Joni Mitchell: At Newport review – years melt away in surprise folk festival recording

Her poignant return to live performance in 2022 gets a full release, and it’s a hit-filled show displaying Mitchell’s enduring warmth and wisdom

by Dave Simpson
July 28, 2023

Joni Mitchell's surprise appearance at last year's Newport folk festival marked the singer-songwriter's first time at the festival in 53 years, and her first live appearance since a near-fatal 2015 aneurysm that led to fears she'd never perform again. Thankfully recorded for posterity, the tapes capture her friend Brandi Carlile's excited introduction to whoops of amazement from the crowd, many of whom were in tears, plus an 11-song setlist including many of Mitchell's greatest hits. She's ably supported by a cast of musicians, including Carlile's band and Marcus Mumford, some of whom who occasionally share the vocal load.

Brooklyn indie foursome Lucius do the heavy lifting on Big Yellow Taxi. Carlile and Taylor Goldsmith take the lead on the likes of Carey and Amelia, but Mitchell plays the electric guitar instrumental Just Like This Train flawlessly and jokes about how 1976's Hejira album was written on a road trip without a driving licence. She duets A Case of You with Carlile and audibly takes control as the show progresses. Her voice is slightly deeper than it was, with a rich timbre indefatigability earned through lived experience. George Gershwin's Summertime offers a rueful backwards glance. The years melt away for The Circle Game. Both Sides Now has the poignancy of a 79-year-old singing words she wrote aged 23. It's not sung regretfully, but warmly, in the knowledge that life's sunshine and storms are what make us who we are.

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