Drinking with Janis by Derek Osborne

In 1970, Holmdel was still a rural township. With only two cops, Brady and his son, we had the run of the roads after dark. Our farm bordered the back of the Garden State Arts Center, a wonderful, open-air amphitheater with gentle lawns that surrounded the stage. It looked like someone had landed a white flying saucer and left it there on the hill. A pine forest bordered the properties. Whenever we wanted to see a show, we simply sat in the shadows and waited ‘til dusk, then climbed the fence and got in for free.

That year The Arts Center decided to host rock concerts. Iron Butterfly, the Rascals, and Grand Funk Railroad had already played, but nothing compared to the night Janis Joplin showed up with her Full Tilt Boogie Band. Thousands of people had come without tickets and nearly caused a riot.

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, running into a bunch of people sitting in a circle, smoking and sharing a bottle of JD. They invited us over, so we sat down and clasped hands and bid the usual greetings. This wild looking chick dressed all in purple boa’s leaned in and looked over.

“Hey, man.”

It was Janis Joplin. We were sitting with the band.

“Holy shit,” was all I could manage.

It was a warm summer evening, just after twilight. The bright lights of The Center washed across the back lawn. A gentle breeze came up and swept the feathers and silk Janis wore in her hair. Her famous, rose color granny glasses hung down with a dozen other baubles and braided, leather strings.

”How you doin’, man?”

”I’m doing fine,” I said, “This is far out.”

I was seventeen.

”You guys live around here?”

”Yeah, 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 her kid-sister charm and that tragic sorrow we would all come to know. Her soul flew out at me, rushed passed my shoulder and entered the forest, swaying the pines as the wind followed after. Her eyes softened, she smiled and leaned back into the circle.

Out in front the crowd was roaring and chanting. Someone passed me the pipe. A few minutes later the stage manager came and said it was time for the show.

My friends and I watched as the band walked down the hill and in through a pair of gray steel doors. I was hoping she might turn around and wave, but she didn’t. It was a hell of a show. All those freaks crashed the gates; the crowd spilled down over the promenade and half way into the parking lots. After that night, The Arts Center banned all rock concerts. Two months later, Janis was dead.

Copyright 2009

Author's Bio: Derek Osborne grew up on a secluded, 1200 acre estate in the middle of New Jersey during the ‘60’s and early ‘70’s. Despite all that’s happened, he still thinks it’s a wonderful life.