Janis Joplin Plays Merriweather Three Weeks Before Woodstock

Janis Joplin (Wikipedia)
Janis Joplin (Wikipedia)

After The Dead and The Police, I’m on a little bit of a concert kick and this one is pretty sweet. Janis Joplin played Merriweather back in 1969, three weeks before the defining moment of the decade: Woodstock. That’s pretty cool.

The Washington Post wrote a review and the guy that wrote it was Carl Bernstein … yep, as in Woodward and Bernstein of the Watergate scandal. Before he helped take down a sitting president, he wrote this review of Joplin’s concert at Merriweather.

Janis Joplin has gotten it all back together again.

The 26-year-old dynamo from Port Arthur, Tex., came to the Merriweather Post Pavilion with her new band last night, and from the first note, it was a love affair between her and a wild audience of more than 5000.

After four songs, virtually the entire audience was on its feet. The overflow crowd on the grass surged into amphitheater, people danced in the aisles and on their seats, gave thumbs-up and peace signs and hollered ecstatically as Joplin’s seemingly steam-powered voice cooed, moaned and screamed.

The adulation was understandable.

Janis has finally assembled a group of first-rate musicians with whom she is totally at ease and whose abilities complement the incredible range of her voice.

Janis’s range last night (she will appear at the Post Pavilion again tonight) was even greater than on her two albums and slipped easily from almost contralto register to soprano

Most important, her music made you enjoy yourself producing much the same reaction that the Beatles did on their concert tours of years past. Simply, an evening with Janis Joplin is a party and a romp.

The crowd’s reaction to her voice and body, as she screamed and stomped through her songs, eventually caused police and the Pavalion [sic[] management to take to the stage to halt the show for a few moments as dozens of youths jumped onto the stage. At one point, a policeman swung a billyclub at several of those climbing on the stage apron, resulting in a request from Miss Joplin that the officer restrain himself.

Miss Joplin demonstrated much new material, perhaps the best of which is a jump-blues that will be the title song of her new album “Cosmic Blues.” The song features exquisite organ work by Richard Kermode and is an ideal vehicle for all the elements of Janis’ voice–love, pain, anger and freedom.

Other new songs included a remake of The Chantels’ “Maybe” and an almost country-sounding “Try a Little iBt [sic] Harder,” which gave the band two–saxes, trumped, strong lead guitar by John Till, bass, drums and organ–room to jam easily.

Janis with her new sidemen, give to “Piece of My Heart,” “Ball and Chain,” “Summertime,” and the other old songs, a musicality that was missing in the Big Brother days.

Perhaps Miss Joplin’s new revue will put an end to the inevitable and unfair comparisons drawn between her, Big Mama Thornton, and other great female blues singers. The comparisons are superfluous exercise. She is Janis Joplin and that is enough.

That’s pretty cool. Music was just better back then … also, only 5,000 people at Merriweather? That seems tiny.

Three weeks later, Janis is in upstate New York performing at Woodstock. Really cool.

About Tom

Tom founded Ghosts of DC on January 4th, 2012 as a blog to uncover the lost and untold history of Washington, D.C. He has lived in the city for over a decade and loves exploring every corner of the District.

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  • You’re on a roll – great posts. I got to see her in 1968 at the old Alexandria Roller Rink. It was a good show but loaded with cops.

    • Wow, now that’s cool! Any photos? I love when people comment and tell me they were there at an event I write about. Good stuff and thanks for sharing.

      • Hal321123

        Just had Brownie cameras or Polaroid cameras back in those days!

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  • REDSHOES51

    I was there…So much herb in the air the cops were probably on a contact high. Janis drank so much Southern Comfort she was sweating the stuff. It was a GREAT show.

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  • ArrrB

    That’s cool to know. I didn’t know Merriweather was that old a venue. Ironically, I moved from Columbia (literally across the street from Merriweather) to a town in TX five miles from the house where Janis Joplin grew up. Worlds apart.

  • Sandcandle

    I saw both shows. Electric, dynamic, great.

  • Lynne

    I was in the pavilion for that concert, rather than on the lawn as I usually was in those days. Awesome experience, but sad in a way, in retrospect. People were throwing pills onto the stage as she slugged Southern Comfort. Shows at Merriweather were great in those early years….saw Led Zepplin as the warm up band for The Who on a Wednesday night in August in 1967, I think. The lawn tickets were $2.50

    • Hal321123

      I saw that Who show, too…with early Zeppelin opening.

      Saw Hendrix there, too, in the thunderstom…..also saw him at the Hilton in, what, 68?
      Those were the days!

  • Paul Wahler

    In those days the “lawn” included grassy knolls on either side of what is now the three middle “loge” sections. The roof only covered those sections, plus the orchestra, so the seated attendance was probably only 3,000 or so and the lawn seating was anybody’s guess.
    Around the same time I saw Janis at the Atlantic City Race Course as the final act of a two-day festival. A lot of the same acts that were at Woodstock a month later. Her band was really together and Janis was spectacular. Even though she was billed as the last act, and you have to have a huge ego to follow Janis; they announces ‘one more special performer’ for anybody who wanted to hang around. Little Richard came on stage and blew the place up. Probably the only performer with more energy that Janis!

  • Hal321123

    I was at that show and actually got to talk to her a bit before the show when she was wandering around looking for some pot and came over to a friend of mine, who had a Timothy Leary kind of robe on and sure looked the part, and he gave her a joint and she talked to us for a moment. Was almost shy and sweet in that moment and prettier than she looked up on stage, etc.
    Saw her again at U of Md the next year or so, when she passed out after just a few songs..a short while after she was dead.