[I've added chapter headings due to the length of this article.]
THE MILLION DOLLAR BASH
“The train trip wasn’t a dream, it was a stone boss reality. I’m still on the train. I just turn on the switch, and the fan’s on and the train’s still moving.”
One of the amazing communal events in the history of rock and roll took place on the Festival Express – 12 Canadian National train coaches traveling with 140 musicians and friends from Toronto through Winnipeg to Calgary, playing festivals and concerts at each city, jamming and partying the rest of the way.
Train passengers included: Janis Joplin and her new band, Full-Tilt Boogie; the Grateful Dead; Delaney and Bonnie and friends; Buddy Guy’s band; Ian and Sylvia and the Great Speckled Bird; Eric Andersen; Tom Rush; James and the Good Brothers; the New Riders of the Purple Sage; Robert Charlebois; Mashmakhan; and Rick Danko of the Band.
“It’s Mother,” Janis Joplin said about the five-day train trip (June 29th – July 3rd). “It’s the best time I’ve had since I left Port Arthur.” Jerry Garcia, walking along the corridor, poked his head into the bar where Janis and Bonnie Bramlett were rapping. “A train full of fucking musicians, man, I thought this was the Orient Express!”
[ . . .] Festival Express let the musicians take over and find and share their music with their friends. “People are really alienated,” Eric Andersen said, “And the musicians are alienated, too. At a concert or festival, you see someone and say, ‘Hi, Delaney,’ and five minutes later he’s gone. I changed on this trip. I’ll go again anytime if I’m invited.”
People not only embody spaces, they create the spaces they embody. The spaces in which we have daydreamed recreate themselves in a new daydream.
In the Rally Room of the York Hotel in Calgary, Alberta, 100 musicians and friends are trying to recreate the daydream. Ian and Sylvia, the Good Brothers, Bob Weir, David Torbert and Marmaduke of the New Riders of the Purple Sage are singing country songs, but tonight the musicians are remote, huddled in a corner. It’s an attempted evocation, as if we are again all back in one of the lounges of the train where people sat down together and joined in the music. Everyone is trying to recreate the train’s spaces in this institutional square-shaped reception hall, like an anniversary party in a Czech film. The illusion comes and goes as people stand around tables piled with sandwiches.
“Is this the bar car?” Janis askes, entering the room like an explosion, and everyone catches himself momentarily in an automatic reflex to the rocking of an imaginary train. Janis was the presiding spirit of this journey, the bacchanalian Little Red Riding Hood with her bag full of tequila and lemons, lurching from car to car like some tropical bird with streaming feathers, defying the sun to interrupt our revels with another day.
The train was waiting for us at the Toronto Coach Yard. A slick modern diesel, 12 coaches long with FESTIVAL EXPRESS painted in orange and black ten-foot letters on the baggage car. “She’s a born speedster, more like a bullet than a kettle,” an old brakeman confided to us as we crept aboard, furtively as hobos riding the freight, at the dimly lit station in the early hours of Monday morning. Before setting off we were asked to sign a waiver which says in part that we will “keep the Festival Express from any harm or danger that may present itself,” and for an instant we flashed on ambushes by hostile bands of Sioux and Blackfeet or hordes of buffalo swarming the tracks like a sea of fur.
And to look at the company of cowboys boarding the train – the Grateful Dead in their rodeo boots, embossed “Nudie” belts, sheath knives, and hoedown shirts from Miller’s western store in Denver, James and the Good Brothers in Wrangler Levi suits, and the Riders of the Purple Sage decked with the unmistakable ciphers of the genuine cowhand – it was possible to imagine that we were all setting off on some perilous journey towards the Great Divide.
Once inside the sleeping cars – given dreamlike names: Valparaiso, Beausejour, Etoile – the illusion of the Great Iron Horse pushing westwards into unchartered land is superseded by the stainless steel, baked enamel surfaces of the interior. Early arrivals are checking out the tiny sleeping compartments: “Man, I’ve been in jail cells larger than this,” a Marin County voice shouts.
The little box-like rooms with neat blue curtains stretch down the length of the sleeping cars like space-age opium dens, or a modern hygienic bordello. Each cubicle is about 3’ x 6’ and a technological miracle. A galaxy of instruments and conveniences are insanely compressed into this tiny column of space: a large blue couch, a bed, a toilet, wash-basin, jumpseat, icewater dispenser with paper cups, a drainless washbasin that folds away used water magically into some receptive crevice (a stainless steel sleight of hand), a clothes closet, an air conditioner, a fan, a cupboard and clusters of metallic outgrowths: ashtrays, hooks, handles, clips and catches.
All this compression is relieved by a giant window that spans the width of the compartment like an 8mm movie screen registering the trees, lakes and rivers outside at 24 frames per second. In essence, the cubicles are both sleeping tubes and meditation chambers where the musicians spend quiet hours between the orgies of music in the lounges, writing songs, practicing, rapping, getting stoned. The compact space encourages daydreaming, but its closeness forces you out into the lounges and bar cars to participate in what’s going on in the world of the train.
The ingenuity of the room’s design was also the source of endless Chaplinesque situations: bodies bobbing in and out of the compartments, bumping, tripping, spilling into the aisles in various states of mind and undress. Marx Brothers slapstick exits and entrances were re-enacted in the early morning hours, as stoned, drunk, wiped-out occupants attempted to deal with the machine in comic desperation.
To get into bed meant stepping out of the room, because pulling the bed down meant filling the whole space in the compartment. But, once you were in bed, wanting to use the wash basin or the john involved getting out into the corridor again, closing the bed, using the basin, re-closing it, going out into the hall a second time, and finally pulling down the bed. As The Drunken Train lurched its way through the sparsely inhabited continent, this mechanical ritual reached the level of high farce. Janis emerged early one afternoon about the third day out triumphantly announcing she had discovered her washbasin while looking for a place to hang her clothes.
