go with the audio. This was the case with Janis’ version of “Me and Bobby McGee.” I searched in vain for this footage. As the performance was so strong and of such historical value, I decided to run the audio over the closing credits of the film. This was also the case with The New Riders’ performance of “Better Take Jesus’ Hand.” I hope one day this lost film footage may come to light.

How much footage is still missing? And what did this footage contain?
Allegedly there are many hours of filmed material still missing.(3)

1.)^Crust, Kevin, Movies; REVIEW; Rockin' and railin' in Canada, circa 1970; 'Festival Express',  L.A. Times, 2004-07-30
2.)^Fauth, Jurgen, Festival Express, You're Either On the Train or Off the Train,
5.)^McCracken, Melinda (1 May 1970). "A mobile rock festival for 4 cities". The Globe and Mail (Toronto): pp. 15.
6.)^Selvin, Joel (12 July 2004). "Film documenting ill-fated Canadian train tour by Dead, Joplin rumbles to life after decades in purgatory". San Francisco Chronicle.
7.)^ McCracken, Melinda (18 April 1970). "Peace also has its hawks and doves in the pop festival business". The Globe and Mail (Toronto): pp. 25.
8.)^Communication from Department of Permits and Licenses". Vancouver, BC. 6 April 1970. 
9.)^Manchester, John, A Converstaion With Captain Trips, 
31.)^Forrester, James (2004). "Festival Express Takes Off".
32.)^Dodd, David (7 January 1997). "The Annotated "Might As Well"". The Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics.   

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