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The Festival Express

The 1970 Canada trip featured the Dead, New Riders of the Purple Sage, Janis Joplin, The Band and others, and is immortalized in the song ‘Might As Well’

Dawson: Traveling with the Dead was always pretty wild, of course, and in the first couple of years of the Riders we were with them a lot. The train ride across Canada was just like one long crazy party. I remember that the only time I ever saw Garcia smashed on tequila was on that train. It was a rare occasion indeed.

Nelson: There were two band cars with equipment set up so you could play, and of course everyone would go down there and jam. Everybody had his own room with a window and a little bed that folded down. Traveling through Canada and then pulling into these little stops that seemed like they were in the middle of nowhere with the band playing – it really seemed like a circus. All the townspeople would come around and see what was going on; they’d look at the band playing through the windows and be totally amazed.

Scully: That was one of the best trips musically that ever went off. There was singing all night and drinking all night in the parlor cars; card playing and cussing and swearing with the most incongruous bunch of musicians. Chicago blues guys, Little Walter. Kristofferson worked up ‘Bobby McGee’ on this trip.

The night before we got to Calgary, the big Roundup started. I think it’s called the Stampede. We were part of that whole Roundup week. We headed into Calgary and all the cowboys were whooping it up. We were supposed to be at the fanciest hotel, except the rooms were tight, the cowboys were tight. We looked like a bunch of drunk hippies. The town was split down the middle between cowboys for the Stampede and Grateful Dead Heads that had come from as far away as Vancouver or had followed the train across Canada. You know, just tie dye and bronco riding. There were fights all over town. Delaney & Bonnie got in a huge row that involved Kris Kristofferson. It was awful. They were strung out on hangovers.

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Mickey with Ali Akbar Kahn on the left and Alla Rahka. Two of the greatest Indian music masters with their student.

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At this time, Donna Jean Thatcher was a studio back up singer, singing on a couple of Boz Skaggs records, and cuts for Elvis Presley. Here she is, under his right arm with from the left, Mary Holiday, Jeanie Greene, Elvis, and Ginger Holiday at American Sound Studio, Memphis Tennessee on January 19, 1969.

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Donna Jean married Keith Godcheaux in November 1970, he joined the Grateful Dead as a pianist in 1971. Donna joined later as a singer.

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Mickey in what looks like a railroad conductors hat, sitting in the train doorway while Jerry picks his guitar and looks down the track. Probably waiting for Janis Joplin to come back from the famous Festival Express liquor run.

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Band meeting on the tracks. Festival Express style! The guys with their backs to the camera are from the left, Robert Hunter, Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Rock Scully and Steve Parish. Guys facing camera, Pigpen (Ron McKernan), Mickey Hart, Sam Cutler, ???, Phil Lesh and I think those are Ramrods knees, but he may also be ???. I’ll bet Sam can tell us.
-Jerilyn

Photos: All – unknown