Ames art collective charters a concert train
Did you know you can charter a train for any private event you like at the Boone & Scenic Valley Railway and Museum?
It's 1970, and bands like Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, The Band, Buddy Guy, Flying Burrito Bros and Ian & Sylvia's Great Speckled Bird are getting ready to go on tour. They don’t want to drive. The shows are close enough together it would be a weird choice to fly. They weren't going to walk. The obvious solution for someone associated with the tour was to charter a 14 car train for the duration of the three show series traveling from Toronto to Winnipeg to Calgary,
That train has become one of those wonderful pieces of rock history, the kind you hear about and think “they did what now?” And your brain goes, 'well, they bought the tickets, and they took the ride. '
The 2003 British documentary Festival Express tells the story of the now infamous tour and one of the craziest party trains to ever happen in North America.
Fast forward 50 years and some change and Lyndsay Nissen, who is a band leader and the founder of Reliable Street, an Ames art collective, wanted to recreate a small piece of the storied tour adventure.
“I was inspired by the fact that those bands did this back in the 70's,” she explained as the train was leaving the station at the Boone & Scenic Valley Railway and Museum. “It just seems so romantic, the idea of just jamming on a train. When the Grateful Dead did this, the stories about the late night jams that would happen just mesmerized me. I think there's a documentary about it. Just traveling and seeing the countryside and just having it be about the music. I got curious to see if I could create a small piece of that, and it turns out, you can rent a train!”
Nissen chartered a three car train for a three hour excursion for a small group of artists and musicians in April of 2023. The train left around 5 p.m. and took us and about 40 other travelers over the Bass Point Creek High Trestle Bridge, one of the highest and longest double-track railroad bridges in the United States, and through a butterfly sanctuary. As a handful of live musicians serenaded guests in a dining car, mixed media artists and painters were showing art for sale in another.
It was the most magical concert experience we had in 2023 and was an intimate and strikingly unique way to take in a live performance.
“It’s my birthday today, and this is my first time on a train,” Dae~shon said before we left the station. He was one of the performers for the evening. “This is the coolest thing ever. Like a once in a lifetime experience.”
As the train started moving, there was a creak and a sway. Playing an instrument and singing, while keeping time and balance, made for an interesting challenge.
“Ope, looks like I’m going to have to try and stay on both feet,” laughed Nissen as she started her set with the song "Train," “a song obviously about trains."
In between sets from Ella Voloshen of The Morning Belles, a pop act based in Ames, and hip-hop artist Dae~shon, Conductor William Dolezal got on a mic and gave an FAQ about the railway, including that the High Bridge was built in 1901 and stands more than 185 feet high.
“All of us who run the trains are volunteers who just love the history,” Dolezal said. “It’s a pretty relaxing way to travel. I just love doing this.”
Outside of special charters anyone can book, the Boone & Scenic Valley Railway and Museum hosts dinner services aboard a train for around $40 a person in the spring and fall. They host a special Santa Express for kids in December, and they have a Valentine’s Day dinner series every February. The museum has also gotten new railway explorers in the last year, so you can also pedal your way along the railroad.
If you find yourself so moved to take a ride of your own, you can visit the museum’s website.