As much as I personally wish I could have been on the train platform in Oakland, California when the conductor called “all aboard” for the Big Easy Express, it’s no problem settling for the second best option, which is watching the movie of the same name in the comfort of one’s home.
What is Big Easy Express you ask?
Well in some ways, it was the 2011 version of the Festival Express train that rolled from Toronto through to Calgary in 1970 with a crew of passengers that included Janis Joplin and the Full Tilt Boogie Band, The New Riders of the Purple Sage, The Grateful Dead, Buddy Guy, The Good Brothers, Delaney and Bonnie and Friends, Rick Danko of The Band and Ian & Sylvia, and their groundbreaking country rock band The Great Speckled Bird.
Three great young bands who continue to enjoy increasing popularity, The Old Crow Medicine Show, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros and Mumford Sons, along with a substantial film crew, a horn section and friends were collectively pumped about making a 10-day journey on rail from California to the destination of New Orleans.
And why wouldn’t these artists be pleased to make the journey, as they have much in common as players and songwriters. To their credit, all have barnstormed their respective nations over the past few years, each building a loyal following as the grassroots-driven popularity spreads.
With Emmett Malloy, who directed 'The White Stripes Under Great White Northern Lights' along for the ride, the hour-long film opens with an impressive, continuous, lengthy and unedited shot that takes the viewer though a number of the rattling and rolling compartments of the train cars while capturing the community vibe right out of the gate and offering up snapshot-like musical interludes from each of the participating bands.
From the outset train songs dot the musical menu, from an all-hands-on-board rendition of "This Train Is Bound For Glory" to Mumford’s take on "John Henry" to "Train On The Island" from Old Crow.
Meanwhile a backdrop of deserts, cactus and rolling tumbleweed, precisely etched peaks and ranges as seen from a dome car, and multi-tracked rail yards present the viewer with a vision of America that harkens back to another time.
Participants, with instruments in hand, talk of being held captive by the songs of Guthrie and Dylan and using them as the touchstones to crafting their growing bodies of work which are also well represented, both in the train cars and on stage.
As the shifts in terrain and topography roll by, Mumford, Old Crow and the Magnetic Zeros find massive crowds awaiting them at four concert stops along the way and it’s invigorating and inspiring to see thousands of young music lovers singing the artists’ songs back to them.
In the Malloy interview that is part of the extras package of the film, the director understood that he knew that it was going to be a great journey and that the music would be resonating with the crowds at the concerts.
That his crew was able to capture the landscapes and beauty of some of the untouched parts of America gave the film a different perspective than most of the music docs made today.
Very few interviews with artists were conducted and the few comments from the participating musicians are succinct; an example being a member of Old Crow talking about running away from home as a kid and discovering the back roads of the nation.
Malloy goes on to talk about how he could find a completely “different vibe” from one car to the next and that “the wall-to-wall music allowed us to tell a story in the midst of it all.”
One of many additional high-water marks found in Big Easy Express is Old Crow’s take of "Wagon Wheel" shot in concert in Marfa Texas. It is readily apparent the song, which he took ownership of some time ago, has taken on anthemic proportions stateside with a young roots-bound audience.
Mumford and Sons are on the receiving end of the same kind of rabid response while dispensing "Little Lion Man" at a stop along the way and we’re also treated to a fine solo take of the blues chestnuts K.C. Moan and the Mumford crew jamming with a high school marching band in Austin.
According to Malloy, the train smelled like a thousand old socks by the time it rolled into New Orleans but a great time was had by all and whoever landed on the idea deserves high praise.
The flick, which was an Audience Award-Winner at the 2012 SXSW Film Festival in Austin was produced in part by Woodshed Films and it will not disappoint any CKUA listener who is in tune with the sounds of Old Crow, Mumford and Edward Sharpe.
Toward the end of last week I slipped into Blues On Whyte in Edmonton’s Commercial Hotel and caught a couple of late sets from Boogie Patrol.
It had been far too long since I made the effort to catch this quintet of devoted young electric roots rock players and it won’t be as long between visits to a Boogie Patrol gig in the future.
Work ethic and talent is a combination hard to beat and this band is the perfect example of what happens when a team works toward a common goal with diligence.
Tight arrangements, impressive ensemble work, nicely constructed solos with personality and distinct flavors, a sincere rapport with the audience and original material that veers far away from emulation was what this listener took note of as the group’s song list was unfurled.
This is the kind of blues-based music that introduces a younger audience to the genre and excites them at the same time.
Proof of that came from a quick glance at the dance floor. This was not my peer group I am happy to report. The fifty-plus crowd was on the fringes for this gig as twenty-something students and hipsters were moving to the music found on the two Boogie Patrol releases, I Try and I Try and the debut recording Groove On or Bug Out.
Rotten Dan Shinnan continues to give it all as a front man as he laid down some blistering harp passages between vocal turns. If the audience response was hot on a Thursday odds are they raised the rafters of Edmonton destination for blues fans on the weekend.
Southern Alberta audiences can catch the Boogie Patrol on October 5 & 6 at the Canmore Hotel and Thanksgiving Sunday at Mikey’s Juke Joint in Calgary before the crew returns for a bit of a weekly residency at The Haven Social Club in Edmonton’s west end.
Boogie Patrol will also be participating in the EBS sponsored Memphis Bound Blues Challenge for the second year running as the band takes to the stage of the Newcastle Pub in Ottewell Shopping Centre on Thursday October 11.