On the first night aboard, the passengers made their acquaintance with each other in the dining car, where a buffet of triangular sandwiches had been laid out. The atmosphere was cautious, almost morosely quiet. Delaney and Bonnie played poker for octagonal Canadian nickels and Steve Knight, Mountain’s organist, bemoaned the fact that he didn’t bring his Monopoly set. “Thirty-six hours of this is really going to flip us out,” someone said. The awkward encounters had the overtones of the first day at summer camp, where everyone hangs around waiting for something to happen. A subtle panic crept up on everyone: 5 days stuck on a train with nowhere to go and nothing to do but look at 130 other freaks. Better to crash at Holiday Inn.
To make matters worse, a dope panic set in. No one brought anything to smoke, sniff or swallow on account of crossing the Canadian border, where a girl was busted the same day we went through customs with 1000 caps of acid taped to the inside of her levis. It had been a pretty effective lesson about carrying, especially since sentences for importing grass alone in some Canadian provinces can theoretically get you as much as life imprisonment.
Road managers were dispatched from the train to make a last-minute raid back into the city to stock up. They returned with three ounces. At this point, the expedition was considered a complete failure. “That’s not even going to last us till daylight, man,” someone said disdainfully. “What we need is a bushel of cocaine, and then we could run this fucking train into the sea.”
A few people started to drift into the forward lounge. Leslie West and Felix Pappalardi pulled out guitars. West, toying with his tiny ancient Les Paul Gibson as if it were a stalk of grass, lazily picked out Delta bottleneck blues, and Mountain’s drummer, Corky Laing, sang along: Let it rain, let it pour / And let it rain some more / Got those deep river blues. Jerry Garcia, Delaney, and Kenny Gradney, Delaney’s bass player, joined in, and as the swarm of guitars picked up to resonating hum, it became obvious what we would be doing for the next week.
From early Monday morning until we finally got off the train in Calgary five days later, the music stopped only once – when everybody got off at Winnipeg for the festival. Buddy Guy’s drummer Roosevelt, immaculate in his flashy snakeskin suit, played for two days straight, and it was a common thing to fall out, get up, have breakfast, and get back to the lounge to find the same “set” rocking on.
The Festival Express was the reenactment of a piece of blues mythology: the box car studio, where drifters like Bumble Bee Slim and Tampa Red, with harmonicas and dobros, hopped the Illinois Central from New Orleans or the M&O from Mobile up to Memphis, St. Louis and Chicago, on trains with names like the Panama Limited, the Flying Crow, Midnight Special, Yeller Dawg, Green Diamonds, Rock Island Line now resonant with blues connotations, incorporating the clicking steel rhythms of the train and the shrill “quills” of the fireman’s whistle into lazy delta harmonies.
[ lyrics, “Southern Blues,” Big Bill Broonzy ]
“The train is like the guitar, man,” said Willie Dixon. “You know, when you look down those tracks from the caboose? You see the ties closing up like the frets on the guitar. The further you get from the Delta, the higher up you’re playing on the neck. In Chicago, baby, we’re really wailing!”
As blue phosphorous light settles on the marshalling yard, the Riders of the Purple Sage (Marmaduke, Dave Nelson, and Dave Torbert, who form part of the Dead’s 20-member family on the train) unpacked their Gibsons, and blues gave way to country: Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, Kris Kristofferson.
Just then Harvey, the Dead’s equipment manager, arrived with electric guitars and small vibro champ amplifiers. Electricity! The session picked up and for a moment the train lights dimmed, the Fenders eating up the current. Corky pulled out a couple of swivel chairs and set up a drum kit in one corner, and someone else had plugged in an electric piano. The wheels turned, the rhythm of the train rocked the coach as it began to move against the rhythm of the guitars, and transporting us, a flotilla of musicians and freaks set off.
Eventually people drifted off and fell out. We woke up the next morning in the forests of northern Ontario: an infinity of lakes and rivers cut into a wilderness of birch trees. On both sides, fields of daisies, trillium, and buttercups curved up from the verge of the tracks. Giant copper-red boulders seemed to squeeze the train as it passed through them, and sheets of rock, flat as mirrors, refracted the harsh northern light that edges every stone and leaf and tree. Swirls and eddies of water wash around white tree trunks, half submerged, and islands slope down to find white gravel. There are so many lakes it seems one map could not contain them, and stands of birch and elm so immense, in this land inhabited only by water, trees, animals and clouds, that images practically assault the eye.
In the lounge, where a session composed of musicians from the night before and some who had just got up was still in full swing, the images within and without multiplied, and looking down the length of the car, the windows on both sides gave the illusion of looking into a giant stereopticon, that by some trick of light and space seems to suspend the musicians in an unreal landscape. The train was moving very slowly, you could almost walk alongside. “Why are we moving so slowly?” someone asked, and one of the stewards answered him inscrutably: “So you can play what you’re seeing.”
[ Omitted imaginary interview with the train. ]
The session had shifted to an uptempo blues with Bonnie and Buddy Guy trading verses: “Knockin’ on my door, don’t want me around no more…” “Forget it and let this trouble pass…” Delaney’s horns join in, and A.C. Reed (Jimmy Reed’s brother) from Buddy’s band pumped a fat Detroitish sound from his sax. The music slows down to a slow boogie in the afternoon as we pull into a small town.
Capreol: A telephone wire cat’s-cradle above the tracks, tract houses shingled in creosote imitation brick skulking around the station. As we glide between the soot-black CNR oil tanks, the music ground to a lugubrious funeral step, like a New Orleans street band.
Our first stop since leaving Toronto. The names of the little towns, some scarcely more than a huddle of shacks, that we had passed through on the way evoke the mystery of unknowable places. The nostalgic transplants from the suburbs of London: Islington, Tottenham, Bayswater, Bethnal; French trapper posts: Foleyet, Lainaune, Giroux, La Broquiere; Iroquois names: Kawa, Kowash, Unaka, Minnipuka, Paqwa, Penequani; and crazy wilderness names that trail into each other like a serial poem: Ophir, Snakesbreath, Decimal, Malachi, Forget.
Sam Cutler scrambles down the gravel bank to the dirt track that is the main road in Capreol, looking to score. He comes across an ice cart being wheeled to the train, tests the ice, which is used for cooling the compartments, and heads for town.
Downtown Capreol is two opened stores: a food store, and the Oriental Emporium Variety Shop, run by a Chinese family, which sells Mountain Dew.
