Joy is a powerful thing, and one of our favorite themes. A great many of the posts found in this festival of filler can be boiled down to our search for things that make us happy. It's within this context that I offer my wholehearted recommendation for the new Emmett Malloy film, Big Easy Express.
The movie chronicles an eight-day, six-city tour from Oakland, CA to New Orleans, LA undertaken by folk-pop-country bands Mumford & Sons, Old Crow Medicine Show, and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. The twist: the bands and their considerable road crews and entourages traveled the entire journey by rail on a vintage train.
Perhaps it was the uniqueness of the trip, or the bands' shared musical lineage. Maybe the romance of the circumstance or the near-universal dedication to musicianship. Or it could have been the rabid, passionate fans that showed up at each railstop concert venue. Whatever the manifold reasons, the camaraderie and almost awestruck glee of the participants dominated the film, as tangible and present as the massive thunderhead that serves as a visual backdrop to the Zeros' set in Marfa, Texas.
Big Easy Express Official Trailer from S2BN Films on Vimeo.
As you might imagine, music dominates the movie, with vivid and energetic live performances by each band and intimate trainboard jam sessions between and amongst the bands. Among my favorite moments is a scene where Zeros' violinist Nora Kirkpatrick sits in on a jam with Old Crow and learns the latter's song in a matter of moments, playing along as if she'd known it for years.
Concert video has been done to death, but the directors' use of multiple angles, speeds, and film styles bring something new to 'Express'. Old Crow do a killer version of 'Wagon Wheel', a song Bob Dylan started and they finished. The Mumfords' live version of their hit, 'The Cave' features the Stephen F. Austin High School Marching band in one of the movie's most affecting and moving scenes. And the finale, which features all three bands in an impossible spirited version of Woody Guthrie's 'This Train is Bound for Glory', is an all-timer. Hard not to leave the theater without a big ol' smile on your face.
I took my 10 year-old daughter to the show, which screened as part of the annual SilverDocs festival in Silver Spring, MD. To my slight surprise, she was by far the youngest person in the audience, which made me feel both like the coolest dad in the room, and the dumbest. But aside from the uncensored version of the Mumfords' 'Little Lion Man', everything about this movie is something I want my kids to see and feel - the joy of doing something you love with people you dig is what we should all get to experience.