1. News
  2. /
  3. Tampa

How Janis Joplin was arrested in Tampa 50 years ago

Police let Joplin finish her set at Curtis Hixon Hall before arresting the singer in her dressing room.
Left: Janis Joplin performs (AP Photo). Right: Joplin's booking photo (Courtesy of Tampa History Center). [Tampa Bay Times]
Published Nov. 14
Updated Nov. 14

Curtis Hixon Hall saw a number of iconic musicians perform over the years, from Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix to Led Zeppelin and David Bowie. But one of the most notorious visits happened 50 years ago Saturday, when Janis Joplin was arrested.

The singer arrived at the venue on Sunday, Nov. 16, 1969. She played seven songs. Then police took her away in handcuffs.

Janis Joplin's booking photo after her 1969 arrest in downtown Tampa. She was booked after her performance at Curtis Hixon Hall, a music venue that was located at 600 Ashley Drive from 1965 to 1993. [COURTESY: TAMPA BAY HISTORY CENTER. | Tampa Tribune]

Joplin, then 26, took the stage after show opener B.B. King. Tickets to the show had ranged from $4 to $6.

The roughly 3,500-person crowd rushed forward as Joplin launched into a slow rendition of Summertime. About 500 young fans crammed into the aisles for a better view, while those with seats danced on top of their chairs.

Police, fearing a fire hazard, tried to guide people back to their seats and away from the stage. Officers claimed the Curtis Hixon Hall manager had even threatened to shut the set down if the aisles weren’t cleared.

Joplin, who later said she had been “trying to build up a sensuous mood,” grew furious after officers starting shouting at her fans mid-song.

“Don’t f--- with those people,” she yelled at them in her microphone.

That was enough for Tampa police Sgt. Ed Williams to get a warrant for her arrest. His reason? Joplin’s “vulgar and indecent language.”

But Joplin wasn’t done yet. Another officer, Detective L. F. Napoli, screamed at fans with a bullhorn while she sang. Joplin swore more, this time directly at the detective. This resulted in a second indecent language charge.

“Hey mister, why are you so uptight?" she asked at one point. “Did you buy a five dollar ticket?”

There were no incidents of violence documented at the concert. According to Tribune writer Bob Fiallo, only one person was injured that night: “an exuberant fan” who accidentally broke his leg trying to leap over a hedge after the show and fell from the second level of the parking garage onto the first floor ramp. Still, police took great offense at Joplin’s words.

“Miss Joplin had quite a variety of spicy, inappropriate, but crowd-pleasing unquotables,” Fiallo wrote.

She was able to finish her set before heading backstage. Then, Williams arrested her in her dressing room for two counts of using indecent language. A little after midnight, he took her to the Tampa jail.

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

An hour after being booked, Joplin posted $504 bond. She emerged from the city jail in a fur jacket and fur hat and left Tampa later that day.

She later told reporters she would be “willing to do it again" if it meant being able to express herself.

“I’ve played just about everywhere in the country and this is the first time I’ve ever been arrested,” she said days after the show. “I say anything I want on stage.”

The Tampa Tribune Metropolitan section from the Nov. 18, 1969 issue. [Tampa Bay Times]

Joplin told reporters she spent the time between her arrest and the preliminary hearing fishing south of Tampa. She showed up at Municipal Court in Tampa on Nov. 20.

“Old people are running scared,” she said. “They’re going to lose their kids and they’re trying to get their kids back to them. All the people telling kids what to do, what to wear, where to go ... that’s not going to help. It just makes us (entertainers) more attractive.”

Rock singer Janis Joplin, 26, shows a victory sign as she leaves police headquarters with her attorney, Herbert Goldburg, in Tampa, Fla., in November 1969. [ASSOCIATED PRESS]

Tampa Mayor Dick Greco, meanwhile, spoke out in support of law enforcement.

“There are some things we ought to remain old-fashioned about," he said to reporters at the time. "Whenever it’s clearly and absolutely wrong, we have to do something about it.”

Joplin later said it was “strange that they had to drag out the mayor to justify the arrest.”

The trial was delayed multiple times. When Joplin’s municipal court date finally arrived in March 1970, she didn’t show up.

Janis Joplin in 1970. [ANONYMOUS | Associated Press]

Joplin was found guilty and fined $200 and the court cost. The judge called her conduct “very reprehensible.”

Less than a year after her Tampa visit, Joplin died of a drug overdose on Oct. 4, 1970, in a Hollywood hotel. She was 27.

Information from Times archives was used in this story.


  1. Jamie Harden of Creative Sign Designs and Maryann Ferenc of Mise en Place discuss priorities for the Tampa Bay Chamber for the coming year. Harden is the outgoing chairman of the chamber. Ferenc is the incoming chairwoman. RICHARD DANIELSON | Times
    Leadership of the organization, formerly the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, also says it could have handled its recent name change better.
  2. A helicopter lands at Tampa General Hospital, one of 66 Florida hospitals that could benefit from a proposal contained in Gov. Ron DeSantis' new budget, a new analysis finds. JOHN PENDYGRAFT  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Tampa General is among the hospitals that would receive money from a proposal seeking to hand out $10 million in new funding.
  3. Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller is term-limited in his District 3 seat. JAMES BORCHUCK   |   Times
    The two best-known candidates are Frank Reddick and Tom Scott. But civic activist Gwen Myers has had a successful fundraising start, and Sky White has support in the local Democratic Party’s...
  4. Jocelyn Lester, 54, left, of Tampa chops up garlic while working on her salsa recipe during Chef Rick Ceglio, right, culinary class at the Italian Club in the Ybor City. OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times
    Feeding Tampa Bay’s job training program aims to help reduce barriers to entry in the workforce
  5. Work nears completion Wednesday on a common area inside the new USF Health building that will serve as a centerpiece of the Water Street Tampa development in downtown. The 13-story tower is set to open in January. OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times
    The long-anticipated building, part of Water Street Tampa, will welcome students on Jan. 13.
  6. The Cross-Bay Ferry cruises along the Vinoy Yacht Basin as it heads toward Tampa. The Vinoy condominiums can be seen in the background. The city hopes to attract more vessels for entertainment and tourism to the downtown waterfront. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
    Most of the increase is tied to an additional round-trip sailing on Sundays.
  7. Hillsborough County Commissioner Kimberly Overman is spearheading anti-human trafficking efforts. [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times]
    The new commission is the latest in a string of initiatives aimed at snuffing out human trafficking ahead of upcoming events like WrestleMania in April and the Super Bowl in 2021.
  8. St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said he will not allow the Tampa Bay Rays to split its season in Montreal. The city and team are once again at an impasse until 2027, when the Trop contract ends and the Rays could move wherever the team wishes. CHRIS URSO  |  Times
    St. Petersburg’s mayor said he won’t give the Rays permission to explore playing in both Tampa Bay and Montreal. The team would become a free agent franchise after 2027.
  9. Concentrix has told the state of Florida that it plans to lay off as many as 245 employees from one of the programs it has at the Interstate Corporate Center east of Tampa. Google Street View
    Despite the layoffs, the California-based company says it is trying to attract other clients for its Tampa office.
  10. Amie Norquist says her family has suffered health problems from mold in their MacDill base housing. They had to get rid of mold-contaminated furniture, too, in an expensive move to a new home in Riverview. [Times]
    The Tampa case is one of several nationwide that target companies managing the property.