A review of “Festival Express” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: R for language and adult situations

Run Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

 

 

Janis Joplin sends sparks flying in this roughly-hewn doc chronicling a series of knockabout music festivals held across Canada in the summer of 1970.

Musicians, promoters, a film crew and a handful of roadies boarded a customized train in Toronto and headed west to Winnipeg and Calgary, full of the bonhomie and natural high generated by creating history.

It wasn’t Woodstock, but this bacchanalian event captured the imagination of a generation on the cusp of a musical and social cataclysm.

According to behind-the-scenes footage, this monumental train ride was one giant party, with performers living, eating, sleeping and rehearsing as one for five long days as they traveled the Canadian Shield.

Joplin’s talent is astounding; raw and powerful and full of import considering her tragic demise only three months later from a heroin overdose.  Her rough and raspy rendition of “Cry Baby” is the stuff that legends are made of.

Electric footage of wet-behind-the-ears bands The Grateful Dead, The Band, The Flying Burrito Brothers, and a host of others has been lost in legal proceedings for years, but fortuitously found its way to the public via the National Archives of Canada. Rock on!