Sam happily goes off with an eight dollar shimmering kimono of many colors and ten packages of Smarties candies. By the side of the train station and down a sand dune is a lake suited for beavers and black-flies, intersected by a row of joining pieces of lumber. Delaney and Bonnie’s sax and horn men played a lonesome Dixieland duet at the water’s edge, while musicians shippered stones. Six teenage girls were standing by the train looking for Janis, who was asleep.
Music: Leslie West, Delaney Bramlett, Jerry Garcia, and Kenny Gradney jamming a slow misty early evening blues.
Through the window: a section break. Red clapboard section gang hut next to an enclosed woodpile. Rain dropping off the leaves of two poplars onto watered buttercups bending into each other, like an Indian girl, whose tribe once lived just past the hillock where an abandoned orange hooded truck now rests, leaning over her Indian friend’s right shoulder to talk to him, for you imagine them lovers.
Goin’ down the road again
Don’t wanna be treated that way no more
[ See http://archive.org/details/gd1970-07-00.aud.miller.106571.flac16 ]
That night the backers of the Festival were sitting in one of the bars talking about the reasons for the financial failure of the Festival – a matter of some $350,000. Thor Eaton and Ken Walker of Eaton-Walker Associates, Ltd., which produced Festival Express and whose companies along with those controlled by Maclain Publishers put up the money for the Festival, and Dave Williams, Festival production coordinator, sat drinking tequila and watching the sunset.
“Our publicity for the Festival was strong,” said Dave Williams. “We started on April 28th putting 10 to 15 spots a week on Canadian radio. We distributed 200,000 bumper stickers, 100,000 fliers, 50,000 bus cards. But there are low concentrations of population in Winnipeg and Calgary. And some people confused us with John Brower’s Peace Festival, calling our thing the Peace Express, and then saying, Well, the Peace Express is off. But mainly press silence or the playing up of the M4M attacks hurt us.”
“M4M?” someone said. “What group is that?”
Suddenly darkness entered the bar, lights were turned on, and the windows beside us began to project our images out into the nighttime Canadian woods we were passing through, magically holding us steady, tippling ghosts traveling intangibly through interdimensional space. “This will show you what’s been happening,” someone said, trying to sound “objective.”
If it was an All Power to the Musicians state of mind that kept the train going at such an ecstatic rate, it was an All Power to the People agitprop campaign that caused the dates in Toronto, Winnipeg, and Calgary to suffer disappointing attendance, a number of police confrontations, and a sometimes small but nagging feeling of up-tightness and restrictiveness, especially after the openness of the train journey.
M4M (May 4th Movement) is a coalition group of students and street people formed to commemorate the Kent State murders, which inaugurated a confrontation with Toronto Police at the American Consulate on the issue, with 91 persons arrested. They've begun organizing and highlighting various exploitation issues: unemployment, authoritarian schools, police repression, American imperialism, English-Canadian business oppression, $20 bellbottoms, and cultural exploitation. And Eaton-Walker Associates, Ltd., was M4M’s first target.
They spotted Eaton and Walker, who ran the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival and the Toronto Pop Festival last year, from the windows of Rochdale College, where M4M is headquartered, and, with a lovely gift for comic energy, revolutionary force, and political simplicity, swooped down, their message picked up and promulgated by the (not notoriously revolutionary) Toronto press: STOP THE RRRIP-OFF EXPRESS!
Rochdale College (often pronounced Roachdale by bewildered foreigners), ironically facing Marshall McLuhan's offices, is an “18-story high-rise freak palace.” Originally granted government money for the support of a residential experimental college, it has turned into what might be called a front for subsidized housing (though the rents aren't that cheap).
People live and work in this housing-project type building with an incredibly high lifestyle. You see those dope police wearing white institutional jackets? You think they're there to bust you? Forget it. They test the quality of the grass, hash and acid when a complaint about the drug's efficacy is brought up. Hard drug pushers are kindly requested to move on. The fire alarm system is actually used for bust warnings. Local rock groups like the People's Revolutionary Concert Band and Boogie Dick hang out and play for free. There's naked sunbathing on the roof, underground films in the film room; and the College supports the Coach House Press which publishes poetry books and magazines of extraordinary quality. Graffiti decorates all the halls (“Gee, Tonto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore”) and the College paper runs community news and requests: “I want to paint a 17-story marijuana leaf in such a way that it would be visible only from the second floor patio. Come rap with me.”
M4M has offices on the third floor. The representatives we'd met were frustrated by the lack of political consciousness among residents of the College. But the group's attack against Festival Express brought them enormous publicity, and they aim for a wider following than Rochdale College inhabitants. An “Open Letter to a Closed Corporation” presented to Eaton, Walker, and Dave Williams on June 19th contained the following:
“We demand that Transcontinental (Rip-Off) Express be free for everyone and all tickets refunded; there be free food, dope and music for the people there, with no cops. Failing these totally reasonable and just demands, we demand that 20 per cent of the gate receipts be returned to the community in the following ways: money for already existing free food programs, day care centers...collective bail fund to fight Toronto pig repression...equipment for all People's Parks,” etc, etc.
Thor Eaton, whose family, M4M was quick to point out in a kind of character assassination, owns Eaton’s stores (equivalent to Macy’s in the United States) and which, M4M claims, are non-unionized, had the following to say about his meeting with M4M:
“Twelve guys from M4M showed up. They came into the office and said, ‘Are you ready to meet the demands?’ ‘What demands?’ we said. We read them and said no. Free dope, free food, and 60 per cent of the profits! They didn’t discuss the 20 per cent figure then. They just said, ‘Do it our way or you’re in trouble.’ These people have a loose grip on reality. At least they called me a ‘rip-off artist’ and not a ‘rip-off promoter.’”
Ken Walker, Eaton’s partner, whom M4M with social realism describes as “a young capitalist with his black moustache and business suit,” defended his actions:
“The press covered everything M4M said. The Canadian Broadcasting System taped an interview with them and didn’t ask us to appear. M4M appealed to kids who figured they’d just wait around and get in for free. It’s a bit like looters who see a store window busted and go in and take something themselves. Did you know that M4M threatened kids putting up advertising posters for the Festival?
“Look, we had a $500,000 talent package. Our admission turned out to be 80 cents an act. What’s fairer than that?”
