It was meant to be just another grand springboard for a generational talent known as Janis Joplin. The coarse-voiced vocalist had a rough ascent to superstardom, and the booze and drugs are hounding her like moths to a flame.
She thought Woodstock was just another festival for her to dominate, and calmed her band by saying it’s just another gig on a Saturday night. But then she saw the huge crowd. Janis felt nervousness creeping in.
A ten-hour wait and a bout of tension were enough for the struggling singer to resort to her demons, and when she stumbled into the stage, she might still howl and flail like the rock goddess she was, but people knew something was wrong.
But her brain-melting encore rendition of fan-favorite “Ball and Chain” came around, the crowd was just there to soak in the glory of Woodstock’s best.
When Pete Townshend of The Who witnessed Janis singing her heart out even in her inebriated state, he knew that “even Janis on an off-night was incredible,” the guitarist marveled.
Woodstock was her playground
Her Woodstock performance was a bittersweet display of her iconic brilliance. It was a clear red flag of her losing control but also a defiant display of her talent.
Taking the Woodstock stage at approximately 2 a.m. on Sunday, August 17, Joplin and her band commenced their set with a rendition of soul singer Eddie Floyd’s “Raise Your Hand,” followed by “As Good As You’ve Been To This World,” the first of three tracks from “I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues.”
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Joplin proceeded to showcase her signature touch on a trio of covers: the Bee Gees’ “To Love Somebody,” the classic George Gershwin piece “Summertime,” and Chip Taylor’s “Try (Just A Little Bit Harder).”
Turning back to material from “I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues,” Joplin performed the titular track of the album before delving into a rendition of Otis Redding’s “I Can’t Turn You Loose.”
Bringing the set to a close, she delivered “Work Me, Lord,” only to reappear for an encore featuring two songs that she helped popularize: Erma Franklin’s “Piece Of My Heart” (Erma Franklin being the sister of Aretha Franklin) and Big Mama Thornton’s “Ball ‘N’ Chain.”
It was a classic performance, something even rock fans of today will always reminisce about.
A tragically short career
Woodstock would remain one of the brightest highlights of Janis’ tragically short career.
Townshend would talk about the singer’s performance in his 2012 memoir:
“She had been amazing at Monterey, but tonight she wasn’t at her best, due, probably, to the long delay, and probably, too, to the amount of booze and heroin she’d consumed while she waited. But even Janis on an off-night was incredible.”
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Despite her resounding success, there were too many telltale signs of an impending tragedy.
Janis tried fighting off her demons she sometimes briefly won, but it bites her back in full force.
On Sunday evening, October 4, 1970, more than a year after Woodstock, Joplin was found dead on the floor of her room at the Landmark Motor Hotel. Her death was caused by a heroin overdose that was compounded by alcohol.
Her story is just one of the many rockstar deaths that shook the world. But her brilliance, though short-lived, was one of the brightest in music history.