At the 1968 Newport Folk Festival, no group better represented the changing
times or caused more reevaluating of the future of the Newport festivals than
Janis Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company. Closing out the July 27th
evening program and the biggest draw that year, the group had become largely
responsible for saving the 1968 festival from financial ruin.
The group had experienced a meteoric rise over the course of the past year,
triggered by Janis Joplin's iconoclastic performance at the Monterey Pop
Festival the previous year and the subsequent Pennebaker movie, which captured
the intensity of the group on stage. By the time Big Brother hit the Newport
stage, much had changed. The group had signed with one of the most enigmatic
managers in the world, Albert Grossman, who had Bob Dylan among his clients, and
were now signed by Clive Davis to Dylan's label, Columbia Records. May and June
of that year found the band in Columbia's Los Angeles studios, recording the hit
Thrills, which would see release the month following the Newport appearance
and achieve gold status within a week of release. The single, "Piece of My
Heart," would begin blasting on radios nationwide and Joplin was getting massive
amounts of press coverage by the likes of magazines likeTime,
Life, Vogue, Glamour, and even theNew
York Times, rather than just the underground press of the previous year.
Janis had rapidly achieved superstar status and this, along with outside
pressures from management, her record company, and sensitivity to what was being
said in the press, would lead to internal friction. She would begin pursuing her
own path by year's end, just as Big Brother and the Holding Company was
experiencing the peak of success. Still, when Janis and Big Brother hit the
Newport stage, it was a heady moment for all concerned. Here they were
headlining a bill that featured musicians they had idolized in the preceding
years. Not only were they were getting top billing, now much of the increasingly
younger Newport audience was far more interested in Janis and Big Brother than
any other acts on the bill.
Much has been written about this evening's performance, from scathingly bad
reviews to ecstatic accounts, but the reality lies somewhere in between.
Presented here is a brief excerpt from that very performance, and as can clearly
be heard on the recording, the Newport audience was indeed captivated by the raw
energy of Big Brother and the undeniable intensity of Janis Joplin.
The recording begins at the very tail end of the performance, with bass player
Peter Albin thanking the Newport audience as curfew time was rapidly
approaching. What follows is a brief reprise of "Piece of My Heart," the song
that also opened the set. Despite its brevity, it provides listeners with a
taste of Janis Joplin and Big Brother & the Holding Company at a peak moment.
Following the performance, Joplin can clearly be heard excitedly exclaiming to
the Newport audience, "You're so groovy, man! Thank you!" as the group exits the
stage amidst rousing shouts for more and an equal amount of booing as the
audience realizes the set is really over. A somewhat stoned sounding MC, Fritz
Richmond, closes the recording as he invites the audience to return the
following day and encourages them to be careful on their way home.