Tuesday, July 17, 2012
Big Easy Express
“It’s like we left all our baggage at home and just brought our instruments.”--Ketch Secor, (Old Crow Medicine Show), in Big Easy Express
A train embarking on more than 2,000 miles of open countryside between Oakland, California and New Orleans, Louisiana, holds a lifetime of musical memories.
The steel-driving force of this trip was not the engine going full steam ahead, but rather the Railroad Revival filling the train’s cars.
All aboard this glory-bound train were London’s Mumford and Sons, Nashville’s own Old Crow Medicine Show, and Los Angeles-based Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros.
With thousands of miles to conquer in a week and a half, six cities to perform in, and a train full of talent, the saying “The sky’s the limit,” becomes a bit of an understatement. The trip of a lifetime? Perhaps.
Old Crow Medicine Show fiddle player/vocalist, Ketch Secor says, “Definitely the trip of a lifetime. I've been a touring musician for something like 15 years and I've never experienced a more dream-come-true tour.”
Fortunately, film director Emmett Malloy (The White Stripes Under Great White Northern Lights, Out Cold, Thicker Than Water) was on board this magical mystery train to catch a glimpse into the world of these folk gurus.
The picturesque scenery and vintage feel of the train reflected throughout the film are only the beginning of this rail-riding adventure. Malloy captures the euphoric, late night jam sessions--performances at the stops along the way where people poured in by the thousands--and the kindred friendships that grew deeper as the journey continued. While the film does have interviews with members of each band, this film truly is all about the music.
The raw talent these musicians have individually is undeniable, but combined they are a force to be reckoned with.
“Charged up with a full head of steam and set loose rolling down the mountain like a cannonball,” is how Secor paints the picture of what is was like being on board the train.
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zero’s lead vocalist, Alex Ebert defines the tour as, “Electric, child-realized magic.”
These three bands with different backgrounds from very different places learned that they all effortlessly became one when it came to the music. “It was like meeting old friends for the first time,” describes Secor.
Ebert says the camaraderie was, “Inspiring...it shook the very notion of being a musician to me. So much music was being played so often, more than any other thing, more than sleeping, more than eating--BEING music. It was a profound experience.”
Fond memories were clearly made throughout this trip. For Ebert, the experience of just being on board the train was a memory in and of itself.
“Walking from one car to the next--shaky, in between cars--the loud gasps of rumbling air, smiling at someone because it was too loud to yell 'Hi!', enjoying a sunset or landscape with them for a moment and then suddenly entering the next pocket of music-- of company.”
Secor reflects back on memories from being a child. “Having my father out there with me was pretty special. He is a real railroad enthusiast and raised us kids up riding Amtrak trains. Being in some of those vintage railcars with him, especially the diner, was like stepping back into my own childhood again.”
After ten days of travel across the U.S., the train that became home to these bands dropped its passengers off for the last time in New Orleans for the final performance.
As the journey concluded, Secor recalls, “After a few nights on board, you get train legs and regular ground just don’t feel quite right."
Before the trip would completely come to an end, of course there had to be one good night of partying in N’awlins before everyone parted ways. And party they did.
“I love New Orleans--got very drunk in NOLA,” explains Ebert. “Marcus (Mumford) eventually corralled some of us more drunk fellows up to the roof, and we jumped into the pool just before dawn. It was ecstatic. We then tumbled soggy to our rooms. I did lose my hat on that roof though, I think...”
The film made its debut to the world when it premiered in Austin, Texas on March 17th. After the screening of the film, the bands reunited and performed a free set for those who came.
“It was very good to see so many of the folks again,” say Ebert. “We played a few songs on the movie stage, including the song we wrote about the train--nearly choked up.”
The good news is that the film, Big Easy Express, will be making a pit stop in Nashville. On April 26th--the closing night of the Nashville Film Festival--there will be a screening of the film. For more information, check out the Nashville Film Festival website.