Long Strange Trip

Festival Express posterIt’s about time we banged out a Caps preview. But rather than pick off the tilts one-by-one, we thought we’d take a longer view – the weeklong Canadian roadie. The Booth of course, is vacated due to the Washington International Horse Show (but enough about Phil Kessel) or Disney on Ice (but enough about Nate Gerbe, Martin. St. Louis and the 5 other dwarves).

This road trip, the longest of the season, reminds us of another storied one. Back in the hippy-dippy summer of 1970, a full 15 years before a wee Alex Ovechkin greeted the world, a very special train took a very special trip across a very special country (Canada), carrying some very special cargo.

The “Festival Express” tour was to take the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, the Band and other acts from coast-to-coast, bringing their eclectic and electric mix of music, merriment and mezcal to our northern neighbors. (We don’t know if this scarred Canada, but it was also around the same time that Ted Cruz was born in Alberta. Just saying.)

The tour was planned to hit concert venues in Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary and Vancouver. Bad planning, screw ups, drugs, Pierre Trudeau and Mounties plagued it.

Steal Your FaceoffNow, forty-three years later, the Capitals this week are poised to take their own east-to-west trans-Canada tour, hopscotching from Winnipeg to Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver, hopefully leaving in their wake a trail of crushed Canadian dreams and broken souls. The Caps spotty record (3-5) and inconsistent play (too many links to include) during the season’s early going, gives us an uneasy feeling that this could be a long, strange trip. But we love Canada – and the Dead – so very, very much, we’re marrying two of our passions for a Capitals Festival Express.

Before we get started, strict content laws require us to list the Canadian musical acts that also performed on the tour (but few will remember): The Good Brothers, Robert Charlebois, Mashmakhan, Ian & Sylvia

FDead Skull Roses Hockeyirst Stop: Winnipeg Jets (4-5-0). (Soundtrack: Don’t Ease Me In) Winnipeg is a strange place, but then again, this is Manitoba we’re talking about. A city that shouldn’t exist in a province cut from Saskatchewan’s irregulars, Winnipeg has two seasons: flooding and freezing. It’s a gloomy, muddy, sodden pothole of a city that makes Dhaka seem like a garden spot in comparison. Anyone with a shred of sense – see Eric Fehr – fled long ago, leaving behind the meth-addled bumpkins that now call it home.*

Since moving to this cesspool three years ago, the Winnipeg Jets have become something of the pee in the Caps punchbowl. When last we met the Jets earlier this year, we barely escaped with a 1-point victory, thanks be to Mike Green. Bloated buffalo Dustin Byfuglien and fossil Ollie Jokinen are what passes for stars on this team, admirably aided by genuine star Evander Kane, Andrew Ladd and few others. This is a skittery crew, somehow managing to be the same team that defeated the Kings and lost to the Stars, and may prove to be the Caps greatest challenge this trip. Let’s put a spoke in these Jet’s wheels and sing “Later Suckers” to Noël’s gang before heading to…

Dead SweaterNext Stop: Edmonton Oilers (2-6-1). (Soundtrack: Turn On Your Goal Lamp Love Light) Appropriately enough for a place most famous for something called “tar sands”, gassy Edmonton is the next tour venue. We’ve often joked that such-and-such city smells like butt, however in Edmonton’s case it’s no joke. This dung-heap of a town quite literally smells of Satan’s own posterior…and perhaps we’re being uncharitable to Satan. Wake up in the morning: butt. Bowlful of Cheerios? Bowlful of butt. A stroll down the Victoria promenade? Buttbuttbutt. This is the place that put the reek in stink, and the team we can most likely put the hurt on as we did earlier this month, a 4-2 win at Verizon that boasted a 3-goal barrage in the 2nd period: Joel, Ovi and Troy.

Without question, the Oilers dominated the 1980’s. So, too, did shoulder pads and Sylvester Stallone, and look at them now without laughing long and hard. These are trying times for the gasboys: their goalies are Swiss cheese and their defense less effective than the Maginot line. To be fair, the Eberle/Nugent-Hopkins line has some punch, which they sorely need as Nail Yakupov is slumping worse than Yakov Smirnov’s routine. (“In America, you gas car. In Edmonton…“) Still, you can’t spell spoilers without, well, duh, so let’s squash these stinkbugs fast and beat it to… As far as the Oilers go, we court the most controversy by being firmly planted in the “Taylor Hall is cute” camp. Even after he got sliced up. Bring it, haters.

Dead SYF1Next Stop: Calgary Flames (3-2-2) (Soundtrack: New GM Speedway Boogie) Quick: what’s the first thing that comes to mind when I say “Calgary”? Exactly – nothing. Calgary is the null set of Canadian cities – and that’s saying something. Montreal has its uppity secessionists, Toronto its crack-smoking Chris Farley look-alike mayor; heck, even Moose Jaw has a cool name if nothing else. Calgary? Please. Sure it’s big, but so is dark matter. Tepid, runny non-flavored diet jello has more going for it than this backwater.

Truculent Brian Burke was recently brought in to try to rebuild renew reignite the Flames, and whoo-boy does he have a job ahead of him. The Flames have failed to fire for much of the past decade with few signs of anything changing other than name-plates on doors. That said, human Pez dispenser Jiri Hudler has been having a good go of it lately, as have the adorably-named Sean Monahan and – of all people – old friend Dennis Wideman. The Flames pasted us in the early going and the boys in red forced a shootout (Ovi and Grabo with the mad skillz in the skills session) coming back from being down 0-3.  We still like our chances this time around. Maybe we even give Neuvy (Neuvy, anyone? Just us?) a little play in the net before packing up and making tracks to…

Dead SYF2Last Stop: Vancouver Canucks (5-4-1). (Soundtrack: Hard To Handle) Vancouver: the city that’s just too cool for school…and you, too. It’s the birthplace of Greenpeace, the home city of AdBusters, and boasts more parks for pets and their hoomans than any place else, anywhere. It’s San Francisco without the cost, Williamsburg without the artisanal hipsters, and DC without the smug. There are mountains and oceans and trees and culture and Ryan Kesler’s abs. I hate Vancouver sooo much.

Another reason to hate the Canuckleheads is their roster. Sure, it’s deep with genuine talent, but it’s also one of the best looking line-ups to be found. Save for the creep-tastic Sedin twins, you’d be hard pressed to find an uggo on that squad. Even Dman Jason Garrison has 10 points in the season so far, and he’s just a lunk. A striking lunk. The Canucks present the greatest real challenge on paper to the Caps this trip. Which is why we wish we had something profoundly insightful to say here, but predictive sports writing is crap. Just ask our bookie.

And then there’s John Tortorella. hahahahahaha oh god, he’s terrible. Our biggest hope at PuckBuddys Amalgamated Enterprises LLC is that Torts screws up Vancouver like he did the Rangers. We like our odds

Dead Caps LogoPost Script: The original Festival Express was largely a disaster. The performances in Montreal and Vancouver were cancelled, few attended those that were left, Calgary’s mayor got punched in the mouth (don’t ask) and the organizers took a financial bath. Three months later, we lost Janis. Here’s to not doing that again. But if you want to relive that long ago journey, a documentary was just released on the tour. #PlayDead

*Rock god Neil Young lives much of the time in Winnipeg, being the exception that proves the rule.

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