On the first day of the Toronto Festival, about 2500 kids had tried to break into CNE Stadium, fighting with the cops. Ten police were injured, a number of kids, and 22 were arrested. (Of these apparently 18 were American. Some Canadians who criticize M4M for being led by Americans resent the interference.)
Jerry Garcia had helped cool things down by setting up a Free Festival at nearby Coronation Park, where the Dead, Purple Sage, Ian and Sylvia, James and the Good Brothers, and People’s Revolutionary Concert Band played to 4000 kids the first day and 500 the next day. According to Walker, with M4M leaders under surveillance and its impact diminished, kids went in and paid to see the second day's show. He also said that, although he did not announce it, he’d paid for the supply of free food that was given out at Coronation Park.
About 37,000 persons had attended that two-day Toronto Festival, about 13,000 fewer than expected. The Toronto press played up the violence: “Bashed Heads and Bad Trips.” There were about fifty persons treated for bum trips, but the organization in charge of the medical operation for some reason upped the figure to 500. The atmosphere was extremely tense, with police using force against kids using their force to break into the Stadium. It had affected the stage presentation, which was sometimes slow.
And it had affected some of the music, for when, as on the first day, kids clambered on stage trying to politicize the event and were yanked off, the music had a hard time making sense of its own joyousness. You could almost forget the hassles of the day during Garth Hudson’s introduction to “Chest Fever” – suggesting notes, picking them up and transforming them into wondrous and unheard-of structures – or when the Dead played, except when a kid came onstage and pointed to each member of the Dead and shouted, “You're all phonies, you and you and you...”
[ lyrics, “Nobody Cares About the Railroads Any More,” Nilsson ]
The further west you travel in the prairies, the more squashed down, nubbed, the trees seem in the unrelieved flatness, stunted by the prevailing winds. The grass grows up between the tracks.
Jerry Garcia walked down the tracks singing a country blues he is just completing. The film crew closed in, pleased to be shooting in daylight for a change, and captured a few solarized moments.
The train made its first overnight stop at the Winnipeg Depot, a flat, industrial area about four miles from the center of town. Brick and cement buildings – facades of a displaced industrial revolution – stood in an open space overgrown with weeds, suggesting the disconcerting familiarity of dreams where the geometric syntax is dislocated; a monstrous 19th Century pump behind a wall of green glass, a cement signal box, sheds, and platforms. “Welcome to Omaha!” says Sam Cutler.
“Believe it or not, I helped lay this section of track, hammered in these spikes right here,” says Frank Duckworth, publicist for the Festival Express, making the anonymous stretch of track as vivid as a piece of the true cross. “People forget what goes into a track. They laid this section during the Depression, 75 cents a day for breaking your back in humid 95 degree weather. Do you know what it takes to rock one tie in place? Look,” Duckworth says, demonstrating, “you hook your pick under the tie so you’ve got one foot on the handle of the pick and the other on the end of the tie. It’s like being stretched in the rock, and with a free hand you rake in the gravel under the tie, rocking back and forth until it settles. Most of us passed out the first day on the job.”
Duckworth spoke almost laconically, like an urbane Bill Cody, but the words brought up a host of sweating images all reduced to this unassuming thread of metal that abstracts 4000 miles from Nova Scotia to the Pacific. He picked a squat green plant from beside the track. “Know what this is? Lambs quarters. You soon get to know your weeds when you’re starving like we were back in the days of ’29, ’30. Makes a delicious salad, and it grows just about anywhere. They used to feed us a staple diet of prunes – CNR strawberries, we used to call them.”
The idea of the Festival Express, a train trip across Canada, was Duckworth’s. He talks of the railroads with the deep affection of someone who was physically and emotionally involved in their life.
“The train was the only form of communication this country had. It linked up all the outposts, trapper stations, mining towns, with the centers. Even the telegraph followed the train lines. When we were planning the Express originally, I’d thought we could maybe dig up some of the old telegraphers who used to work on the CNR and send all our messages by Morse Code. The organizers said, ‘What’s the point, when we can use the telex?’ But this is just the point, re-living the experience of a whole nation. I wanted one of the old steam engines – beautiful things – but we eventually gave in to convenience and settled for a diesel. You only have to look at the 5934 locomotives on exhibit in Calgary to see the grace and elegance of the old steam models.
“The idea was to remind people of the romance of traveling by train in the old days when the train was still a vital form of communication, and combine that with rock and roll, which is the most vital form of communication today: bringing things together.
“Trains are almost all freight today, and it’s a pity, because they were a very elegant, leisurely form of transportation. In a plane you have no sense of traveling at all, it’s like being pushed through a tube, very sterile, inhuman experience. Imagine the opulence and tastefulness of traveling in those days. Did you ever see the carriage Queen Victoria traveled in when she made her state visit to Canada? Tassels and velvet, padded and tuffeted like a case for the Czar’s Easter eggs.”
Janis stepped down from the train, a blur of colors, as her red and blue bows gently brushed against her face in the light wind. “Morning, boys,” she says, crossing the tracks to the buses that had come to take us into town.
A local hippie warned us that the mood in Winnipeg wasn’t too friendly. “They’re burying the chief of police today,” he says. “Some guy shot him and two other fuzz down in this alley, and the cat who did it is claiming he was high on acid.” Today was also Canada’s centenary, and Pierre Trudeau, the Prime Minister, was in Winnipeg to give a speech.
The buses took us to the Municipal swimming pool, a monstrous Olympic size swimming pool with diving boards ten meters high. Coming from the confined space of the train, no one knew how to deal with this liquid space, and eventually everybody ended up draped along the edge of the pool.
A feeble attempt at a relay race, the Dead vs. Everybody, but it didn’t really get together, in spite of Cutler’s voice volleying obscenities around this hangar-like space. In the shallow end, Buddy Guy and his band were playing water polo. “This is the first time I’ve been swimming since 1955,” Buddy’s road manager said casually. “I thought if I got too near the stuff I was gonna melt.”
Janis, Marmaduke, and Eric Andersen set off for town and Tiny Tim’s bar. Longhairs were shifting around the town square waiting for Trudeau to arrive, and Janis and Eric offered everyone a moment’s unexpected entertainment by wading through the fountain.
