Sunday, May 18, 2008

Festival Express: Music for Hippies, 1970

Festival Express (2003, 2004 DVD) follows a handful of bands on a chartered train from Toronto to Winnipeg in the early summer of 1970. It's interesting as a milieu piece, but the mostly flakey music is aimed at mostly listless hippies. What's more interesting is what's missing: any comments on the Vietnam War, the invasion of Cambodia, Kent State, Earth Day, or ecology. Rather, greedy fans want to see whistle-stop shows for free; on board musicians want to party and jam. Some guy yells at "pigs" for not letting everyone come in for free. There seem to be only two women performers -- Janis Joplin (who overdosed three months after filming) and Sylvia Tyson.

Joplin's stage performances are well worth watching, even if the audio tracks have long been available. The Buddy Guy Blues Band is fun to see in action. But overall, while watching this trippy little train ride, I was reminded that down in Cleveland that same year, The Stooges were rocking hard, and Iggy Pop was furiously diving into an American crowd showing them what was what. This hippie stuff is a yawner by comparison -- at least in an unaltered state. But then again, I've never been much of a fan of The Grateful Dead or "mellow music," or what became known as "the California sound," either. To me, it usually sounds about on a par with the Lawrence Welk Show. Give me metal or give me punk, give me jazz or give me funk!

Janis Joplin: "Tell Mama!" For fans, all the scenes with Janis are worth checking out, including ones of her goofing on the train.

Sylvia Tyson's charisma comes through in Festival Express, even if at the time she's part of the lamely named Great Speckled Bird band.

Today's Rune: Protection.


Sidney said...

Sounds like an interesting piece. I always find both Janis and her music interesting.

the walking man said...

" we discovered on th train man, tomorrow never fucking comes man..."

The entire 'problem' of the hippie generation was summed up quite succinctly in that phrase. Easily frustrated, easily retreating back to a hallucinogenic euphoria.

Gimme The Who from the early days. They started the social rhetoric that the Sex Pistols, The Clash, Iggy and others invested in and carried on.


Anonymous said...

I think by 1970 the hippie movement was fraying and in decline. Flower power and the summer of love were judged to have 'failed', Woodstock was history, and ugly-old Altamont a more recent event. Idealism was on the wane. Nevertheless we know that there certainly were still 'hippies' around, who started the environmental movement and led the charge on the first Earth Day. Maybe what shows up in that movie (admittedly, I haven't seen it) is not so much remnants of the 60's counterculture, but a foreshadowing of the 1970's self-adsorbed me-generation, starting to emerge from the rubble. Just a thought.


Anonymous said...

I'm sure most of these comments are from people not even born at the time of the Festival Express concerts. As a Calgary radio DJ in 1970, I attended the show, and I enjoyed the experience. All events in time are unique as they relate to their place in history. It's the supreme arrogance of critics to invalidate the past experiences of others. If you weren't there, your opinion doesn't matter.

Anonymous said...

A memorable CC Rider fom Sylvia Edson on this dvd.