The 1960s was perhaps the most fruitful decade in music history. It saw the future make the break from the past, and the great artistic experiments that were enacted across its ten momentous years gave culture the foundations it needed to then go on and explode into the fluid, multifarious landscape that is today.
From the increasingly pioneering sounds of The Beatles to the heady soul of Motown and even the visceral free jazz of John Coltrane, many giant steps were made across the ’60s, and it is certain that without them, life today would be very different.
The ’60s was the era when many of music and culture’s biggest icons were crystallised as such. Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin; if you were to name some of the most lauded popular music artists, I’d wager that the majority of them would have had their heyday in the ’60s, and if not, they almost certainly would have started proceedings.
Failing that, such is the case for the likes of Bruce Springsteen, many budding artists would have been in their teenage years, inspired by the great forward strides made in and around them. Just on the brink of adulthood, ready to take the ideas of the era, the new school repackaged ideas, ensuring culture was ready for the future.
One of the highlights of the ’60s music scene was how many rockstars became close friends. From The Beatles’ bromances with The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan to Joni Mitchell introducing Crosby, Stills and Nash to her countryman Neil Young, the stories of our favourite artists hanging out back then are countless, and they have now passed into legend, helping to solidify the great mythology that is classic rock. One only has to mention the all-star lineup of Woodstock 1969 to get a grasp of just how interconnected the era’s musical movers and shakers really were.
One of the outfits plugged into the heart of this game-changing set was the American-Canadian rabble, The Band. Formed out of the ashes of Bob Dylan’s former backing band, The Hawks, the lineup featured the likes of Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm, and Rick Danko, and well before releasing their 1968 debut album Music from Big Pink, they were already one of the most well-respected collectives of musicians on the planet. After they released their debut, the band quickly shot to become one of the biggest outfits on the planet, helped by timeless singles such as ‘The Weight’.
Being so prestigious gave The Band many opportunities, which included hanging out with some of the biggest musicians of the day, something they were already used to after being Dylan’s backing band. One of the highlights was the 1970 train tour across Canada, the Festival Express, which featured a host of A-listers such as Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Buddy Guy, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Ian and Sylvia’s Great Speckled Bird, and Delaney and Bonnie.
Unsurprisingly, there were many highlights from this raucous journey, but arguably the finest was a drunken jam session between Janis Joplin, Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir of Grateful Dead, John Dawson, and The Band’s Rick Danko, and luckily for us, footage exists of that stellar session.
Although they are quite clearly half-cut, the footage from that moment is some of the most fascinating of the era, confirming that small incident as one of the final highs before everything soured later that year following the counterculture turning into a twisted shell of itself and the premature deaths of Joplin and Jimi Hendrix.
In the video, we see the group laughing and singing without a care in the world, united by a love of music and the excitement of being on such a mammoth trip. Watching some of music’s most revered icons in such a candid state is like watching rare animals in a menagerie, and it is not to be missed.
Watch the footage of the jam below.