Monday, July 25, 2022

Joni Mitchell Surprises Newport Jazz Festival Audience and Everyone Else Who Loves Her Music

Welcome news appeared in Rolling Stone yesterday as Johnathan Bernstein's story that Joni Mitchell had returned to the stage just seven short years after experiencing an aneurysm that left her unable to speak or walk. On July 24, while most everyone was enjoying a lazy Sunday afternoon somewhere, history was made at the 2022 Newport Jazz Festival. Billed only as the Coyote Jam with Brandi Carlisle as lead, the surprise of the day eclipsed the preceding day's appearance by Paul Simon.

Rick Farrell's photo in What's Up Newport captured Mitchell looking as comfortable there as she has been in her own home in recent years, as guests have dropped by for informal Joni Jams.

For the first time in 20 years, since her self-imposed retirement from live performance, she held court atop a makeshift throne as those around joined her in tribute to her genius. In fact, her own website site noted: "The last time Joni performed with guitar in hand in front of a paying audience was 8,660 days ago, on her 55th birthday."

Onstage with Mitchell, sitting in an exquisite chair, sat numerous well-known musicians from Brandi Carlisle to Wynona, some of whom consider themselves Joni's Number 1 Fan. Yet, that position is held by no one person. It is not possible, because music lovers from the late 1960s forward have embraced the willowy, fierce singer-songwriter as "theirs" for likely that title belongs only to one person, David Crosby, who really is primarily responsible for making sure the rest of us knew of her gifts and helped her career ascend into the stratosphere from a nice start (and life with Graham Nash as well).

Yet, did you ever think that 20 years later, she'd be standing in front of a live audience performing a jaw-dropping instrumental on "Just Like This Train"? Check out the YouTube posted by Dale Martin:

The audience sat spellbound as they watched Joni rise from the comfortable chair on a stage that recreated the home setting where Mitchell has been hosting gatherings of LA area faithful for a long while. These informal yet limited audience gatherings have included select friends, old and new, who'd come by to sing her songs back to her. Clearly, Joni has made phenomenal progress since suffering a brain aneurysm in March 2015. The event left her unable to speak or walk Yet, having recovered her speech, at age 76, she told a reporter for The Guardian her intentions, after she'd beaten childhood polio (as noted from in the BBC story):

"And, you know, I got my speech back quickly, but the walking I'm still struggling with. But I mean, I'm a fighter. I've got Irish blood! So you know, I knew, 'Here I go again, another battle.'" Two years later, Joni brought singer Wynonna Judd to the point of "no words" as she asked Brandi Carlisle, "When we are 78..." as if can we still be like she is? Granted, many of the performers there were starstruck as much as moved by the quiet confidence of Joni's humor that filled some of the stories she told, one of which was how she came to love "Why Do Fools Fall in Love" as a teenager. Yet, few teenagers get to take their favorite artists with them on the road, but then again there's only one Joni.

Quite possibly, Joni Mitchell means more, perhaps, to singer-songwriters themselves than to any other group of individuals who can rightfully claim one musician as "theirs." Joni's willingness to break rules, barriers, cadence, and logic with each album that she released represented "This is How It's Done When You're Not Afraid to Do It" as opposed to "This is the Way We've Always Done It" in song styling.

Thanks to we have the set list from the concert, and videos courtesy of YouTubers Amy Karibian and Dale Martin. Brandi Carlisle is the musical director, vocal coordinator, conductor, and The Guardian's Laura Snapes had the band lineup for us: Marcus Mumford, Wynonna Judd, Blake Mills, Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig of the band Lucius, and Mitchell’s bandmates Phil and Tim Hanseroth and Celisse Henderson. Carey [2]

Come in From The Cold (Dale Martin video) features Taylor Goldsmith (of Dawes) said lead and Joni sang harmony

Taylor's dad, Lenny, was an original member of 60s band the Five Americans and eventual lead singer for the Tower of Power.

Help Me (Dale Martin video)

A Case of You

Big Yellow Taxi

Just Like This Train (Joni on Parker Fly!)

Why Do Fools Fall in Love


Love Potion #9



Both Sides Now

and The Circle Game

In the years since her aneurysm, musicians have shared their regard and devotion for Joni and her music in performance, stories, and composition. Some are in her living room; others express it on their own stages. The impact of Mitchell's music is found in individual singers' tributes to her work around the world, from Australia to the UK to New England and Los Angeles.

As just a few examples, for the past seven years, singer-songwriter Kiki Ebsen's group, the Joni Mitchell Project, has performed a decade's worth of Mitchell's work that spans nine albums after noting that Joni's absence from performing had left a substantial musical void for two decades. Together with guitarists Grant Geissman, Terry Wollman, drummer Bernie Dresel, and Steve Lawrence on bass, and occasional guest artists, they interpret Mitchell's work with flair and authenticity by crowds who continue to appreciate annual appearances at the Laguna Festival of the Arts and upcoming Muckenthaler Cultural Arts Center date.

Multiple Grammy winner Christopher Cross could not sit quietly by as one of his heroes had suffered her aneurysm. In 2016 he released his tribute to her, "Roberta". He noted: "'Roberta' is the first [song] I have completed [on my new album], which is very much influenced by her later work 'Hejira' and beyond."

It is poignant to think that a commitment made by Joni's then manager David Geffen to appear on the Dick Cavett Show kept her from attending Woodstock, but in 1969 she wrote one of the most iconic songs that has long been considered the identity of the festival. Fitting then, that hours after the night ended and the sun came up, with great thanks to the journalists and videographers who captured time in a bottle for us one more time, we can enjoy the memories of a concert we never attended, but heard about, to perhaps be the impetus that inspired us to go forward and be creative. Thanks, one more time, to Joni for the music. Long may she rock.