Festival Express

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Festival Express
Festival express.png
The movie poster
Directed byBob Smeaton
Produced byGavin Poolman
John Trapman
StarringJanis Joplin
Grateful Dead
The Band
Delaney and Bonnie
Buddy Guy
CinematographyPeter Biziou
Bob Fiore
Clarke Mackey
Edited byEamonn Power
Apollo Films
PeachTree Films
Distributed byTHINKFilm
Release date
  • September 9, 2003 (2003-09-09) (Toronto Film Festival)
  • September 3, 2004 (2004-09-03) (United Kingdom)
Running time
90 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom

Festival Express is a 2003 documentary film about the 1970 train tour of the same name across Canada taken by some of North America's most popular rock bands, including the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, The Band, Buddy Guy, Flying Burrito Bros, Ian & Sylvia's Great Speckled Bird, and Delaney & Bonnie & Friends.[1] The film combines footage of the 1970 concerts and on the train, interspersed with contemporary recollections of the tour by its participants.

The film, released by THINKFilm, was produced by Gavin Poolman (son of the original 1970 film shoot's producer, Willem Poolman) together with John Trapman, and directed by double Grammy Award-winner Bob Smeaton, with music produced by Eddie Kramer and featuring original footage shot in 1970 by Academy Award-winning cinematographer Peter Biziou. The original 1970 footage was filmed by director Frank Cvitanovich. A DVD release followed the film's 2003 theatrical run.[2][3]

Concert tour[edit]

Festival Express was staged in three Canadian cities: Toronto, Winnipeg and Calgary, during the summer of 1970. Rather than flying into each city, the musicians traveled by chartered Canadian National Railways train, in a total of 14 cars (two engines, one diner, five sleepers, two lounge cars, two flat cars, one baggage car, and one staff car).[4] The train journey between cities ultimately became a combination of non-stop jam sessions and partying fueled by alcohol. One highlight of the documentary is a drunken jam session featuring The Band's Rick Danko, the Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir, New Riders of the Purple Sage's John Dawson, as well as Janis Joplin.[3][5]

The event, initially billed as the Transcontinental Pop Festival, was developed and conceived by Ken Walker and promoted by Eaton-Walker Associates (consisting of Thor Eaton, George Eaton, and Ken Walker) and the concerts were produced and financed together with Industrial and Trade Shows of Canada (ITS) division of MacLean-Hunter Publishing Company and originally included the following cities:[4][6][7]

Transcontinental Pop Festival Venues
Date City Venue Time Admission Attendance Comments
June 24, 1970
(St. Jean-Baptiste Day)
Montreal Autostade 12PM-12AM
$12 ($10 advance)
N/A Originally planned for June 20–21, but was changed to June 24; show was cancelled by the city in mid-June, 1970, a few weeks prior to event[8][9]
June 27–28, 1970 Toronto Exhibition Stadium
(aka CNE Grandstand and CNE Exhibition Stadium)
12PM-12AM One Day – $10 ($9 advance)
Two Day – $16 ($14 advance)
July 1, 1970
(Canada Day)
Winnipeg Winnipeg Stadium 12PM-12AM $12 ($10 advance) 4,600[11]
July 4–5, 1970 Calgary McMahon Stadium 12PM-12AM One Day – $10 ($9 advance)
Two Day – $16 ($14 advance)
July 4–5, 1970 Vancouver PNE Empire Stadium N/A N/A N/A Venue could not be secured from the city and Vancouver was dropped from the tour in mid-April, 1970[9]

The Montreal event was cancelled a few weeks before the scheduled date by Lucien Saulnier, chairman of the City of Montreal Executive Committee (and acting under authority of mayor Jean Drapeau), because it clashed with St. Jean-Baptiste Day (June 24) celebrations and there were concerns about a diluted security force and the potential for violence.[8][9][12] Buses were run from Montreal to the Toronto Festival Express stop and Montreal tickets were honored in Toronto.[13][14] The Vancouver venue, Pacific National Exhibition (PNE) Empire Stadium, could not be secured as they were scheduled to have artificial turf (Tartan Turf) installed shortly before the scheduled event, and there was concern about damage to the turf.[4][9] In March, 1970, Walker requested use of an alternate venue, Capilano Stadium, for the event, but this was denied by the Vancouver City Council over several concerns, including inadequate sanitary and food facilities, challenges with policing the event, and vagrancy.[7][15] Therefore, Vancouver was dropped from the tour, and Calgary was subsequently added. The event in Calgary was initially to be held in an open field, Paskapoo Ski Hill (to later become Canada Olympic Park), but the city requested it be held at McMahon Stadium instead, as it would permit better organization and security.[16]

