Big Easy Express takes audiences on the train that drove the bands Mumford & Sons, Old Crow Medicine Show and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes from Oakland, CA to New Orleans, LA on their Railroad Revival Tour. Unlike the usual practice of separating bands into different, cramped tour buses as they travel between shows, the Big Easy Express allows these three bands to travel together and proves that, sometimes, the journey is better than the destination.
With room to move around, an open bar, and a bunch of talented musicians, the jam sessions never end and it becomes hard to tell if the bands are more excited to get on stage and perform for their fans at each stop or get back on the train to perform with each other. As the bands leave the stage, instruments in hand, they become a make shift parade as they walk back to the train, still playing, and continuing to do so the moment they get on board. The music in Big Easy Express is constant as we get an up close look at the various shows performed along the way as well as the music constantly being performed on the train itself. We watch as these musicians learn from each other, trade instruments, write new songs, and slowly (but surely) start to turn into a seamless group of talent rather than individual bands.
Along the way, the train becomes a character itself through close up shots of the various cars and gears as director Emmett Malloy allows us to watch not only these bands, but the train as well, travel across the country. As Big Easy Express rolls on, the train becomes more than just a vehicle taking its passengers from one destination to another, it turns a musical safe haven where (as we watch in the opening) you can roam from car to car and find yourself treated to amazing music and new collaborations.
Malloy idealizes the trip and this feeling is further supported by interviews with the various band members who constantly tell the camera that this tour is the best time of their lives. And therein lies the problem. Despite being able to watch these bands, who clearly like each other and enjoy spending time together, it feels like the audience is being told more than shown the moments forming these life long connections. Much like watching someone else’s vacation videos, you are able to see what a great time your friends are having, but you never feel like you’re a part of it. That disconnect is where the film starts to go off the rails.
It is when the bands are on stage (and we are treated to full songs from each at the different stops) that Big Easy Express truly shines, giving audiences a front row seat as we watch these bands let loose and perform not only to the crowd, but sometimes from it. When Marcus Mumford reveals that Old Crow Medicine Show was the band that inspired him to get into folk music (and now he gets to tour right alongside them), the impact of that fulfilled dream is palpable, but it is also one of the few moments in the film that feels like you are truly being let in and included rather than observing things from afar. The overall feeling of the film is excitement and gratitude, but one that never quite translates off the screen to those watching it.
The Upside: Filled with great music, fans of these bands will love to see them up close and personal with fantastic concert footage and fun glimpses into what life was like on the train itself.
The Downside: Unlike most music docs that take you behind-the-scenes and make you feel closer to the band, Big Easy Express feels more like being on the outside of a great party that you have full access to watch, but one you never actually feel a part of.
On the Side: Mumford & Sons’ first rehearsal took place under train tracks making the opportunity for this journey feel like a full circle moment for the band.