Back at the train there was a press conference, the promoters answering questions about the “Festival Express Rip-off.” The local DJ rag, Youthbeat, had run a headline reading, “NDY [New Democratic Youth, a Canadian radical group vaguely similar to SDS] charges ‘exploitation,’ urging kids to ‘bust festival’”; and the press, who had nothing else to ask anyway, were using it as a wedge to lift copy for the morning papers.
Basically the press and the promoters understood each other. Sipping cocktails in the bar car they laughed over the “ludicrous” demands for free concerts, free food, and free dope. But the press feeds on such obvious and platitudinous controversies as “Woodstock vs. Rip-Off Express,” and anyway, the whole thing is such a ready-made headline.
Outside in the lounge a young girl was telling the Dead and Kenny Gradney that there are people starving in Saskatchewan. She was arrogant and sensitive, and even though her words were almost as cliched as those at the press in the bar, her tone was convincing, pleading, intuitive; she spoke with passion.
Jerry Garcia objected to her using the word “pigs.” “If you call people pigs, that’s what they will become. We're not trying to alienate people, we're more interested in getting the whole thing together.”
She became angry at not getting through and she stepped up the rhetoric. Kenny told her she didn't know how well off she was. “The radicals in the States have some point. Alberta itself is as far left as anywhere in North America outside of Cuba, so what are you complaining about? This ain’t no East LA. Have you ever been taken into a gas station washroom by a couple of cops?”
She backed down and started hitting the price of admissions. To her amazement the Dead sided with the promoters! “If you want something for nothing, jerk off,” said Bob Weir, and everybody got up and left.
She was left standing there in the vacuum of her utopian philosophy: simplistic politics, fired by incredible energy and sincerity. While the claims of the M4M are relatively naive and unthought-out, their energy and sincerity is quite convincing, and like harpies descending on the feast, their questions undermined attendance at the festivals. In Winnipeg, where the promoters would have needed an attendance of at least 21,000 to break even, fewer than 4,000 people showed up at the Manisphere Stadium for the 12-hour concert on Wednesday.
[ See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SpocOtyjF2A ]
The stadium is right next to a midway, where barkers entice the simple plains people into their grotesque booths. “See the horror of the electric chair”; “The incredible half elephant, half pig”; “The body of a 2,000-year-old man preserved in ice”; “Vicious rats devouring a live python.” Next to this exotic cosmos of freaks, a festival seemed tame.
The crowd barely filled the front of the stadium, but it was an enthusiastic one. Charlebois got a good reception, although he was singing mainly in French. There is a large French community here, in fact, and at midnight there is a Cajun music festival held on the banks of the Bow River.
In spite of the good reception from the audience, the groups were not happy. The Band played a short set, and later, Robbie Robertson talked about the problems involved in playing festivals: “I think we are in a period where the art of personal performances is declining; it’s a strange situation for a performer to be in. We are perhaps especially sensitive to it because our sound is subtle and slippery, and it’s very difficult to communicate that at a festival where there are so many variables. When you are playing in the open air it’s very hard to hear what the other people in the band are playing, the sound comes and goes, and what’s worse is that we are usually sandwiched between groups like Ten Years After and Led Zeppelin. Like at Woodstock, I think we came off like a group of choirboys after Alvin Lee.
“We did this tour because of the idea of the train, which appealed to us, and you know we are all Canadians, except for Levon, and we sort of felt obliged to do it, but this is probably the last festival we will play.”
To add to the problems at Winnipeg, a strong wind picked up during the afternoon, blowing spirals of dust into everyone’s face. A sudden gust blew the Good Brothers’ drum kit right off the stage. It was like those sudden Mid-Western dust storms blowing up into tornadoes, and as the concert ended, with paper cups swirling off the ground in little pools of air, it seemed that the currents might sweep us all away into another Oz.
Janis closed the show, and her set was remarkable under the circumstances. In the middle of “Maybe,” a burly cowboy leaped onto the stage and asked for “a kiss for the boys from Manitoba,” as in some scene from an old Dietrich movie. Janis obliged, and as she was leaving the stage, the delirious embodiment of Manitoba thanked the stage hands for letting him through. “Why are you thanking them, honey?” Janis asked in her plaintive voice. “They didn’t do nothing for you!”
Next morning the Festival Express set off early. Mountain split and the Band was expected on board, but only Rick Danko and Jon Taplin, the Band’s road manager, made the train. Robbie had to go back to New York to check out the mixes on the Band’s upcoming album, and the others, who were at a party the night before, didn’t make it up in time for the 8 A.M. departure.
As it is, Rick and Jon only just got on board. Their taxi arrived as the train was pulling out of the station. They leaped out of the taxi and ran for the train, ran back again to pay the driver, clambered over a couple of fences with their bags, and leaped on board at the last minute.
Many musicians ended their day with breakfast and started with late lunch or dinner, straggling into the dining car for the last call. It was one of the few occasions when sober, unstoned dialogues took place. One lunch, Bonnie and Janis discovered how alike they really were. “She’s as macho as me, man,” Janis said early one afternoon, and Bonnie told how she lived out her whole being on the stage; that it was the only real thing she knew.
Janis agreed and recalled the ecstasy of the first time she’d got up on a stage. “They threw these musicians at me, man, and the sound was coming from behind, the bass was charging me, and I decided then and there, that was it, I never wanted to do anything else. It was better than it had been with any man, you know. Maybe that’s the trouble.”
The first meal of the day generally brought out the passengers’ reveries. “I could just lie in my bed for hours, watching the trees and rivers go by,” said Eric Andersen, “and letting collected memories drop on my head. It’s only when you’re drunk or happy that you have the courage to remember, and I just get delirious watching all this go by…silver, singing skies.”
Tom Rush, in his snakeskin jacket, pointed out a lush green valley furling out of a lazy river on the right, someone else saw a cloud in the shape of a giant's toe. Sam Cutler, the jaded pirate, caustically denounced these romantic yearnings with a loud bellow: "I've already got over the trees!"
