I Saw Janis Joplin Live
By Jeff Salter
Well, in earlier days, I actually did get a chance to see some notables. Before I describe the event which tops all the others, let me list the other groups or individuals I remember:
Glenn Yarbrough (whom I also interviewed), The Rascals, Classics IV, B.J. Thomas, Larnelle Harris, Mouse and the Boys with Brass, The Freddy Ramirez Trio, Ernie Haas and the Signature Sound, Cody Bender, New Song, and others I can’t recall at the moment.
Saw several USO groups at the NCO Club when I was overseas, though their names escape me right now.
And, at Mercer University, these coffee house acts: The Princess and the Frog, Brian Carney (son of Art Carney), and others I can’t recall at the moment.
New Orleans Pop Festival
But the musical event which really stands out (for me) is the New Orleans Pop Festival (Aug. 31 – Sept. 1, 1969) — held at the LaPlace Raceway, as I recall. At this point, large musical events for young people were not all that common — the much more famous Woodstock had been held only a few weeks prior.
Among the scheduled headliners were the Byrds… and Grateful Dead… and Santana … and Iron Butterfly… and the Youngbloods — though I don’t remember (for certain) seeing / hearing them. I’m struggling now to recall whether I went to the festival on both days or just for one long day. I was on a double date with a girl from Gretna and I know we did not stay overnight.
Anyhow, the acts I DO remember seeing / hearing were Janis Joplin (turned out to be just a couple of months before her death), Oliver, and Country Joe and the Fish. All the years since this event, I had “remembered” that the Jefferson Airplane was supposed to appear, but had gotten busted at the airport for drugs. As likely as that last part sounds, their name is not on the bill. Perhaps it was the Byrds who got busted…
My first impressions were about the long line of cars waiting to pay our admission and get in. As we inched forward, I saw several long-haired guys openly selling drugs. [I didn’t want any.] Oddly, I don’t recall seeing any cops, but have to assume some were present.
Once we parked and hiked to the stage area and got situated, I noticed a guy mixing / dissolving something in a large wine bottle. He didn’t tell me – and I didn’t ask – but I’ve always assumed it was acid (LSD), which I had heard was sometimes used that way.
It was sunny and very hot. I had thought to bring a “shelter half” (i.e. half of a pup tent) which I propped up in a way that gave us a little shade. No chairs … we sat on the rock hard concrete. My date must have brought a blanket or something for us to sit on… because otherwise, we would have baked.
Don’t recall which songs Janis sang, but Oliver sang his big Top 40 hit, “Good Morning Starshine” and Country Joe sang “Along Came Jones.”
About half way between us and the stage, some kids were dancing, like you see in the Woodstock clips. Suddenly one girl stood, turned around with a big loopy smile, and whipped off her blouse. Almost immediately, a guy – a short distance away – began leaping over other attendees to reach her. I didn’t see exactly what happened, but there was a bit on TV that night which showed those two huddled on the pavement with numerous attendees looking on. Guess they got really friendly, really fast.
Much of that event is now a blur. I know I drove home, well after dark, across a nearly abandoned Causeway, and I was exhausted, grungy, and sunburned.
But I’m one of relatively few who can say I saw Janis Joplin perform live.