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With: The Band, Delaney & Bonnie and Friends, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Grateful Dead, Buddy Guy Blues Band, Ian Sylvia and the Great Speckled Bird, Janis Joplin, Mashmakhan, Sha Na Na
Written by: n/a
Directed by: Bob Smeaton
MPAA Rating: R for some language
Running Time: 90
Date: 09/09/2003

Festival Express (2004)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Ridin' that Train, High on Cocaine

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This vintage concert documentary has the right idea. While most concert films can get stagy and stagnant, Festival Express stays fresh by moving -- literally. Shot in 1970, the film depicts the amazing "Festival Express" train tour across Canada, in which a trainload of musicians partied and jammed on the tracks and made occasional stops to play for fans. Running 90 minutes, Festival Express mixes concert footage of the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, The Band, Buddy Guy and others with the far more interesting and candid footage of the train parties and jam sessions. Like a fly on the wall, we listen in as Jerry Garcia and others cross genres and join together for rousing rock 'n' roll renditions of old spirituals and other nuggets. Directed by Bob Smeaton, the film comes close to joining Woodstock (1970), Gimme Shelter (1970) and The Last Waltz (1978) as an important concert film but doesn't quite find the center that makes it great. It's also saddled with music by long forgotten and irrelevant bands like the Flying Burrito Brothers and Sha Na Na. Even so, it's a hugely entertaining historical document with some great, great music.

DVD Details: Happily, New Line's 2-disc DVD comes with more music, about 40 minutes worth that did not make the final film, several featurettes about the tour itself, and the making of the film.

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