Our Sister Janis: An Interview with Laura and Michael Joplin

By Simon Hodgson

Among the thousands flocking to San Francisco for the Summer of Love in 1967 was the Joplin family. They had driven across the US from Port Arthur, Texas to see 24-year-old Janis perform with her new band, Big Brother and the Holding Company. For Janis’s siblings, Laura and Michael, the trip was life-changing.

Kacee Clanton in A Night with Janis Joplin. Photo by Joan Marcus.
As San Francisco kicks off its celebration of the Summer of Love—featuring A Night with Janis Joplin at The Geary Theater—we look back on the events of that summer from those who knew Janis best.

What was it like when your family went to San Francisco in 1967 to visit Janis?
Laura Joplin: That was the first time we’d been out of the state. We weren’t a family that traveled and we hadn’t really been out of Port Arthur, so to travel all the way across the West was incredible. To go to San Francisco and hang out with Janis was special.

What do you remember about the city?
LJ: Everything was so different: the music, the sound, the styles, the city itself. In Port Arthur, we had three or four buildings that were more than two stories high, but San Francisco was huge. At home, it’s hot and flat. San Francisco was cool, with mountains overlooking it. There was a lot of trying to take all that in. It sounds silly, but one thing I really enjoyed in San Francisco was seeing Janis’s dog. It made her so human, and because we also had a dog, it made her the person I grew up with.

Michael Joplin: I remember the Summer of Love. I was 14 years old, a wannabe hippie. We went to the Avalon Ballroom. We’d all heard of Chet [Helms, a major music promoter and the manager of Big Brother and the Holding Company at the time], and we’d met him way back. When we walked up the stairs to the Avalon as a family, Chet was standing at the top of the stairs to greet us. My parents were this white couple, fiftysomething years old, and going into the Avalon Ballroom, they were definitely out of place. But Chet was welcoming and wonderful. My parents said, “Oh my god, what’s going on?” I said, “This is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen in my entire life.” Later on I got to run lights at the Avalon Ballroom. That’s one of the high points of my life. It was freaking awesome.

How did you feel about seeing your sister onstage?
MJ: When she came out, I just saw Janis. But to my parents, the audience’s reaction to her was extremely significant. That was more important than what was happening onstage because my parents were able to see for the first time that Janis was getting recognition for what she was doing. They had been concerned about her, but at the Avalon, they saw that she might be okay.

LJ: The best part for all of us was realizing how happy she was there, how strongly she felt about what she was doing.

A Night with Janis Joplin runs through July 9 at The Geary Theater. Click here to purchase tickets through our website. Want to read more of this interview with Laura and Michael Joplin? Click here to purchase Words on Plays, A.C.T.’s in-depth performance guide series.

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