Compiled by Simon Montgomery, © 2001

1969.04.26  Fillmore East  New York, NY

Taj Mahal and the James Cotton Blues Band opened for Joni.
Two shows nightly

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Taj Mahal & Joni Mitchell

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sunnskyy on 2010-Jan-18 at 09:19:57 GMT-5:
Home from college on spring break, my friend Dave and I drove in from NJ to hear Joni. Having completely devoured the sounds and poetry of her first album we got to the ticket line with hundreds of likeminded fans.
My recollection was that the Fillmore East was a hang out for many people who paid or crashed to get in, no matter who was playing. There were a bunch (3 or four) guys sitting in the row in front of us....I'd have to describe them as "fat greasers"...sorry, but they were. These guys were a bit drunk and dug Taj and James Cotton. When Joni came onstage, Dave and I were pissed off that the greasers were disrespectful. They were heckling her. There she was in her long (burgundy velvet?) dress going thru her repertoire of mostly "Song to a Seagull" cuts, but a few from the new (yet unheard by me) 2nd album. I specifically remember one of the greasers yelling something about "fariy tale" music and demanding something more rauchy and loud... people around us were trying to shushhhh them, and that emboldened the greasers. This was in the rear portion of the center orchestra, where there was not much of slant to the floor so these guy were also obstructing our view. Then some hippie ushers arrived with flashlights and the rightful ticketed occupants of those seats...the greaser got up and stormed off. ....too bad that my recall of this concert is marred by the image of the hecklers.

Best show I ever saw there was the Doors 11pm some time around then (I have all the stubs somewhere)....They played extended versions of everything on their first two albums and showcased the new Unknown Soldier, compelete with video. That one ended at 4am.

The reason I mention the Doors show is that it was such a great contrast to Joni, yet both were equally filled with brilliance...one shining and one dark. Stars in that special time.

Archival comments

Jim Savage writes: I will do my best at remembering the details of Joni's 1969 performance at the Fillmore East in NYC. Did any other JMDLers have the opportunity to catch some concerts at the Fillmore East? This place, and it's sister concert hall in California (the Fillmore West) were "THE" places to see everyone and anyone who was part of the music scene in the late 60's and very early 70's.

I was attending college at the time. Someone in my dorm section put up a poster that he had the opportunity to get a group discounted rate on tickets to a concert at the Fillmore. The headliner was Joni Mitchell, who was performing along with the James Cotton Blues Band and Taj Mahal. I knew about James and Taj, but I didn't have a clue as to who Joni Mitchell was. I would have gone "on-line" to "Google" her, but back in 1969 computers had not yet been invented. One thing that we did have was the most diverse, creative and "times they are a changing" music in history just exploding onto the scene. For those of us who lived through those times, the events (particularly the music) shaped our lives and the people we would become.

I do not recall the price on the "group rate" tickets, including the private round trip bus fare, but I do recall that the price was so inexpensive that I could not pass it up. The tickets were all in the orchestra section of the theatre, somewhere around the 15th row as I can remember thinking that I had never been so close to the stage before. Taj Mahal was very cool with his "Blues" performance. James Cotton also sang the Blues, and played a mean harmonica too. I still have the program that was given out at this performance. Here is what was printed about Joni:

"JONI MITCHELL - One of Canada's most distinguished contemporary singer-songwriters. Joni Mitchell is appearing at Fillmore East for the first time this weekend. A native of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Joni began studying at the Alberta College of Art with hopes of becoming a commercial artist. At twenty, she began playing the ukelele and sung in coffee houses in here spare time. While riding the Canadian Pacific Railroad on route to the Mariposa Folk Festival in Ontario, Joni wrote her first song. She stayed in Toronto writing and singing. Her repertoire now includes over sixty songs and a second album will be released soon. She is scheduled to tape a television show at the end of this month with Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan which will be aired in the beginning of June."

The photo in the program of Joni is awesome. She is looking straight into the camera with just a hint of a smile. The lighting is directed so as to cast a shadow over the right side of her face. I have an extensive collection of Joni photographs and posters but I have never seen this particular photo anywhere except in this program. I met Joni around seven years ago and showed her the program and the photo and she said, "SO YOUNG!!!!!". I need to find out who took this photo and the date. It really is a youthful picture of Joni.

While I cannot remember many details of Joni's performance that night I do know that I was completely blown away, and I mean completely. I knew nothing about her or her music prior to the performance so I wasn't sure what to expect.

While I enjoyed a wide variety of music, including the Jefferson Airplane, Cream, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, many Motown performers, I must admit that I had a special fondness for what we referred to back in the day as "Folk" music. Bob Dylan, Donavan, Judy Collins, Joan Baez, (Peter, Paul and Mary), Melanie, the list goes on and on. But what I heard that night changed everything for me. Joni came out on stage alone. No back up band at all. It was Joni, her guitar and a piano. Her hair was long and as I recall she was wearing a long peasant dress. The voice that I heard, the words and the music was like nothing I had heard before. I remember the tremendous passion in her voice. She reached for every note. There was not a lot of conversation as I recall. Joni struck me as being somewhat shy, not totally at ease between songs. Clearly she believed in her music, and her music spoke volumes. One of the numbers that I definitely recall was "Marcie." When she finished singing Marcie I wanted to yell out for her to sing it again. Of course I didn't. I just applauded loudly, realizing that I was listening to someone who was due to become legendary. Someone who had such creative talent, such passion, such belief in her work. I believe I recall hearing "I Had a King", "Night in the City", Chelsea Morning", "The Gallery" and "Both Sides Now" and more that I cannot remember. I believe that Joni performed for well over an hour.

It was evident in her performance that Joni wrote these songs. She owned them. This was her work and she was letting the world know it. This was the start of something very rare and special. Joni played the piano but I cannot totally recall what she performed. There's a chance that she did "For Free" or "Willie", but I can't say for sure. What I can say for sure is that this performer, Joni Mitchell, was someone who I was hearing at the very beginning of what I knew was destined to be an incredible career. I can remember thinking on the way home on the bus that I had to find her STAS album as soon as possible. I recall spending my available money on the concert so the album purchase would have to wait. But then as chance would have it (one of my many Joni moments) I saw an index card tacked to a "Buy & Sell" bulletin board that someone in a fraternity was selling the STAS album for a couple of dollars. What luck I thought. I contacted this person right away and asked why the low price and why he was even selling it. As it turned out, this guy had a very expensive stereo system and he was able to hear an imperfection on several of the cuts. Knowing that my record player was fairly basic, I decided to go for it. I ran back to my dorm room in relived the concert from the night before again and again. I'm quite sure that I'm not the only one, but I believe that when it comes to Joni and her music, that there is some strong Karma going on for me. Joni Mitchell is the genuine article. I do not feel starry eyed, rather I know what Joni's music and work means to me and countless others.

When I had that brief encounter with Joni I tried to put into words what she and her music have meant to me "all through the years" as I put it. Joni smiled and said, "I'm glad that you were able to get into it." Get into it I did and we did. I wish that I had thought afterwards to write some thoughts down on paper regarding that first "Joni" experience. I recall that evening as the start of a life long journey with a musical soul mate. I only wish that I could have recalled more details. Like Bob so sincerely said in his recent posting, we all want another chance to tell Joni how much we love her. One final thought, I want Joni to be happy and at peace with herself. If I know this to be true, I can ask for no more.

P.S. I forgot to mention that I also recall Joni performing "Michael From Mountains". As with the rest of her songs, Joni was awesome.