Music

45 Years Ago: Janis Joplin Plays MIT in a Time of National Protest

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Folk-rock singer Janis Joplin performs in Dec. 1969 at an unknown location. (AP Photo)

Folk-rock singer Janis Joplin performs in Dec. 1969 at an unknown location. (AP Photo)

(WZLX.com) Carter Alan
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By Matt Dolloff (@mattdolloff)

During one of the most eventful, revolutionary periods in the history of American culture, Janis Joplin was one of the artists at the forefront. She was more than just a brilliant musician and electrifying performer, which she certainly was.

America in 1969 was rocked by the Vietnam War, a deadly conflict most citizens didn’t want the U.S. entering in the first place. A massive wave of protests swept the nation, including one in the Boston Common on April 26, 1969. Over 500 students from B.U., Tufts, Northeastern and M.I.T. converged on the Common, while police maintained order, to protest the war.

Chanting “Peace now!” and “Get out of Vietnam!”, the protesters listened to speeches and performances by musicians like folk singer Phil Ochs, according to MIT’s newspaper The Tech. The protest took place with no bad incidents.

5th April 1969:  Rock singer Janis Joplin.  (Photo by Evening Standard/Getty Images) 5th April 1969: Rock singer Janis Joplin. (Photo by Evening Standard/Getty Images)

That very same day, a different kind of display of peace and love took place: Joplin performed at MIT’s annual Spring Weekend concert, along with Chuck Berry, Tom Rush, Dave van Ronk, and Julie Driscoll.

Since that show 45 years ago, the summer concert hasn’t hosted a musician as prominent and influential as Joplin. Aerosmith, The Ramones, and REM come close, but those bands’ legacies can’t hold a candle to her’s.

The renowned institution couldn’t have possibly known at the time the magnitude of the artist that came to perform there – hence, not much is written about that show, and 500 students found it necessary to skip the concert in favor of their Vietnam protest.

Joplin’s MIT performance is a relic of her late career, a footnote to her spring and summer of ’69 that saw her captivate the world at Woodstock. Despite the mystery surrounding the show due to the lack of written reports on it, the interesting parallel remains. In a time of worldwide crisis and national protest, Joplin helped deliver a message of peace and love to a city wrapped in counterculture.

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