LOUISVILLE, Kentucky — Janis Joplin and her newly formed band, Janis Joplin Full-Tilt Boogie, debuted here June 12th, their first gig since they started rehearsing together a month and a half ago. Freedom Hall, where the concert took place, is a monster indoor stadium designed for wrestling matches and basketball games, the kind of place that looks empty even when it's full to capacity. With an audience of about 4000, it looked pretty sad. To make matters worse, the crowd, mostly younger kids in neat hippy/mod threads, did not look like Janis' crowd.
From the air, Louisville is like a letter dropped from a giant alphabet, a T extending its arms nine miles along the Ohio river and its tail curling up into the hills. Aside from its topographic eccentricity, Louisville is really unexceptional. Downtown is a honky tonk, straggling, punky main street, where soldiers drift in from surrounding barracks looking for action and kids hang out on the corner.
Janis took a peek between the curtains before going on and realized it was not exactly Angels' Night at the Avalon Ballroom. "Shit, man, why do those country club chicks in their panty girdles always have to be sitting in the front rows? They are probably so tight they couldn't move if they wanted to," said Janis in her gin-mama voice.
It took a while for the audience to get into it, but Janis was having her party, and she was just waiting for them to come over.
"Some dance hall you got here," Janis said hand-on-hip, Bette Davis style. "You know, sometimes we go into a place and take a quick look at the hall, a quick look at the dressing rooms, and a quick look at the audience, and we say, well, if we're going to have a party here, we're going to have to do it ourselves ..."
"Try Just a Little Bit Harder," a girl shouted out as a request, and Janis yelled back, "I beg your pardon, I'm doing my part, honey."
If things started slowly, the concert ended in a near-riot, and the rent-a-cops in their mountie hats, not sure whether they were at a concert or a demonstration, blew their cool and began driving back the kids rushing the stage with their clubs and flashlights. Meanwhile Janis was ecstatic.
"I permit them to dance," she yelled to a burly sergeant-at-arms, "in fact, I demand it!" And the rent-a-cap marched up and down scowling and fuming and shaking his fist at Janis in a gesture of revenge, and for a minute it looked like one of those movies about small southern towns where the good hearted rainmaker gets run out of town on the next train. But, in fact, everybody had a good time except the rent-a-cops, who couldn't figure out what role to play and ended up overacting.
It all started when Janis began to get into "Try," with her jive about, "Honey, if you've had your eye on a piece of talent and that chick down the road has been getting all the action, then you know what you gotta do ..." and wham! the drum kicks into the song, and Janis lays on her message: "Try a little bit harder."
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