For any music fan who has lived in or around Dallas for at least a few years, stories (and probably grand exaggerations) of times had at one of the Texxas Jam Music Festivals in the late 1970s or early 1980s are commonplace at this point. The Texxas World Music Festival, which was held annually in the Cotton Bowl from 1978 until 1987, showcased the best in hard rock at that time. The inaugural event featured names that remain large (Aerosmith, Ted Nugent), are now small (Head East), and were only promising youngsters at the time (Van Halen). After years of waiting, Texxas Jam 78, a documentary highlighting the event, is now available.
After a lengthy legal battle between the film's producers and one of the concert's promoters, the doc is seeing the digital light of day via iTunes. As someone who has only heard the wistful and wild-ass tales of the shenanigans had at those nationally prominent festivals, the somewhat short doc (44-minute running time) isn't too terribly revealing, which is unfortunate given the mythical nature the Texxas Jam shows have grown into here in North Texas over the past 30 years.
It's always fun to sweat down a memory lane cluttered with cut-off shorts and porn-'staches, though, so here are the things that popped out the most to us from the film Texxas Jam 78.
Cheech and Chong Performed Skits In-Between Bands. Indeed, the Jam was a full-fledged festival, complete with a carnival midway and a movie theater, among various attractions. But in 1978, it's safe to say that the comedy of stoner legends Cheech and Chong was every bit as beloved as even the biggest bands on the bill were. The duo's dorm-room classic Up in Smoke was released in theaters that same year. At the film's 21-minute mark, Neil Schon and Ross Valory of Journey and the dudes from Head East mixed memories with band Cheech imitations. Unfortunately, this really cool factoid suffered from the film's most debilitating element: a lack of performance footage from the actual event the film is attempting to cover. So, on that note ...
There's Hardly Any Footage of the Festival Performances. For an all-day festival that was truly a big deal and among the first of its kind, a documentary that's so short on performance video footage is damn near inexcusable. What would the monumental 1970 Woodstock documentary have been without the iconic clips of Joe Cocker and Richie Havens? Indeed, there are some clips of the historic stadium's sun-baked crowd smoking and going shirtless to combine with a few stray clips of bands on the Jam stage. While we're on the subject of shortages, it would've been nice to have more than one notable fan account of the day's events. Other than some sincere commentary from the excellent Bruce Corbitt (Rigor Mortis, Warbeast), there isn't much discussion from any of the other 80,000 Jam attendees.
Some Guy Named Walter Egan Performed at the Texxas Jam (Evidently). At the 10:30 mark of the film, hilarity ensues as Ted Nugent, Head East and even the man who may know more about Dallas music history than anyone else, hall of fame DJ Redbeard, admit to not remembering fresh-faced crooner Walter Egan and his sappy soft rock were a part of the Jam. Egan, taken aback by this news on-camera, offers up a feeble attempt to hide his shame over being made fun of by the dudes from Head East. But the gracious Wilson sisters of Heart help Egan's cause by calling him "sweet." Hell, we'll take Ann and Nancy thinking fondly of us over Ted Nugent remembering sharing a bill with us any day. An interesting side note we learned from this doc even more shocking than this Egan fellow playing the Jam is the fact that Frank Marino and Mahogany Rush closed out the night to a dwindling throng, performing after Aerosmith played to the night's largest crowd.
An Abrupt, Misleading and Completely Out of Touch Ending. The film comes to a quick end with Redbeard, Schon, the Wilson sisters and those chatty Head East cats bemoaning the demise of the all-day festival. Death nails such as star-sized egos and the high cost of concert insurance promoters have to swallow were discussed as reasons that festivals such as the Texxas Jam supposedly don't happen anymore. Obviously, the festival scene has only grown in the past 15 years, and an average Coachella lineup makes any of the Texxas Jams look pretty tame in comparison, given the insane amount of star power offered up over a three-day weekend. We'll and cut the film's makers some slack, since these are old interviews. Still, there were 10 Texxas Jams -- not merely the one in 1978. To end the film with several doom-filled minutes on how festivals in general can barely exist is as odd as it is fantastically misleading and off-putting.
The Texxas Jam '78 Really Was a Big Deal. There's a reason this show and its predecessors have been spoken about with such reverence and fondness over the years. The fact is, a lineup of Journey, Heart, Van Halen, Nugent, Aerosmith and Sammy Hagar would be a pretty sweet day of music now. But this was back when these acts had their classic lineups intact, with their biggest hits still fresh and verdant while topping the charts with the youth of the day.
Such an equation is awesome. In one of the more revelatory clips, after the five-minute mark, we learn that upward of 20,000 people from multiple states camped in front of the Cotton Bowl on the night before the show, eager for the next day to begin. As it turns out, those trailblazing fans were the first to take part in what became a dangerous, wild and unpredictable decade where the world of rock music focused its bloodshot eyes on Dallas at least once per year.