Janis @ Freedom Hall 1970: Rock & Roll Repast

Posted: June 14th, 2023 | Filed under: Music, Rock & Roll Rewind | No Comments »

c d kaplan is a rock & roll lifer. He’s got stories, lots of stories. Here’s another one.

Of course there was Janis.

A member of the First Name Only club, Joplin is frankly superfluous.

She’s also firmly entrenched in another grouping of Classic Rock icons. Arguably leader of that pack.

Those who bared their entire being on stage. What she sang was her entire soul laid bare.

I’ve seen a few others similar. Rickie Lee Jones played the Palace back before she cleaned up her act. About 2/3ds of the way through her set, she was so in her cups she sat forlornly on a stool, decrying her woes as if to a barkeep over her beer in the corner tavern.

Greg Allman, whose father was killed by a hitchhiker and who lost his brother in a motorcycle accident, never moved on from that incredible mourning that rose from within. The first lyrics he sang on the debut Allman Brothers album were “I have not come to testify/ Yeah/ About our bad bad misfortune.” Then proceeded to share that very hurt until the end.

And Janis, oh dear Janis, never ever held back.

She played Freedom Hall in early June, 1970 with her new group of mostly Canadien musicians, Full Tilt Boogie Band.

The counter culture and its music were still new in the heartland. The place was way less than full.

The opening act was Seatrain, featuring Peter Rowan who had played years before in Bill Monoe’s Bluegrass Boys.

Another band was supposed to be on the bill, Poco. Which featured the estimable Richie Furay and Jim Messina. But they didn’t play. As the story went, the promoter wanted them to open the triple bill, but the group felt they should be in the second slot. They balked. They walked. The brouhaha was such that the evening got a late start, with the stage hands breaking down the band’s equipment already set up.

The gig, if memory serves, was the first on that Janis tour with her new group. Also, I have a vague recollection of it being so good it was mentioned in one of her Rolling Stone obits. Which sadly were written not many months later.

Always mired with low self esteem, Janis was intent on proving herself yet again, after her stints with Big Brother and Kozmic Blues Band.

She worked to make it work.

The crowd was into it. At some point, many of us on the floor were standing on our seats. To the joy of Janis and the chagrin of the ushers, who implored people to get down.

The singer stopped the proceedings, yelling at the ushers to let everybody be, that she’d personally pay for any seats that were broken.

I recall she sang “Summertime” and “Ball and Chain.” Yet the tune that really resonated was her searing cover of Garnet Mims “Cry Baby,” written by Bert Berns and Jerry Ragovoy.

Below is a video of her doing that song in Toronto a month later, when she headlined the Festival Express Tour that played three dates in Canada. The Dead and The Band were also on that train that traveled across Canada. (There’s a great documentary about it, track it down. It’s at various streaming sites.)

It is the rawest, most from the depths of the soul version of a tune I’ve ever heard. It is Janis exposing the raw nerve ends of her primal hurt. Revealing the wounds that eventually took the ultimate toll.

— c d kaplan

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