Although she started playing piano when she was only two-and-a-half, had established a good relationship with the guitar by 10, and wrote her first song at 12, no one could have predicted that by the time she was a teenager Janis Eddy Fink would have a self-penned song on the Billboard charts.
Anyone old enough to have listened to music from the late ’60s probably remembers Janis Ian, the professional name this gifted young lady chose at the beginning of her career. Only 15 years old when she had her first hit record, Ian created an avalanche of controversy with her musical story of teenage interracial love in the song, “Society’s Child.”
For those who are not familiar with Ian‘s life, personally or musically, here are some of the impressive facts. Born in 1951, Janis grew up on a farm in South New Jersey. In 1975, “At Seventeen,” a song of juvenile angst, hit the charts, selling more than a million copies and finding a home on Billboard’s Top 40 list for 14 weeks. This “great American troubadour” carries the distinction of appearing as the very first musical guest on TV’s “Saturday Night Live.” Over the last 30 years, Ian’s songs have been recorded by artists such as Chet Atkins, Charles Aznavour, Joan Baez, Glen Campbell, Cher, Chicago, Barbara Cook, Sheena Easton, Roberta Flack (“Jesse”), Amy Grant, Lee Greenwood, Ute Lemper, Kathy Mattea, John Mellencamp, Bette Midler, Puff Daddy, Diane Schuur, Nina Simone, Dusty Springfield and Mel Torme. She has been a Grammy nominee seven times, winning twice. In 2001, the song “Society’s Child” was entered permanently into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
The years haven’t seen much change in Ian…and for longtime fans that is good news. In the 21st century, she still expresses her social and political feelings through her songs. Last year’s album, her 29th, pays homage to Billie Holiday in the title track “Billie’s Bones,” while “Matthew” is a tribute to 21-year-old Wyoming student Matthew Shepard, tortured and murdered in 1998 because he was gay. There is also a duet with Dolly Parton called “My Tennessee Hills,” an ode to the state where Janis and her life-partner, Patricia Snyder, have made their home since 1988. Ian’s lyrics are definitely not incidental background music. They must be carefully listened to in order to understand the messages and the woman who conveys them.
On a Hot August Night (sorry, Neil Diamond) in 1996, Janis Ian performed in the outdoor amphitheater of the Clark County Government Center in Las Vegas. That Labor Day weekend concert was a rare opportunity for locals to experience the no-frills talent of Ian. Like a flower growing out of that grassy field, Ian bloomed as she sang her songs accompanied only by her guitar. It was the night, the music and an enthusiastic, responsive audience made up of old and new fans. There was some talk that she would be returning a few months later to do an AIDS benefit. For whatever reason, that didn’t happen.
Almost eight years later, area music and poetry lovers get a chance to experience this wunderkind again. Presented by Las Vegas’s Acoustic Routes, on Thursday, March 25, Ian makes a rare Southern Nevada appearance, this time in the 600-seat showroom at Whiskey Pete’s in Primm. Although the Nevada-California Primadonna Resorts properties cater primarily to Southern Californians, chances are Ian’s diehard fans will be more than willing to make the approximately 40 mile drive to catch her in a live performance. Rolling Stone magazine recently wrote, “Before there was Jewel, there was Janis Ian.” This multi-talented performer is definitely a jewel that should be experienced.
For reservations at Whiskey Pete’s in Primm, Nevada, call Primadonna Resorts at (702) 386-7867.