“Easy Rider” wasn’t born to be live, necessarily, but it will be, now, with a combination of screening and live performance set to take place at Radio City Music Hall Sept. 20. The film’s key original soundtrack artists, John Kay of Steppenwolf and Roger McGuinn of the Byrds, are on board to reprise their songs from the film, and T Bone Burnett has been enlisted to direct the musical performances.
“Peter Fonda’s team reached out to see if I’d be interested in exploring ideas for the film’s 50th anniversary,” says Dayglo Presents’ Peter Shapiro, who’s presenting the show in partnership with Live Nation. The combination of music and visual is his forte, as he’s been responsible for putting everything from “U23D” to the Grateful Dead’s “Fare Thee Well” on cinema screens. The approach he came up with for this was not unlike “when the Bowl does ‘Star Wars’ and ‘ John Williams shows, but different from what is typically done, which is movie with classical-style orchestral performance. This real rock ‘n’ roll soundtrack performed live thing hasn’t quite been done. I think it portends a different way to approach the presentation of out-of-home entertainment.”
It’s being advertised as a one-night-only event, but Shapiro hopes it does have a further life. “This will be the first, and maybe we’ll do it again other places,” he says.
“Easy Rider” is unusual in that it has no underscore for any of the dialogue scenes — and none will be added for this presentation — while it pioneered the use of rock songs for substantial interstitial moments. Although it hasn’t been determined yet, Shapiro is leaving open the possibility that the songs may play out a little bit longer at Radio City than they do on screen. “Maybe if it’s an interstitial piece, the film has maybe two minutes of music with a visual montage of them on the road on the motorcycles — and maybe the songs go longer, and after the montage we let the band play for a bit. But the movie itself will be treated purely.”
Shapiro promises a superior visual presentation for the newly remastered film as well: “At Radio City they have the largest installed LED screen of any theater in the country and probably the world,” he says. “It’s installed for the annual Christmas show, and it lives there.”
Kay and McGuinn are the marquee draws for “Easy Rider” fans, of course, but “I have a couple ideas for guests,” Shapiro says. Fonda will introduce the screening.
“What a ride it’s been,” Fonda said in a statement. “From a funky motel room in Toronto in ‘67 to a roar on the shore at Cannes in May 1969. A wild ride up the stairs at the Palais into the history books of cinema. Looking for America. Would we find it today? I think not. Did we really ‘blow it?’ You bet. Fifty years later, are we blowing it now? You bet. Enjoy the new print. Sing along with the songs. Laugh with the humor! Remember the spirit! Find the love.”