November 1969: When Janis Joplin Was Handcuffed After Her Set

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Walter Daran/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

50 years ago, Janis Joplin brought an estimated 3,500-person crowd to its feet in Tampa, with fans rushing ahead into the aisles and on-top chairs for a better glimpse of the superstar. 

Playing an explosive set of seven songs on November 16, 1969 at Curtis Hixon Hall, the First Lady of Rock 'n' Roll was 26 as she took control of the stage. B.B. King opened the show that night, with tickets ranging from $4 to $6.

While Joplin was focused on "trying to build up a sensuous mood," during a slow, bluesy rendition of "Summertime" police tried to lead people back towards their seats, away from the stage, fearing a fire hazard. 

As tensions escalated between spirited fans and police, Joplin, too, became infuriated as officers began yelling at her fans during the song. 

"Dont f*** with those people," she yelled into her microphone. 

According to the Tampa Bay Times, this was enough grounds for Sgt. Ed Williams to get a warrant for her arrest for the reason of Joplins "vulgar and indecent language." 

"Hey mister, why are you so uptight?" she injected further. "Did you buy a five dollar ticket?"

A Tribute writer described the night of the concert with "Miss Joplin had quite a variety of spicy, inappropriate, but crowd-pleasing unquotables."

The police let Joplin finish her set and when she headed backstage to her dressing room, Williams promptly handcuffed and arrested the blues singer for two counts of using indecent language. By midnight, Joplin was locked in the Tampa jail. 

"Bad-mouthing is one thing, but we were forced to make the arrest when she began using indecent, actually vulgar, language," stated the arresting officer. "It was a case where we were trying to do our job and she began bad-mouthing the police. Bad-mouthing is one thing, but we were forced to make the arrest when she began using indecent, actually vulgar language." 

About an hour after her arrest, Joplin posted the $504 bond and left the city jail, nestled in a fur jacket as she exited. 

In the days following her arrest, Joplin told reporters she was "willing to do it again" for the sake of expressing herself. "I've played just about everywhere in the country and this is the first time I've ever been arrested. I say anything I want on stage." 

Joplin was ultimately found guilty (the judge described her conduct as "very reprehensible") and was fined $200 as well as the court cost. 

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