Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Original Soul Train

I have no excuse for waiting so long, but I finally got around to adding the critically acclaimed concert film "Festival Express" to my DVD collection. The movie (yes, it was actually shown in selected theaters), documents the 1970 Canadian Trans-Continental Pop Festival, more commonly known as the Festival Express. It featured some of the most legendary rock acts of all time: The Grateful Dead, The Band, Janis Joplin, and Buddy Guy, just to name a few.

But the movie is more than just a montage of song clips and retrospective interviews -- it transports the viewer back to a time when the music was pure, the love was free, and the camaraderie was real. No words can describe Richard Manuel's moving version of Dylan's "I Shall Be Released, or The Dead (a la Pigpen) calming a restless crowd with "Friend of the Devil," or most memorably, watching Rick Danko shout out the chords to "Ain't No More Cane on the Brazos" during a drug-induced, drunken jam session that included Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Joplin and others. I even found myself singing along to fifties revival-act, Sha Na Na's supercharged performance of "Rock and Roll is Here to Stay."

But it was Janis who stole the show. Sure, we all listened to our sister's copy of Joplin's Greatest Hits countless times while in high school, but actually witnessing her firsthand, giving her soul to the audience, is awe-inspiring. I got chills just from watching her heartbreaking renditions of "Cry Baby" and "Tell Mama." Sadly, this would be one of her last gigs, as she passed away only months after the tour ended -- all the more reason to cherish the footage captured in the movie.

So, light the incense, grab that old tye-dye from the garage and get on the train.

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