Viewers Were Shocked When Joni Mitchell Played Her First Concert in Over a Decade at Newport Folk Festival

“I just realized, Joni’s the least nervous person up here,” exclaimed Brandi Carlile halfway through a history Newport Folk Festival set that paid tribute to Joni Mitchell, in her first full set-length concert appearance in two decades.

Over 13 songs, Mitchell, who last appeared at the festival 53 years ago, in 1969, held court as a star-studded crew of musicians (Carlile, Blake Mills, Lucius, Wynonna, Celisse, Taylor Goldsmith, Marcus Mumford, and many more) sat around on couches on-stage playing a mix of her favorite oldies (The Persuasions’ “Why Do Fools Fall in Love,” The Clovers’ “Love Potion No. 9” as well as an array of Mitchell masterpieces.

Mitchell, who was seated on a throne, started the performance by sporadically singing along to some of her own songs, joined by vocalists like Carlile, (“Carey”) Goldsmith, (1991’s “Come In From The Cold,” and Celisse (“Help Me”). However, by the end of the over an hour-long performance, the 78-year-old singer, who had not performed on stage in nearly a decade, had stood up, played a lengthy guitar solo (“Just Like This Train”), and performed a moving baritone lead vocal on Gershwin’s “Summertime,” as well as heartfelt renditions of “Both Sides Now” and “Circle Game.”

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Replicating the recently infamous “Joni Jams,” the unofficial A-list music get-togethers that took place at Mitchell’s Los Angeles home in recent years and featured Bonnie Raitt, Elton John, Brandi Carlile, and Herbie Hancock, all of whom gathered around Mitchell to sing and share stories in the years after Mitchell’s aneurysm.

According to Carlile, who selected and planned the entire concert, “No one gets folk artists together like the humility of trying out a new song in front of Joni fucking Mitchell.” At the end of the set, Carlile pronounced the night’s eternal importance: “Joni Mitchell,” she proclaimed, “has returned.”

Canadian-American singer-songwriter Roberta Joan “Joni” Mitchell CC (born November 7, 1943); formerly Anderson. Mitchell’s compositions frequently focus on social and philosophical ideas as well as her thoughts about romance, womanhood, disillusionment, and joy.

She draws inspiration from folk, pop, rock, classical, and jazz. Numerous honors have been bestowed upon her, including eleven Grammy Awards and 1997 admission into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. When everything is said and done, Joni Mitchell might be remembered as the most significant and influential female recording artist of the late 20th century, according to AllMusic and Rolling Stone, who both referred to her as “one of the finest composers ever”

Viewers Were Shocked When Joni Mitchell Played Her First Concert in Over a Decade at Newport Folk Festival
Viewers Were Shocked When Joni Mitchell Played Her First Concert in Over a Decade at Newport Folk Festival

Before moving on to the nightclubs of Toronto, Ontario, Mitchell started singing in local nightclubs in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, and other parts of western Canada. In 1965, she relocated to the US, where she started performing. Other folk singers had recorded a few of her own songs, including “Urge for Going,” “Chelsea Morning,”

“Both Sides, Now,” and “The Circle Game,” enabling her to contract with Reprise Records and released her debut album, Song to a Seagull, in 1968. With songs like “Big Yellow Taxi” and “Woodstock,” Mitchell helped define an era and a generation after relocating to Southern California.

It was ranked as the 30th best album ever created in Rolling Stone’s 2003 list of the “500 Greatest Albums of All Time, “climbing to number 3 in the 2020 edition. Her 1971 album Blue is frequently recognized as one of the best albums of all time.  The New York Times selected Blue as one of the 25 albums in 2000 that it felt best exemplified the “turning points and apex of 20th-century popular music.”

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On a list of the Best Albums Made By Women in 2017, NPR rated Blue at the top. Her father came from a Norwegian family that may have had some Sámi ancestry; her mother’s grandparents were Scottish and Irish. Her father was a flight lieutenant in the Royal Canadian Air Force who trained aspiring pilots at RCAF Station Fort Macleod, and her mother was a teacher.

Later, she relocated to several bases in western Canada with her parents. Her father worked as a grocery store owner after World War II, and the family relocated to Saskatchewan, settling in Maidstone and North Battleford.  Later, in several of her songs, notably “Song for Sharon,” she talked about her background in a tiny village.

At the age of nine, Mitchell developed polio, which required weeks in the hospital. She began smoking that year as well, but she disputes that smoking has harmed her voice. At age 11, she and her family relocated to Saskatoon, where they now call home.

Mitchell had academic difficulties; her primary hobby was painting. She took a brief course in classical piano around this time. She concentrated on her artistic ability and for the first time thought about a singing or dance career. She was inspired to compose poetry by one eccentric teacher, Arthur Kratzmann; her first CD included a dedication to him.

When she was in grade 12, she quit school (resuming her studies later) and partied downtown with a raucous crowd until she realised she was becoming too close to the criminal underworld.

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