A waiter told Delaney about past trips. "Very unusual, this bunch, but a pleasure, I'm sure. You know, once we had this group of businessmen hire a train to make a business deal. They were traveling from Calgary to Edmonton, see, but when they got to Edmonton, they hadn't concluded their dealings so they said, 'Turn the train around and go back,' and so we ended up going back and forth like that three times before they reached a decision."
Although present company didn't represent the usual clientele on CNR's Western route, the personnel slowly came to terms with their unconventional passengers to the point where a delicate balance of humor was established.
One late lunch, a member of the Dead order chocolate cake, with ice cream and chocolate milk to follow, for dessert. "You must really be stoned!" the waiter said confidentially.
For those who found it difficult to get themselves together after an all-night session, Janis always had some good advice. To a tomato juice-drinking neighbor, she suggested, screwdriver in hand: "When you're out of vodka, just go on and use some gin in the juice, honey. Really, it's the way to do it. Just don't smell the gin."
There was no caboose at the end of the train, but after a late lunch you could sit on the little platform at the end of the last car and watch the tracks taper into the vanishing point. Although northern Ontario seemed to be an uninhabited landscape from this unobstructed viewpoint, one could see elk, rabbits, moose, and the occasional human. Jerry Garcia reported seeing a large black bear scratching its back on a birch tree.
“Whoooh! There’s so much talent on this train,” Janis said, laughing at her own double entendre. “I knew it was going to be a party, man. I didn’t take this gig for nothing else but that. I said, ‘It sounds like a party and I wanta be there. It’s just gonna be Rockin’ Pneumonia, Boogie Woogie Flu…wow!’”
“Holy cow, whatcha doin’ chile, / Holy smoke, it ain’t no joke…” Rick and Janis were wailing Lee Dorsey, Rick harmonizing with his Dodge City whine. After a few more old favorites like “I Kept the Wine and Threw Away the Rose,” “Silver Threads and Golden Needles,” and “Honeysuckle Rose,” Eric sang a song that he wrote on the train, a subtle, quiet song that Janis’ voice understood intuitively: “Do you remember the night I cried for you, Do you remember the night I cried for you?...”
“Are we in Calgary yet?” Janis asked as we hit the outskirts of Saskatoon. “Whooopee,” John Cooke yodeled, in his finest western manner. “The next town we git to, we’re gonna divest it of its young womanhood!”
Everybody piled off the train, and descended on the railroad souvenir shop, hungry for cultural trash: Lurid magazines, sleazy paperbacks, candy, kitsch pastel emblems depicting beavers and leaping salmon painted on felt, postcards with mounties, Indian chiefs and moose (legend on the back reads: “Mounted, this fine head makes an excellent wall hanging for club, office or recreation room”). The owners couldn’t believe it. A horde of freaks snatching up every piece of junk in the store! But to the denizens of L.A. and Marin County, Saskatoon is as exotic a place as Outer Mongolia.
Meanwhile John Cooke and Festival Express co-ordinator Dave Williams made a run on the town liquor store. They slammed down $400 on the counter. “Tell us when it’s used up,” they said like a couple of prospectors come to drink up their claim.
The “claim” was hoisted on board, and the “People’s Bar” was set up. It now included a giant totemic gallon-sized bottle of Canadian Club which seemed like the symbol of All Drink, and by the time The Million Dollar Bash was over, would prove the strongest man at last.
As we left the town behind, the band picked up, rhythm got a little faster. The wheels were turning over like a steel metronome under us, clicking off time as relentlessly as a Rhythm King, the meter of our thoughts, an invisible envelope of sound that infected everything and especially the music. The sound of the train itself was like syncopated breathing, a fast country double-time like Jerry Lee Lewis’ drummer Morris Tarrant.
The tambourine ticked off like a piston, and the brushed licked the snare like a breathless hounddog as Jerry, Janis, Marmaduke and a choir of alcoholic harmonies wailed into “I’ve Just Seen A Face,” stretching out the country, pulling the words apart like a rubber band, “I am fah-lling, yes I am faaaah-lllll-iing…” and when they got to the end they just started again. “This is one of those endless songs,” Bob Weir said, “if I could remember how it began, maybe we could find an ending or we could just go on singing this all night.”
Eventually the song dribbled off, and everybody started singing with heavy emphasis John’s melancholy imitation of Dylan, that because of some internal structure of its own became the ultimate Beatles Beach Party song. While everybody else was nailing down the chorus “HEEEY! You’ve got to hide your lovaway…” with alcoholic dexterity, Janis was moving about the lounge giving a soul lecture in a sort of counterpoint gospel: “Liisten, honey, ya can’t put your love out on the street, no, no, no, no, nooooh, you’ve got ta put your love in a pot, honey, ‘n take it on home…” The effect of all this was beautiful and ecstatic, despite the fact that the harmonies had collapsed completely, and the voices squealed and whined trying to reach the high notes.
The whole party looks and sounds like Merle Haggard live at Independence Hall on the 4th of July gone completely crazy: Clark Pierson [Joplin’s drummer] wearing a Mickey Mouse T shirt and calling out for a barmaid, Roosevelt [Buddy Guy’s drummer] wearing a beige and red striped jump suit styled after a pair of coveralls, Geri [Miller], star of the Warhol movie Trash, in a green suede fringed vest and nothing else, like an exploding green pepper, and Charlebois’ cajun fiddler Philippe Gugnon wearing his grey stove-pip hat. His long lean face made him look like an Ozark Lincoln.
“Hey, is that my guitar, man?” asked Janis, sitting crosslegged on an amp in her Thirties hustler dress with a slit up to her thighs. In her $4.95 hooker shoes, covered with beads, her cigarette holder, feathers, and American flag wrapped around her neck as a scarf, she looked like the personification of a national holiday being celebrated by a display of fireworks.
Someone handed Janis her Gibson hummingbird. “I only know one song, honey, but I’m gonna sing it anyhow.” And Janis began singing “Bobby McGee.” She sang it with her incredible intensity so that it no longer sounded like Kristofferson’s vaguely country folk song, but more like a gospel blues, and Jerry Garcia picked out sweet steel guitar licks (like his subtle playing on CSN&Y’s “Teach Your Children Well”) that danced around Janis’ raunchy voice. Everyone joined in on the chorus; it’s the theme song of the Festival Express, and it must have been sung a hundred times on this trip, in bars, backstage, in compartments late at night, in hotel lobbies and along the tracks. Seemed to sum up everything that everybody went through on this journey.
