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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Festival Express Rolls Through Kendall

The local movie theater is not the first place you would go to hear some cool tunes. This week however, the documentary film Festival Express, featuring the likes of the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, The Band, and Buddy Guy, to name a few, makes a stop in Cambridge’s Kendall Theater. For those who won’t let the flame of the 60s die out, this is as close as you’re going to get to the real thing.

This larger-than-life documentary answers the question, what happens when you put about 10 legendary rock bands from the hippy-era on a privately chartered train and send them across Canada on a festival tour. The result is a lot of long hair, scruffy beards, tie-dye, puffy shirts, beads, cowboy hats, acid-laced Canadian whiskey, and all night benders. But the film also has some of the most important music to emerge out of the late 60s-early 70s rock/blues/country jam scene ever caught on film.

Besides the almost comically stereotypical early 70s hippy gear, undoubtedly what makes this film so epic and unforgettable are the musical performances. The film captures many of the bands and musicians at the peak of their musical careers. An extremely youthful looking Grateful Dead, still with blues-man Ron “Pigpen” McKernan prior to his early death, deliver several potent numbers, which for the casual Deadhead should be a reminder of the magic from those early years. Their acoustic rendition of “Don’t Ease Me In” will particularly make you pine for Jerry’s resurrection. The Band (every member of the group sporting beard of varying lengths) also come through with a powerful “Slippin and Slidin” and a haunting version of “I Shall Be Released.” Buddy Guy infuses the tour with a shot of pure blues and rips a Hendrix like solo on his “Money.” The artist who stole the film however was none other than Janis Joplin. I was almost brought to tears in as she belted out “Cry Baby.”

The camera work here is beautiful as it focuses in on her face and you can see her pour her soul out to the audience. Sadly enough Janis would pass away two months after the tour, which makes the footage even that much more significant. The concert footage alone is enough to satisfy, but the intimate encounters with the musicians on the train between festival stops brings the film to a personal and moving level. Rarely do you get the chance to catch Jerry Garcia in a solo acoustic moment wailing out an old Gospel hymn, or Rick Danko of The Band in an acid-induced moment of ecstasy in a sing-along with a drunken Janis Joplin. In the same moment, filmers catch Jerry Garcia profess his love for Janis Joplin. Such moments were few and far between for the musicians as they rarely were able to spend time mingling because of their hectic music schedules. It was noted by one of the musicians on the train that Woodstock was for the fans, but the train was for the musicians.

For those who want to catch a piece of music history or understand the power of the music being produced by the rock/blues bands of that time, Festival Express delivers that and more. For information on the story behind the making of the film and why it has taken so long to reach the public, see the film’s website www.festivalexpress.com . Festival Express is also playing at Loews in Copley in addition to the Kendall theatre.