Thousands of miles of train track from Oakland to New Orleans covers some of America’s most scenic views, taking one through beautiful sights you’d all but miss on the more efficient plane ride. In 2012, three bands, folk-rock, indie, and bluegrass – Mumford and Sons, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, and Old Crow Medicine Show – rented a vintage train in California, creating the musical tour of dreams, playing shows along the way as they took the infamous train journey from Oakland to New Orleans covering four thousand miles.
The Big Easy Express is a cinematic music experience that combines a concert movie with a roadie documentary, bringing you in and behind the action of incredible music being made. The quality of the sound makes you feel as though you’re one of the spectators, tagging along at the train stops, dancing in the vibrant crowd at the shows and having a front row seat to their late-night jam sessions as the train speeds through the backcountry.
Baffled by the fact that such a movie could pay homage to New Orleans and I hadn’t yet seen it, a friend and I rented the movie and watched it two times through, and if you haven’t seen it I implore you to do so.
The three band’s sounds collaborate perfectly; in fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find three bands who so humbly and beautifully respect and enhance each other’s music in such an inspiring setting. There’s a fleeting scene where the Ed Sharp guys are singing “All Wash Out” in between train stops, and you begin to notice the crowd of musicians encircling the band is also strumming along, adding their notes and rhythms to the song.
At the concerts along the way, the bands take turns performing their own songs for crowds jumping with excitement and anticipation, but the finale of the show is worth watching even if you don’t consider yourself a fan of any of the three bands. Mumford and Sons, Old Crow Medicine Show, and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, take the stage together to cover Jonny Cash’s “This Train was Bound for Glory” which so perfectly captures the spirit and message behind the “tour of dreams” as the bands refer to it as. The energy on stage when the all of those talented people are together on stage is nothing short of magical – a symphony of country instruments all playing their hearts out.
Often you think of music as being the brainchild of one musician or at best an impressive feat of collective imagination, but sometimes it’s easy to forget how great music can come from anywhere. The closing scene of the film shows the bands sitting in a train car strumming a melody and brainstorming lyrics about the train experience. Seemingly out of nowhere the poignant lyrics come to fruition – “on a train to New Orleans, and all that country in between. Friends you and I, playing for our lives singing sweet dreams forever on a train in the sky.”
After watching the film, all I can say is how much I wish I was in New Orleans in the summer of 2012.