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Karen Irwin set to reprise her Janis Joplin show at the Cabaret

Karen Irwin
Karen Irwin
Ellen Jackson

One year after selling out two shows, local performer Karen Irwin returns with “Karen Irwin: A Piece of Her Heart: A Tribute to Janis Joplin” to the Cabaret at the Columbia Club, July 25 at 8 p.m and July 26 at 7 p.m.

“Mercedes Benz,” “Piece of My Heart” and “Me and Bobby McGee” are just a few of the songs in the show that offer a glimpse into Irwin’s own personal journey as inspired by Joplin, her musical inspiration. Known as “The Queen of Psychedelic Soul,” Joplin died of a drug overdose in 1970 at the age of 27.

Accompanying Irwin will be her band, consisting of Sean Baker on piano, bass player Bryan VanVlymen, Erich Anderson on guitar and drummer Alex Vanbergeijk.

According to Cabaret executive and artistic director Shannon Forsell, “It’s a great show. So much so that audiences asked us to bring her back. Karen’s show rivals any national show we have presented. She has a powerhouse voice but the show is also a true cabaret show with a smart script. By the end of the evening you don’t just know more about Janis, you know more about Karen as well.”

Irwin, a frequent actor at the Phoenix Theatre, is best remembered for her starring turn in “Assholes and Aureoles”, a hit at the 2008 IndyFringe Theatre Festival, her years as Karenoke (Karaoke) and as lead singer of Karen and The Beast.

Recently, spoke briefly by phone with Irwin.

Your last Cabaret appearance was apparently a smash.

Yes. It was great. I think it was one of their first times delving into rock and roll, too. It was terribly exciting to see that it was well received and that is a direction that Cabaret can go. It was a great crowd both nights. They were with me the entire time. I had a great time.

Why Janis Joplin?

I kind of sound like her. I was in a blues band and did Karenoke DJ (Karaoke) for a long time and when I would sing people would automatically request Janis Joplin. I would sing any song and someone would go “I’ve never heard that Janis Joplin song before.”

How has your voice been described?

I call it dirty as far as the quality goes. I am not sure anybody else says that. It’s raspy. People like to listen to it. A woman without a high pitched voice.

How do people react to the show?

They always said it made them feel happy. Janis is an easy sell. She just makes people feel so happy. And there is a real broad range of people. It’s not necessarily just boomers but people from all classes, races, ages, just all different people. I have had a lot of people say that their kids, their teenagers like her. I honestly believe the draw of her music is the rawness of it. Everything is laid out on the table there in front of you. She’s not trying to affect. She’s not trying to manipulate. It’s just right there and I think people appreciate that. They respect and they are moved by it.

Why does Janis’ music still resonate today?

The staying power of Janis has everything to do with that rawness I spoke of. The truth of the moment in each of her performances. She didn't just sing her music. She was it. Completely. With all the manufactured attempts to manipulate us emotionally in other parts of the world it's refreshing and moving to be in the presence of one so consumed by the moment. So willing to bare all for us. Willing to be so invested in the performance they may even injure themselves. I can't do this show without feeling like I've been run over by a truck after. I feel high but also feel like I have been run over by a truck.

What do you want people to take away from your show?

Not to be elusive, but I try not to decide in advance what an audience should get out of something. I always hate it when a songwriter tells me beforehand what a song is about or an artist posts what their work is about. I feel like art is there for us to interpret. And everyone connects to everything differently. So I just hope they have a fabulous night out.

Anything else you want folks to know?

My costumes were designed and built by fashion designers Robert Moore III and Jo Harvey. They have been so wonderful I have to give them props.

For tickets and information about “Karen Irwin: A Piece of Her Heart: A Tribute to Janis Joplin” at the Cabaret at the Columbia Club call (317) 275-1169 or visit

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