[ lyrics, “Bobby McGee” ]
The cajun fiddler, with his chrome plate violin, was trying to play along, but he couldn’t find the key. “Play the motherfucker, I’ll back you,” Jerry told him, and he began one of his backwoods reels, tapping out an incredible patter with his feet, on an old suitcase to keep time. “Hey, this guy plays with his feet, man,” Janis said.
“Bon finis, bon finis!” Janis applauded as he finished his number. The fiddler beamed. He asked her to dance, and they twirled around for a couple of reels like two imaginary creatures from Edward Lear dancing wildly by the light of the moon, and then in a sentimental moment he played for her “You Are My Sunshine,” and his heart was in his bow.
John Barleycorn was king here, and Janis was cackling triumphantly that she had finally got the Dead drunk. No one was immune from the deluge of spirits. The CNR cop was playing the tambourine, and at every lull in the music he shouted out a request for “Holy, holy,” by Neil Diamond. It fell on deaf ears. Someone offered him a joint. He walked over, looking like he was actually going to take it! “I just wanted to smell it,” he said sheepishly.
It was the last night on the train, and everybody was aware of it. “Let’s just refuse to leave!” Jerry Garcia suggests. A number of impossible suggestions were made, like diverting the train to San Francisco. “We could have the whole goddam city turn out to meet us at the Union Station,” John Cooke suggested.
Things ended on a comic note, however – Rick Danko singing in his hokey country voice, as creaky as Chester in Gunsmoke.
“I been in jail and I got a jail sentence for 99 years.”
“Oh, no, not 99 years to wear the ball and chain?” someone asked incredulously.
“Yeah,” said Rick, continuing the story, “so my old lady came to visit me, and she said, ‘Son, but you don’t have to think about this, because, because it’s the best of the tears,’ and we all said:”
Ooh, ooh, ooooh,
And we all said,
No more cane in the Brazos.
Rick: “So I said, Captain, don’t you do me like you done me…” And the words became more surrealistic, stumbling over one another in their eagerness to finish the line. The evening ended with a hymn, “Amazing Grace,” and a thundering version of “Goodnight Irene” that was so loud that it seemed as if it would rock the train right off the tracks.
[ See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qSRV3pXSMlc ]
The next morning we were in Calgary. Jerry Garcia was walking down the tracks to get a cab to town in the pure blue morning at the coach yard where the train is stationed, sun shimmering on a luminescent waterfall of light, smiling and groaning, “I promise never to drink again, your Honor. How’s my head? I need a lobotomy.”
“Woodstock was a feast for the audience; the train was a feast for the performers,” Bob Shuster of Albert Grossman’s office said in Calgary. And whether festivals can work successfully on a financial level (Festival Express cost just under a million dollars and lost about $350,000) or in a communally open way any more was really called into question after the experience of the festivals in Toronto, Winnipeg, and Calgary. Thor Eaton himself admitted that Festivals might be unworkable in the future “at least as they’re now structured.”
It used to be that you could walk down streets at dusk and catch the entire new Beatles album drifting out, band overlapping and interconnecting. The music somehow realized and extended the senses of what many thought was a new Christmas on Earth. Persons entered the music and the music received them. Monterey was the first and best festival, for it felt like a true embodiment of a seemingly actualizable social happiness.
Now the thrill seems to be going, we realize over and again that we are volunteers and victims. And rock and roll, too, has not been able to escape its various esthetic and economic prisons. If a group like Led Zeppelin is going to charge $75,000 an appearance, as a Festival Express associate has reported, then only a highly priced and structured Festival can manage to accommodate the group and its management. (Our feeling is: Save the money and call on Bukka White.)
The Festival structure is finally pyramidical – groups playing in order of financial draw (though sometimes popularity) and a closed spatial environment, stadium walls enclosing performers and audience, blocking out the kids standing outside. It is this boundary implicit in the structure that undermines the boundlessness of the music. And confrontation is as inevitable as low attendance.
Ticket prices for the Festival were fair. As one guy from Calgary pointed out, Three Dog Night had played Calgary the week before, selling out for four, five, and six dollars a seat, so he wasn’t complaining about his having to shell out $14 to hear 20 groups. But if kids came to a Festival expecting to be let in free when organizers have to pay half a million dollars for the acts, then a compromise isn’t going to be reached.
Musically, of course, the groups all played better and better as the Festival progressed as a result of the shared excitement and openness generated by the experiences on board the train. The train trip, in fact, allowed the performers to enter the kind of traveling energy people used to discover in themselves as they entered “their” music. Now, for the musicians, the train embodied that state in which, as someone once wrote, “the same form that it had when it enclosed original warmth.”
At the Calgary Festival, there was an open jam featuring Bonnie and Delaney, Ian and Sylvia, Rick Danko, and Jerry Garcia. This would have been inconceivable at the Toronto Festival. “We thought you were just California freaks,” Rick Danko told Jerry Garcia, “but you’re just like us.”
The old United Nations cliché about people being all the same underneath all those different pigmentations and under trees of brotherhood turns ot to be true when you have a community of sympathetic interests, a sense of compassion, and good old give and take. Only Janis could turn the Dead and assorted heads into a bunch of “Goodnight Irene” singing drunkards. And one of the nicer ironies of Festival Express was that the communitarian ideal as exemplified on board the train was written off as “expenses.”
“There are things you tell yourself. There are things you tell other people. And then there’s the truth,” Ken Walker said something along that line. He likes to shoot bear. Close range with a .38 Magnum. Right in the chest. At 24, he is already an ambitious entrepreneur and a master of paranoic business in-fighting. When Allen Klein came up to the Toronto Rock and Roll Festival on behalf of John and Yoko Lennon, Walker was offering Klein’s clients $158 a person – union scale. “I promised that John and Yoko would be in Toronto,” Walker said, “not that they’d play.” Klein, according to Walker, was displeased. “Meet me in the bathroom,” he told Walker. “What’s this Carpetbaggers scene? Are we going to piss for distance?” Walker inquired. The Lennons walked off stage with scale and tape of the concert.
