Urban Cinefile
"Amazing how a parrot can make you feel inadequate. "  -Andrew L. Urban on set The Real Macaw
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Tuesday September 15, 2020 

Printable page PRINTABLE PAGE



A five day concert tour across Canada in 1970 by Janis Joplin and several major bands of the time aboard a specially hired train was recorded on film, but due to the tour’s financial disaster, it was buried in a vault – now it’s finally assembled with the music restored and remixed by the legendary Eddie Kramer, who tells Andrew L. Urban how he did it.

If anybody could turn a 30 year old jumble of tapes recorded haphazardly on a train by a bunch of jolly musos into a damn fine soundtrack for the 86 minute documentary Festival Express, it was Eddie Kramer… In the course of a production and engineering career that has spanned those same 30 years, Kramer has been behind the boards for the biggest names in music - The Rolling Stones, Traffic, Peter Frampton, Carly Simon, Joe Cocker, Johnny Winter, David Bowie, The Beatles, Bad Company, and many more. 

“I had no previous knowledge of the music,” he confesses down the phone from his brand new Los Angeles home, “The main thing was to be truthful to the original performances, so it was basically a restoration process, combining the best of the analogue world with the digital world.” After living in New York since 1968, Kramer and family finally went West a month ago. “It’s a nice change,” he says, but hardly all that new, since he’d been commuting and spending a couple of months in Los Angeles each year. The move was a concession to convenience.

In June 1970, rock and roll performers including The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, The Band and Buddy Guy travelled across northern Canada in a chartered train. Cameras followed the musicians as they lived, partied and performed together over five days. The tour proved financially disastrous and the footage remained locked in the vaults of Canada’s National Film Archives until 1994. Mixing new interviews with the archival footage, Festival Express charts a rock and roll adventure and reflects on its meaning more than three decades later.

"footage has remained unseen for over thirty years"

“As the train carrying Joplin and company charges through cities and hick towns like Moosejaw and Medicine Point, we can see the last embers of the Summer of Love fading away and the dark clouds of the 70s hate generation forming,” writes Richard Kuipers (see Reviews). “The communal good vibes among the musicians and promoters are starkly contrasted with the hostile reception the tour received in most places it stopped. Generating the bad vibes among Canadian youth was the $14 price promoters were asking punters to pay for two days entertainment ­ apparently many believed this should have been a free event. The sight of mounted police charging into crowds and barriers being torn down brings to mind the December 1969 Rolling Stones Altamont speedway concert (filmed in Gimme Shelter) and reminds us yet again of the violence simmering beneath the surface of the so-called love generation. 

“The incidents that doomed the event’s financial fortunes are the reason this footage has remained unseen for over thirty years and are the critical factor that makes this much more than just another rock concert movie. Festival Express gives us an up close and personal look at rock and roll stars before they started to be surrounded by teams of security agents and corporate PR flunkies.”

On board the well outfitted train, the musos drank and partied and played/sang like there was no tomorrow. Well, there was no tomorrow like those five days. Jammed together on a speeding train, they mingled and jammed non-stop. “They used just one microphone most of the time,” says Kramer, “occasionally two. So we were always fighting to extract good sound from those jam sessions. It was time consuming and very detailed work.” In all, there were 85 hours of film shot. It took six years to find the money and “extract good sound”. And it was just as challenging to obtain the releases, especially as many of the ‘cast’ had since died.

“The first job,” says Kramer, “was to clean up the junk on the tapes. They weren’t recorded in pristine conditions! Sometimes [in the concerts] the bass wasn’t even recorded, so we had to find the bass that had leaked onto the microphones of other instruments…”

"the hair stood up on the back of my neck"

There are 24 tracks on the film’s soundtrack, performed by the likes of The Grateful Dead, The Band and of course Janis Joplin, whose performance of Cry Baby is a fiery classic. “That’s when I knew we had achieved something with this,” says Kramer, “when Janis Joplin opens her mouth and the hair stood up on the back of my neck … out comes this huge sound…very satisfying.”

Published November 25, 2004

Email this article

Eddie Kramer


© Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2020