Thursday, May 30, 2013

Janis Joplin at Wesleyan

Every five years at my Wesleyan Reunion, I learn a few more facts about the visit of Big Brother and The Holding Company and Janis Joplin to our secluded campus on the Connecticut River on March 9, 1968. Five years ago John Lipsky, former chief economist for the International Monetary Fund, revealed he had hosted the band at lunch and found the experience less than scintillating (“So what’s your sign?” she asked).

This weekend I got a new version of the event from Bob Isard who regaled me with several tales of the post concert party hosted by Delta Kappa Epsilon. As house steward he was at the center of things. When Janis arrived, she demanded, “What’s to eat, I am starving.” (I guess the university lunch was not very filling.)

Isard then told of tapping a fresh keg and filling the beer cup of a young lady who was a regular visitor at the DKE house because she had been dating one of the brothers for more than a year. He described her as “Sweet Sally,” the typical preppie undergrad clad in miniskirt, while blouse and sweater. Unfortunately when she turned to leave she bumped into the guitar player for Big Brother and dumped the beer all over him. The guitarist, without missing a beat stepped forward to get his cup filled.

The funny thing was that Sweet Sally was never seen again after that night. Isard has concluded that there was room for her in one of the two Volkswagen Campers the band was touring in so she joined the guitarist on the road.

Another campus concert, this one by the Grateful Dead in 1970 was the subject of a symposium and mini-reunion for those who made that scene. The event offered insights into the work of archivists who try to authenticate bootleg audiotapes. It was reported that the Dead were paid $4,000 for the gig but everyone was admitted for free. The concert took place on May 3. Shortly afterwards the Wesleyan students voted to go on strike in support of the students killed at Kent State. The school was shut down for the year.

One other Dead connection. John Perry Barlow, Wesleyan ’69 (a religion major) was a childhood friend of Bob Weir and began co-writing songs with Weir in 1971. He is also credited with introducing the band members to Dr. Timothy Leary. In 1990, Barlow founded the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a platform he has used for education and legal activism on Internet issues.

And last but not least, I learned that Louis Armstrong played a concert at Wesleyan in 1958. I’ll bet the Chapel was jumping that night.


  1. Great history. Glad you Wesleyan lads have maintained such good memories.