Open Post: Hosted By Joni Mitchell Stealing The Show During A Surprise Closing Set At The Newport Folk Festival
Way back in 1967, Judy Collins introduced an up-and-coming Joni Mitchell to the crowds at the Newport Folk Festival. It was the 23-year-old’s major debut, and she performed her song “Both Sides Now.” She returned for 1968 and 1969, but, after that, the festival was canceled until 1985 (blame disco!). Joni suffered a brain aneurysm in 2015, which temporarily took her speech and ability to walk. Other than the odd interview, picking up her Kennedy Center Honors, and saying, “Fuck you, Joe Rogan”, we haven’t heard much from her. That all changed this past Sunday when 78-year-old Joni made her triumphant return to the Newport Folk Festival for her first full-length public concert anywhere since 2000. And yeah, she performed “Both Sides Now”. Tear ducts, activate!
41-year-old singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile was the mastermind behind Joni’s return to the stage, via NPR:
Carlile has diligently worked to ensure Mitchell’s place at the center of popular music history for the past five years, performing tribute concerts, writing liner notes for the elder singer’s archival series and becoming a steadfast friend to Mitchell, who has spent years recovering from a 2015 brain aneurysm. The Newport set was a new high point in their ongoing personal and artistic collaboration. Billed as Brandi Carlile and Friends, it evolved from a supportive celebration of a beloved elder into a bona-fide Joni Mitchell concert.
The set began with Brandi asking the crowd to believe in the power of folk music (“And weed, right?” -every stoner in the audience). Then, her bandmates and artists like Allison Russell, Jess Wolfe, Holly Laessig, Blake Mills, Taylor Goldsmith, Marcus Mumford, and Wynonna Judd gathered around a “Louis XIV-style chair arranged as a throne”:
“This scene shall be forever known henceforth as the Joni Jam!” Carlile declared, referring to the much-discussed informal evenings she and other top-shelf musicians have shared at Mitchell’s Los Angeles home as the elder singer found her way back to performance.
Finally, Carlile announced Mitchell’s arrival at center stage. She took her place in that cathedra, wearing glittering beads, a beret and a grey-toned satin pants ensemble.
Here’s Joni’s entrance and the first song, “Carey” (my favorite!). It’s performed as a group sing-a-long, and Joni takes a minute to get into it, only grabbing a few solo lines:
After performing a few more songs, including “Case of You” and “Big Yellow Taxi”, Joni got up from her throne and performed an electric guitar solo for “Just Like This Train”:
Later in the set, she sang this cover of “Summertime”. NPR reports that the Gershwin classic was one of the first songs Joni began practicing while recovering from her illness. Many have compared her deep voice (thanks, smoking cigarettes since the age of 9!) to Nina Simone’s:
Then, Joni made everyone’s eyes wet with this gorgeous rendition of “Both Sides Now”:
The set closed with everybody singing Joni’s 1966 classic, “Circle Game”:
What a force! Later that night, Joni and Brandi sat down for an interview with CBS Mornings. Joni admitted that she wasn’t sure that she’d even feel up to performing on Sunday until rehearsals on Friday night. She said she’s never nervous to perform, but wanted to be good, and wasn’t sure she could pull it off. “But I didn’t sound too bad tonight!” Joni adds that she had to teach herself how to play the guitar again after her 2015 aneurysm, via CBS News:
“I’m learning,” she said. “I’m looking at videos that are on the net to see where I put my fingers, you know. It’s amazing what an aneurysm knocks out – how to get out of chair! You don’t know how to get out of a bed. You have to learn all these things by rote again. I was into water ballet as a kid, and I forgot how to do the breaststroke. Every time I tried it, I just about drowned, you know?. So, a lot of going back to infancy almost. You have to relearn everything.”
Joni says her brain surgeon told her she had “will and grit,” and she agrees, pointing out that she had to re-learn how to walk after being paralyzed by fucking polio at age 9. Here’s the interview:
Music legend @jonimitchell took to the stage for her first public performance since a brain aneurysm nearly killed her in 2015.
— CBS Mornings (@CBSMornings) July 25, 2022
Whew. What an emotional story. Tear ducts, stand down!