Attendees at the Newport Folk Festival on July 24 came for a performance billed as “Brandi Carlile and Friends.” But it turns out that one of those “friends” was quite the show-stealer.
That’s because legendary folk singer and songwriter Joni Mitchell made a surprise appearance at the closing act of the festival, the first time she’s performed a full set in public since 2000.
In 2015, a brain aneurysm nearly killed Mitchell. She has had to recover, retrain her body in basic functions such as walking and re-learn musical skills, including how to play the guitar, since then.
The last time Mitchell performed at the Newport Folk Festival was in 1969, when she was in her 20s. The festival crowd went wild at the sight of Mitchell ready to perform on stage again after 53 years.
Mitchell, now 78, has been holding “Joni Jams” sessions at her California home in recent years with celebrity friends. But the July 24 performance was her full comeback to performing for an audience, featuring 13 songs.
Fellow musician Brandi Carlisle had coaxed her back to the stage, telling media afterward that she had dreamed of Joni’s return to the stage. Also joining Mitchell and Carlile, playing and singing, were Marcus Mumford, Wynonna Judd, Blake Mills, Celisse, Taylor Goldsmith and others.
Shortly after her performance, Mitchell told CBS correspondent Anthony Mason she wasn’t nervous about being in front of a large group of people again, but she wanted to do a good job.
“I wasn’t sure that I could be, but I didn’t sound too bad tonight,” she said with a smile.
Mitchell, Carlile and friends performed some of Mitchell’s songs, including “Big Yellow Taxi,” “Both Sides Now,” “Help Me,” “A Case of You,” and “Circle Game” as well as covers of songs like “Summertime” and “Love Potion No. 9.” Mitchell also told stories and played the guitar.
Here’s Mitchell singing her well-known song “Both Sides Now” at the festival. The song brought Wynonna Judd, singing behind her, to tears.
Another person brought to tears was Carlile.
“Joni’s looked at life from so many sides and she came from out of the storm singing like a prophet,” Carlile posted to Twitter after the folk festival. “I will never be over this. I can’t even watch it without the tears coming back.”
— Brandi Carlile (@brandicarlile) July 25, 2022
What a historic performance for a legendary singer-songwriter. Are you a Joni Mitchell fan?