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Aisle Seat: Joni Mitchell Courts and Sparks at Newport

Updated: 6 days ago

By Naomi Serviss / New York City


Joni Mitchell dazzles the Newport crowd in this moving concert video



The iconic musician-artist-poet Joni Mitchell, 78, electrified this year’s Newport Folk Festival

by simply showing up.

Few people knew the doyenne’s performance was in the pipeline.

The shocked and awed audience hadn’t a clue.

No one knew if she’d come through

including herself.

Now, days later, snippets of the live concert are all over the Internet.

As soon as I heard her deep, throaty, smoke- ravaged voice sing The Circle Game,

my emotions overwhelmed, my eyes welled and spilled.

This historic live concert in Rhode Island on July 24 was billed as “Brandi Carlile & Friends.” Carlile is a musical genre-busting force, and a devotee of, and friend to, Mitchell.

Their friendship paid off handsomely.

Mitchell’s last-set appearance drew gasps as she carefully walked on stage.

It was Joni’s first appearance at the festival in 53 years.

The crowd lost it, sobbing and cheering, enthralled to witness the Grande Dame of music giving her first public performance, a 13-song set, since a brain aneurysm in 2015 almost killed her.

The stage was a recreation of Mitchell’s California living room, the site of “Joni Jams” with friends and fellow musicians.

She sat in an ornate wingback chair, wearing a dark blue beret and sunglasses.

Sporting pearls and a red polka-dotted fabric necklace, Mitchell was bright and shiny.

And surprise, surprise.

It’s not merely boomers who are swooning to see her perform on stage! Lyrics as deep as Sondheim’s.

Women of a certain age (mine!) adored and worshiped her as our spokesperson for dashed romance and disappointment.

We sang along with her records and strove to sound like her.

Twenty- and thirty-somethings are now discovering Mitchell’s luscious album Blue, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year.

Mitchell is simply the GOAT, by all accounts.

Her tuneful poetry accompanied me through the quicksand of teenage angst.


Fresh from Laurel Canyon: Joni Mitchell performing on the Johnny Cash show in 1969

Her songs, sculpted by sorrow, dreams and regret mirrored my own journey.

Tunes soundtracked my heartache, longing, requited and unrequited love.

That early majestic soprano, innocent and wise, soared up and up, free as a seagull, reaching an

ever-higher octave.

Her voice, now deeper due to cigarette years of vocal abuse, still resonates in any octave.

Earlier this year, on February 3, Mitchell was honored as MusiCares’ Person of the Year at a charity gala before the Grammys, where she performed briefly.

The following evening, Joni accepted the Grammy for Best Historical Album (Joni Mitchell Archives, Vol. 1: The Early Years (1963-1967). Mesmerizing the crowd, as always, sporting a red leather beret, floral pants and sunglasses.

Mitchell wore her trademark blonde locks in pigtails.

A western Canadian, Mitchell launched her career performing in small clubs. 
Settling in Laurel Canyon in the Hollywood Hills, she became the linchpin of the ’60s music scene.

When her first album, Song to a Seagull, was released in 1968, I was gobsmacked. Fell in love with Mitchell’s prose-poetry tunes and Canadian affect.

Why was the Newport crowd charged with emotion when she took the stage? Because she’s JONI MITCHELL!

Playing and singing once more before an adoring, choked-up crowd.

Watching the clips of Mitchell singing, “Both Sides Now” and “The Circle Game,” I’m overcome.

Flashing back to that teenager who knew firsthand the world can change in a heartbeat.

From the looks of Mitchell’s beaming smile during the once-in-a-lifetime concert, she’s having a fantastic time! 
At the end of her set, you can hear her say, “That was so fun!”

More, please.


 






Naomi Serviss is a New York-based award-winning journalist whose work has been published in The New York Times, Newsday, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Highroads (AAA magazine), in-flight publications, spa and travel magazines and websites, including BroadwayWorld.com

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