The tour ultimately began in Toronto at the CNE Grandstand, which was plagued with about 2,500 protestors who objected to what they viewed as exploitation by promoters charging $14 per ticket. The opposition was organized by the May 4th Movement (M4M), the left-rebel group that grew out of the May 4, 1970 Kent State shootings. They attempted to crash the gates and scale the fence, and clashed with police, resulting in injuries to both protesters and policemen. To help calm the crowd, Metro Police Inspector Walter Magahay asked the promoter, Ken Walker, to lower ticket prices, but this would have left the promoters unable to pay the musicians. Subsequently, Jerry Garcia, in conjunction with Magahay, was instrumental in calming the unruly crowd by arranging a spontaneous free "rehearsal" concert in nearby Coronation Park upon a flatbed truck, while the scheduled show continued at the stadium. Once the free concert, which began at about 7:00pm on June 27, was announced, most of the ticketless fans dispersed to Coronation Park, with an initial attendance of about 6,000, thereby resolving the protest. Once the show at the CNE Grandstand ended at 12:30am, another 6,000 fans went to the park for the remainder of the free concert, which lasted until about 4:00am on June 28. Playing at Coronation Park were The Grateful Dead, Ian & Sylvia and the Great Speckled Bird, James and the Good Brothers, the New Riders of the Purple Sage (all of whom also performed at the CNE concert). Other local Toronto bands also played, including January, The People's Revolutionary Concert Band, Si Potma and P.M. Howard (of Beatlemania fame). There are some reports indicating a free concert was also performed on the second day, albeit to a much smaller crowd of about 500, as many of the protesters paid admission to the event on the second day. Many people spent the night and following day sleeping in the park until the second show at CNE Grandstand ended at 12:30am on June 29.[17][18][19]

On the way to Winnipeg, the second stop on the tour, the train stopped in Chapleau, Ontario, to replenish its dwindling alcohol supply, buying out the entire stock of a small liquor store.[20] The Winnipeg show had only a modest turnout of 4,600, partly due to fears about crowd violence based on the events in Toronto and partly due to the Manitoba Centennial appearance by Prime Minister Trudeau.[9] The event was not plagued by protests or violence, however.[18]

In Calgary, the third and final stop, the police wished to avoid the protests witnessed in Toronto and their presence seemed to subdue the crowds outside the stadium, though there were many complaints about the ticket prices. It was estimated[who?] that about 1,000 people managed to sneak in on Saturday by climbing fences early in the day, but security was tightened, and by the afternoon and Sunday, fewer people managed to breach the fences.[21] However, there was a heated altercation between promoter Ken Walker and Calgary mayor Rod Sykes after Sykes strongly suggested to Walker on Sunday afternoon that he open the gates and let the kids in free after the show was well underway. Walker, who was livid about the mayor's intrusion and his reference to Walker as "Eastern scum" "trying to skim" the young people of Calgary, claimed to have punched the mayor in the mouth, and boasted that he still had a scar on his hand to prove it.[22][23]

The tour had an original budget of about $900,000 (of which $500,000 was for musical talent), but largely due to less than predicted turnout, gross receipts were just over $500,000 and the project ultimately lost between $350,000 and $500,000 for the promoters.[10][18][22][23] Although the tour was a financial failure, it produced many notable performances,[citation needed] including some of the final performances by Janis Joplin, who would die about three months after the end of the tour. In the film, Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead said, "Woodstock was a treat for the audience, but the train was a treat for the performers."[24] Jerry Garcia later said that what he remembers most about the tour is being "so blisteringly drunk".[25]