The Festival Express

Transcontinental Pop Festival… better known as the Festival Express. Great idea on paper… rounding up musicians in 1970 and placing them on a train going across Canada and stopping along the way to play festivals. What could go wrong? Actually, I would have loved to have been on that train.

The lineup:

The Band

The Grateful Dead

Janis Joplin

Buddy Guy Blues Band

The Fly Burrito Brothers

Sha Na Na

Delaney & Bonnie & Friends

There were artists that were not in the film like Traffic, Ten Years After, Tom Rush, Ian & Sylvia, Mountain and more.

A DVD was released of this in 2004. All these musicians on a train full of liquor and an assortment of drugs… liquor was the popular choice among the musicians on this ride. The tour was to have events in Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary, and Vancouver. The Montreal event was canceled as was Vancouver. In Toronto, protesters were saying the festival promoters were price gouging so The Grateful Dead played a free concert in a park nearby to ease tensions with the protesters.

There are some very good performances on the film. My favorite is Buddy Guy and Janis Joplin’s performance. I also like the Dead’s “Don’t Ease Me In” with Pigpen on blues harp. The festival lost money and the film was thought lost for over 30 years. Janis would be gone a few months after this but her performance of Cry Baby is electrifying.

The train was where the fun was at. They actually stopped at a liquor store and bought out the complete store…including the giant display bottles. The Dead’s crew even dosed some of the liquor…and cake with LSD as you will see below… on board. When watching the film you can see the performers are having a ball jamming with each other because they didn’t get a lot of chances to do that on the road.

Bill Kreutzmann (drummer for the Dead) from his book “Deal”

We celebrated Janis Joplin’s birthday at the last stop the traditional way: with birthday cake. In keeping with our own kind of tradition, somebody—within our ranks, I would imagine—had secretly infused the cake with a decent amount of LSD. So it quickly became an electric birthday celebration. Allegedly, some generous pieces of that birthday cake made it to the hands and mouths of the local police who were working the show. “Let them eat cake!” (To be fair, I didn’t have anything to do with that … I was just another cake-eating birthday reveler, that night.)
And that was it for the Festival Express. It was a wonderful time and I think what really made it great was the level of interaction and camaraderie among the musicians, day and night, as we were all trapped on this train careening across the great north. It probably helped that we were all trashed the entire time. Whiskey was in the conductor’s seat on that ride.

I would recommend getting the DVD of this event. It’s a great time capsule of that time in music and culture.

Author: badfinger20 (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

28 thoughts on “The Festival Express”

      1. Bahahaha…
        My Dad and this is a true story said he gave up on Rock N Roll when he was 17 and Buddy Holly died back in 57 (i think).
        I picked up the rock torch and carried on after the Medicine Train chugged pass town..

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      2. LOL… Man you have to admit…It’s a cool idea. Someone else should try it. What a good time for the musicians…of course now none of them would probably jam much…probably busy on their phones and ipods lol.

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      3. They do a cross Canada Train around Christmas where they will stop in cities and collect donations and have a few artists play to the crowd at the station.
        Maybe that idea stemmed from this flick.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. That was some lineup! I wonder if they had ordinary rail staff for waiters and so on or if they just used their own crew and roadies? I only first heard of it when seeing a doc on Janis Joplin maybe five years back, and before they even talked of it I noticed some of the clips were her outside of a Canadian CN passenger train. I bet if I was ten years older though, it would’ve been a BIG deal to me and my schoolmates…

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    1. Yea that train was high as a kite. You see a very drunk Rick Danko trying to sing and talk…but the performances are really good.

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      1. It was a pretty interesting time for musicians…the performances were really good. Buddy Guy was terrific.

        Yes the Altmont should have never happened. They didn’t have time to make that stage higher and the other circumstances were not good either.
        My favorite rock documentary is The Kids Are Alright…but I am a big Who fan.

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  2. I think I started watching this several years ago. I’m not sure if I finished or if I still need to go back to it. That tour would have been a one-of-a-kind spectacle. About 10 years ago, the train tour concept was tried in the US, with Mumford and Sons, Old Crow Medicine Show and some others. They called it the Railroad Revival Tour. Surely there was liquor and other substances, but I can’t imagine it being at the saturation level of the original. When they announced the second RRT, I was determined to be at one of their stops. But then it was called off.

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      1. I agree, it sounds like an all around fun and efficient way to tour, not to mention a novelty, with some nostalgia built in. I don’t know why that more recent one got cancelled. It seemed like a sure win to me.

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