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From JoniMitchell.com: "Joni got some bad press for walking offstage five times during the show. Whether her frustration resulted from malfunctioning equipment, or from the audience being too noisy, in reality it was a combination of the show being a rare one for Joni in the daytime, the crowd's natural rowdiness adding distraction, and the disappointing fact that this concert was at the end of a long, grueling tour played in venues that were mostly only about 2/3 full." List members have alternate recollections...
i was at that famous, ill fated concert, and here is what i know. joni did NOT walk off stage five times. she played two songs completely (she opened with coyote and then played another thru - don't recall the song) and then started to sing song for sharon. she blew a lyric and stopped. regrouped for a moment and started over. she reached the same point in the song (i think it was around the second or third verse) and blew the lyric again. she then said that she always had a hard time performing in front of an audience that was milling around and she was going to take a short break and let everyone find their seats and then would be back.
at this point she had been onstage perhaps 15 minutes. and she left. she was gone approx FORTY FIVE minutes. (and let me add, the audience was NOT rowdy. about 95% of us were rapt, as all good joni fans would be in her presence...but the show had just begun, and there were, as at every concert, some late arrivals, and it was those folks who apparently "distracted" her.
i recently spoke to another list member who was also at the concert and she met one of the promoters of that show, who apparently referred to joni as a "bitch" and described her sitting in her limo during this 45 minute break, trying get her driver to leave. the promoter and some other behind-the-scene people were telling her (all the while, bringing her drinks and trying to calm her down) that if she left, after 2 and 1/8th songs, she would not be paid. joni was insisting that technically she had "performed" and they HAD to pay her and they insisted if she left - no payday.
after a 45 minute or so absence, joni came back on stage, in a different outfit, and without a word, (no: "thanks for being patient" no: "sorry that took so long" ) just started playing again. the crowd was not entirely receptive to her at first, but when she started playing "woodstock" everyone was on their feet and the mood was wonderful, and people started coming up to the stage (it was an outdoor concert and during the day so it was still light out) and clapping and cheering, and joni finished the song and laid down her guitar and left. no good night. no thanks for coming. no nothing. she just left. just as the concert, for the first time in that awful evening, was taking off! everyone thought it was another break. but then the lights came up and the gates swung open and it was clear, the night was over. (she had performed during this second set for maybe 30-40 minutes!!!) the crowd began to boo. and for the next 3 days or so, every radio station and newspaper and newscast in town savaged her. and rightly so.
years later i heard this explanation for her behavior. the concert series was sponsored by miller high life and at the back of the stage was a big sign that was shaped like a bar of music, with a staff and a big treble clef, sort of arcing behind the stage and done in glitter so when the lights hit it, it would sparkle, etc. written across the staff was - yep, "miller hi life". tacky, to be sure, but the band stood in front of this sign and who looked at it anyway?
joni, as part of her "set design" for this particular tour, had some hand painted banners that she had done. i am sure they were beautiful, and they were designed to be suspended over the stage and hang down, over her band. the promoters would not let her put them up because, they told her, the banners would obscure the miller high life sign, and as miller was sponsoring the concert series, this could not be allowed!!! so joni was (understandably) upset, if not enraged, before the concert ever began.
this does not justify her behavior and the terrible way she treated her fans that night, me included!!! who had paid good money to see and hear her perform and had every right to expect her to give her all. but it does at least, make it understandable. her leaving the stage, and refusing to come back for so long, and then begrudgingly giving us a very abbreviated show had nothing to do with the "rowdy" fans. it had to do with her, apparently, trying to screw the promoters for not allowing her to present the show the way she wanted. but, in fact, she took it out on all of us.
I was at this show, my first Joni concert. It was such a huge
disappointment for a fan such as am I. Anyway, I recently met with a fellow during a networking phase of my
job hunt, and he had a Miller Concert on the Commons poster from 1983 on
his wall. Sure enough, there was Joni in the line-up. During a break in
the art-in-Boston conversation I pointed to it and asked him if he had had
a role in it and if he had been there for the Joni show. He launched into
a diatribe about how it was one of the worst nightmares of his professional
life, because after about three songs she threatened not to go back on
stage and had to be counter-threatened with not being paid for the gig (and
just what defined a gig) to get her back up there. Needless to say, I was
sad to hear our lady of the arts being defamed in such a way, but he was
telling it as it was.
One night I shared this story with ric and Ashara and ric related that he thought that part of the problem was that she had backdrops she wanted to use (as she did on the most recent tour) and they would not let her use them because they had to have the Miller High Life banner (concert sponsors) up there. Ah, the conflict between art and commerce. Add that to the other problems (day time, an active and even restless audience, end of a not very rewarding tour) and
you get a human being/artist with human problems. As an audience member I
was disappointed, but it did nothing to diminish my admiration for her art.
We all remember selectively, it seems, as the fans' descriptions of the events differ from audio documentation we have.
Here are the facts (as substantiated by a circulating tape of the show):
1. Joni did not walk off after "1+1/8" songs. She left halfway through "Song For Sharon", the 7th song in the set, approximately 30 minutes into the show.
2. There's no way of knowing from the tape how long she was gone but when she returned she played for at least another 45 minutes.
3. At the very end she mentions that she hopes "you'll come back sometime and see the show with its full lighting and staging and when we can present it properly". This would lend creedence to the claim that she was upset by the Miller banner which prevented her own stage design from being utilized.
In spite of all the complications - to quote Lou Reed - the music performed that night still sounds phenomenal, to these ears.