Film Review: Big Easy Express

As a lover of folk music and a music blogger, I was obviously excited when I heard about “Big Easy Express”, a documentary made last year that documented The Gentlemen of the Open Road tour. If you’ve been in a cave for the last few years of music, that tour was a once-in-a-lifetime tour that put together 3 of the most influential folk bands out there today, Mumford & Sons, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, and Old Crow Medicine Show, on a train from San Francisco to New Orleans with stops at various places between.

The idea of this show is enough to make a music fan salivate and the movie more than lives up to any expectations that I had for it. Imagine putting 20 of the most insanely creative and original people making music today in an enclosed space and saying “have fun!” The results, chronicled here by Emmett Malloy, are nearly identical to what you might expect.

Here’s a small set up, from the perspective of Alex Ebert, frontman of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros:

160 some odd people on a train to New Orleans. And we’re gonna play music. And if anyone asks, we’re gonna say “Yeah, no big deal, just music on a train through the country.” But, secretly, even to ourselves, we’re gonna say “Yeah, we’re playing music on a train with the country, across the country, to see it the way they saw it more than a hundred years ago. When we were all children, dreaming. To lift the world we come in contact with back into the magic.

The movie starts and ends with stunningly performed and not so stunningly appropriate renditions of the old gospel tune, “This Train is Bound for Glory.” They both show all three bands in full joy and glory, jamming to and with each other and showing that they really are just having a blast doing what they do. One of the coolest parts of the documentary is that there are so many people and they are so comfortable with one another that you often forget who is in what band. It’s an amazing phenomenon that further illustrates that this collaboration was one not taken lightly.

 

From Mumford & Sons playing with the Austin (TX) High marching band to Old Crow Medicine Show jamming on the beach while waiting for the train to Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros wandering off in the desert to just play, this movie illustrates something of that free-spirited wanderlust we all feel when we here incredible folk music. The desire to get in a car and drive through the country with nothing but the wind in your hair and the stereo blasting.

Perhaps the most notable result of this trip is not the documentary, but the ability to hear each band’s influence on each other. Edward Sharpe and the band released “Here” a month ago and it clearly shows Marcus Mumford and friends fingerprints on it. Old Crow Medicine Show’s new album, out yesterday, and Mumford and Sons, recently announced sophomore album (Babel, out in September) are sure to show the same.

Check out the movie now on iTunes or on DVD on July 24.

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