Drinking with Janis

We hopped on over and started down the hill and ran into a bunch of people sitting in a circle and sharing a bottle of Jack Daniel's and a pipeful of hash.

There's a place called the Monmouth Museum up behind the Garden State Arts Center in New Jersey. In 1970, it was nothing more than an old stone house with some local photos and relics on display, but the grounds consisted of a wildflower field and a beautiful pine forest of 20 acres. As kids, we would go there to get stoned and sleep with our girlfriends.

Holmdel was still a rural town back then, with only two cops, so after dark the museum grounds became our own private estate. And since it bordered the back lawn of the Arts Center, we simply climbed the fence and saw all the shows for free.

Nineteen seventy was also the year the Arts Center decided to host rock concerts. There was a wonderful open-air amphitheater with auditorium seating and a great lawn that surrounded three-quarters of the stage. Iron Butterfly, the Rascals, Grand Funk Railroad, and one or two other bands had played, but nothing compared to the night Janis Joplin came with her Full Tilt Boogie Band. It was close to a riot out front with all the freaks who showed up without tickets.

On occasion, security would bust us for climbing the fence, but this night they had their hands full. We hopped on over and started down the hill and ran into a bunch of people sitting in a circle and sharing a bottle of Jack Daniel's and a pipeful of hash. They invited us over, so we sat down and clasped hands and bid the usual greetings.

Then this chick leaned in and looked over at me and said, "Hey, man." It was Janis Joplin. We were sitting with the band and some of the roadies.

"Holy shit," I said.

"How you doin’, man?"

"I’m doing fine," I said. "This is far out." I was 17 years old.

"You guys live around here?" she asked.

"Yeah," I said. "This is like our backyard."

"That’s pretty cool," she said. "Glad you came."

It was only a moment, a brief moment. Our eyes met, and I felt the power of her soul and the sadness we would all come to know and her kid-sister charm. Janis struck me like a sudden blast of wind. She smiled and leaned back into the circle. Out in front, we could hear the crowd roaring and chanting, and a few minutes later the stage manager came outside and said it was time to start the show.

My friends and I watched the others walk down the hill and into the pair of double steel doors behind the stage. I was hoping she might turn around and wave, but she didn’t. It was a hell of a show.

After that night, the Arts Center banned all rock concerts. Two months later, Janis was dead.

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