This Saturday the 12-year tradition continues in golden style as we wish Janis Joplin a happy birthday, in a way only Minnesota artist Jill Mikelson and special guests Reed Grimm and Mae Simpson can do.
The mystique of Janis Joplin has both captivated and haunted the souls of artists since her passing in 1970. Her short life and musical career still hold influence over multiple generations, as Mikelson and guests keep the birthday candles lit 49 years later.
Jill Mikelson holds the title of President/Executive Producer of Happy Birthday Janis.
[Music In Minnesota] How did this B-day celebration become a tradition?
[Jill Mikelson] I had the honor of playing Janis Joplin in a show in 2007 at the Ordway Center called LOVE, JANIS for 10 weeks, and after the show closed, I just didn’t want to stop sharing her life and music. So, we put together a show right around her birthday (January 19) and started the annual tribute. The first show was at Mayslacks in 2008, and it was a huge success, so we moved over to The Cabooze for many years before being asked to bring the show to the main room at First Avenue in 2017.
(side note: I saw this production on a whim in 2007, and it forever changed my perception of the music of that generation. One of the best stage performances I have ever seen)
[MiM] After 49 years, why are we still fascinated with Janis?
[JM] (I) think Janis brought something unique and raw and real to the stage and our hearts. She didn’t move to San Francisco and start singing with the goal to be a rock-n-roll legend. She went there yearning for love and authenticity and a place where she could just be herself and surround herself with other people that felt the same way. She didn’t try to control or manipulate who she was on or off the stage. She sang with heart and soul and gave it her absolute all. Without knowing it, she paved a path for women in rock and created a space for us to command the stage and made it ok to do it in our own way. But more than that, she was a young woman from a small town in Texas with the soul of an old blues singer, and she followed her heart to San Francisco to pursue a passion and a love for music. She was determined to be just exactly who she was, and she poured her soul out on that stage so her audience could be a part of that too.
[MiM] Can you compare any other artists to her legacy?
[JM] Comparing is so tough – Aretha, Sharon Jones, Amy Winehouse, Susan Tedeschi, Bessie Smith, Etta James, I could go on and on… but I think Janis lived to show us that even though we can pour it all out on stage and be an incredible talent, we are still all little humans yearning to be loved and accepted for just exactly who we are.
[MiM] Janis’ solo career spanned six years and two solo albums. Why are we still celebrating her 49 years later?
[Reed Grimm] When you see and hear Janis and her performances, it’s just a gut feeling of there is something there. You listen to it, and you know it. She had a way of bringing people to their deep realms.
[Mae Simpson] Her energy number one. Janis held the ability to lure you in, which makes you stay through the energy she gave. I believe we are celebrating her for that reason, but also there was a truth in the time of the music back then, and you can’t forget that as it will always come back and will forever resurface. When everyone wants something real in music, it will always bring you back to those days.
During the conversation with Reed and Mae, I was reminded that history does repeat itself and is doing so once again. As today’s newer music seems so digital based, artists today are using tools rather than traditional instruments. Creating their signature sound, I found that in 1964 Janis Joplin and guitarist Jorma Kaukonen (Jefferson Airplane, Hot Tuna) recorded what was called the “Typewriter Tape,” in which their music focused around the sounds of a mechanical typewriter. Though these tapes remain mythical bootlegs (found online here), they are nonetheless as innovating as they capture a moment in history that music is sound – any sound that can be put together as a rhythm.
Saturday’s show will be exceptional as Jill brings Janis to life through her expressive personality, powerful voice and presence. Mae Simpson’s voice and passion will only add to the event, while the creativity and positive vibes which flow through Reed onto the audience will get the room grooving back in time as a celebration of an American music legend’s birthday.