Walker’s connections seem staggeringly all-inclusive. When eight L.A. radicals were coming up to Canada, supposedly to help disrupt the Calgary Festival, Walker was immediately informed by the Mounted Police that they had been refused entrance into the country. Walker brooks little interference with the realization of his projects. When M4M picketers showed up a second time at his Toronto offices, supposedly threatening him, Walker had Toronto police paddy wagons mosey around the block. Twelve picketers split. Walker ordered four Cokes to be brought out to the remaining four. Two were rejected. “That’s progress,” Walker says about the two Coke drinkers. And if there also seems a bit of friction between the John Brower gang and Eaton-Walker Associates for the control of Canada’s rock and roll territories, then Walker and his condottieri, while losing money, won a lot of points with their version of Festival Express.
After the Calgary Festival, Ken Walker magnanimously invited some friends to recuperate at the palatial Banff Springs Hotel, an edifice right out of pre-revolutionary Russia: shimmering flower beds, sun-flecked paths sloping through arbors, distant voices beyond the greenhouse, algae-brocaded woods, and a voluptuous blue sky.
Walker’s party added some life or anxiety to the elegant scene, depending on whether you were working as a chambermaid or as Hotel Security. One afternoon in his suite, Ken Walker talked about his most recent unbelievable encounter with the Mayor of Calgary who had come around to the Festival to see what was happening and spied out some future voters.
“I had already paid for crash facilities and transportation for the kids at Prince’s Island,” Walker said. “But the Mayor, who’s also Commissioner of Police and Head of Planning, comes up to me outside the Festival Stadium”:
Mayor (like the Pied Piper): Let the Children of Calgary pass through the gates free.
Walker: I pay my performers, I have my bills. My insurance won’t cover it. If a person wants a TV set, should he just take it? How far do you go?
Mayor: You S.O.B. All this city has done for you and you won’t do a thing?
Walker: You want them in? Underwrite it.
Mayor: You’ll never come back to Calgary.
Walker: You show me power-tripping Calgary style, I’ll show you power-tripping Toronto style. Where’s your Festival Courtesy Pass? [Walker rips up pass.] I don’t have to talk to you. Split, quick.
Mayor (to Deputy Police Chief): I’m Commissioner of Police. Arrest that man.
“I started chasing the mayor down the passageway,” Walker related. “He went to take a swing at me and the Deputy Chief grabbed him. I wound up. I let one go, and I hit a steel garbage drum. The doctor came over and said, ‘I’ve already given you five tranquillizers, Ken.’”
“I don’t care if you’re King,” Walker shouted at the Mayor, as associates separated the two again. “I’m from Toronto!”
“I have to go through these kinds of things all the time,” Walker said. “But I had a good time on the train. So I lost some money. As the Egyptians say, Maalesh. You think I’m going to lie down on the tracks? Wait until you hear about my plans for the next Festival!”
Among other astonishing things, Walker tried to educate Canadian police during the Festival Express trip, attempting to enlighten them as to the politics of drug culture. Walker, for instance, invited a staff superintendent of the Calgary Police to watch the Toronto proceedings; and this superintendent later cooled out the Calgary police, preventing more than the one bust in the Calgary Stadium of a kid selling strychnine acid.
Walker also brought along an expert in psychopharmacology so that he could approach local drug clinics and explain to them the best means of dealing with bum trips. Walker bought 2,000 tabs of valium, and he trained doctors so that now, as he says, “Winnipeg knows how to take care of things.” And finally, Walker invited John Sagar, a Community Relations Officer for Metro Toronto Police, to convince local Canadian police to observe rather than bust kids.
“You can’t definitely say what the police are going to do with the information they received first-hand about the way the kids behave at festivals,” Walker said. “But hopefully we’ll now be able to talk to them. You see, I believe in reciprocation. I’ll help the police if they’ll help me and the kids coming to the Festivals. I asked the M4M: if you want a free show, how are you going to reciprocate? We’ll clean up Toronto, they said. But how’s that going to pay my bills? I asked them. Don’t say you’ll hold a benefit because I don’t like charity. And what about the city sanitation workers? Kick them out of their jobs?
“There’s another way of running a show,” Ken Walker said, walking out to the suite’s balcony overlooking the baby azure river winding through pine forests and reflecting the purple mountains. “Let everyone in free and charge to get out.”
“The problems involved in festivals have cost us a lot of thought,” mused Rock Scully, of the Dead entourage. “First of all, the train made friends of everybody. We rarely come across each other for any length of time, rapping, playing music especially. Music most the time has to be hammered out, it isn’t in the air, as it was on the train.
“When we once tried to save San Francisco’s Carousel Ballroom from the commercial trip, Janis said: Let Bill Graham run it, he knows how to do it. I’m a performer.
“Now Janis’ and Jerry Garcia’s music has grown up with their own personal involvement. They’ve taken a lot of knocks. And it’s Janis’ music and Jerry’s music. The wellsprings of music are located in your common experience, in the way you live. Like you’re working in the garden together and at the end of the day everyone is singing.
“Here we were on the train, uprooted from the normal functions of everyday life, and the drummer had this train beat going. It influenced the Festival’s music, it let all of us use our four or five years’ experience and turn it back on its roots.
“When you have 500,000 people looking at six guys, well, that’s a million eyes staring at you. That’s an unnatural form. It’s been used up. Sure, it’s better than playing ballrooms, and we haven’t talked about whether we’ll play festivals again.
“But I think a festival has to be spontaneous. It has to be announced as other than an all-star lineup. All these kids will come together to celebrate a solstice, say, and it will become people’s music.”
After the final Festival concert at Calgary, a guitarist mysteriously showed up at the York Hotel where the farewell party was taking place, and with the deep and painful voice of some Ancient Mariner performed songs of unbelievable dignity. No one knew his name. He said: “It doesn’t matter the kind of music I play. Your mind sort of melts and becomes that one place of beautiful bliss which is the only place to be.” His name turns out to be Bob Carpenter, who’s putting together a first, privately recorded album, one of whose songs contains the lines that might stand as an epitaph for the train journey:
Man is the woman revealed as the child
Concealed in a handful of play.
(by David Dalton & Jonathan Cott, from Rolling Stone, September 3 1970)