At first I thought if I should review this disc, because I’m not sure how many of our readers are in the age group that they can actually enjoy this 1970 concert highlight featuring some of the greatest and dopiest musicians of their time, coming straight out of the 60s. But at the same time it would be a shame not to review this release because it is one of the most exhilarating concert films I have seen…ever!
"Festival Express" is chronicling a very unusual tour of music heavy weights in the summer of 1970 through the Canadian countryside. Packed on a train from Toronto to Winnipeg to Calgary, bands like The Greatful Dead, The Band, Janis Joplin, Buddy Guy and many others set out to bring mini-Woodstocks to the masses. The result was a concert tour that made music history and that is now finally properly documented by director Bob smeaton, who first released the film in 2003, 33 years after the actual tour.
The film focuses as much on the shows and performances themselves as it does on the experience behind the scenes. The antics and constant jam sessions on the train during the travel, the booze and escapades of band members, the cool and the uncool moments, it is all captured here in a lively vividness that most concert films lack for some reason. Here you have a group of people at the zenith of their careers having a blast like little children because they are doing what they like to do best – partying and jamming. What else could they ever have asked for?
But the same is also true for viewers of this DVD because "Festival Express" offers up footage and musical performances you thought you’d never get to hear! The film features, of course, some very great concert footage and remarkable performances by all participants, most notably however, the Dead and Janis Joplin, who tragically passed away, of course, only two short months after the tour. The shows are electric and in many ways superior to the real Woodstock, making "Festival Express" an extravaganza to remember.
I am so happy that this film found a home at New Line Home Entertainment because here we have a studio that gives he film its dues. Presented in its original 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio the presentation is simply marvelous. With lush colors and vibrant hues, the image is always naturally looking while also reproducing the powerful stage lighting without flaws or shifts. No blemishes are evident despite the film’s age and the presentation is absolutely clean, stable and full of detail. Of course some of the technical limitations of the production itself show – after all this is a real life documentary – but it always feels organic within the context of the material. Black levels are solid and never break up, making this a stunning showing. No edge-enhancement or compression artifacts are visible.
Now, here comes the icing. New Line is presenting this film with a 5.1 channel Dolby Digital and a dts audio track! Yeah, man! And it rocks! It’s as if they are dropping you right in the action on many occasions and especially the musical performances greatly benefit from the enhanced capabilities of these formats, such as the expanded bass response and the crystal clear dynamics. I am really impressed by this audio presentation because it is sky high above comparable releases such as "The Last Waltz" or "Woodstock."
But the DVD doesn’t stop here. Get ready for some 50 minutes of additional footage, including additional performances by the bands, including Janis, the Dead and the Band among others.
A feature I love very much is "Train Hopping," which plays only the music from the film without interruption. It is great if you want the concert but not the backstage part. Just pop in the disc, hit "Train Hopping" and let it run!
On the second disc of the DVD set you will find the documentary "Derailed," covering the making of the film – a making of documentary of a rockumentary, if you wish. Again we are treated to some of the finest material you can imagine within the context of this production. Together with the extended band interviews also found on this disc, here you get the full scoop of everything that is NOT in the film itself. Additional anecdotes, stories, memories, and so much more.
The DVD is rounded out by the movie’s trailer and an extensive photo gallery.
"Festival Express" smokes, plain and simple. If the bands involved don’t mean anything to you, this film may be out of your league, but if names like Janis Joplin, The Greatful Dead, Buddy Guy and others immediately make you listen up, beware. There is a monster coming your way, and this monster is the "Festival Express." All aboard!