How Will the Grammys Categorize Joni Mitchell’s New Live Album From the Newport Folk Festival?

Will they classify the album as folk, pop or traditional pop? Mitchell has won in all three fields over the years.

by Paul Grein
July 27, 2023

How will the Grammys categorize Joni Mitchell's At Newport, a live recording of the singer/songwriter's heartening return to the stage at the 2022 Newport Folk Festival? The album is set for release by Rhino Records on Friday (July 28).

Mitchell is Grammy royalty, with nine competitive awards, plus a lifetime achievement award in 2002. She was also the MusiCares person of the year in 2022.

The performance capped a remarkable recovery from a life-threatening aneurysm Mitchell suffered in 2015. Mitchell was backed at the live event by other major Grammy winners such as Brandi Carlile, Marcus Mumford and Wynonna Judd, as well as Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig from Lucius.

The big question is whether the Grammys will classify the album as folk, pop or traditional pop. Mitchell has won in all three fields over the years.

Mitchell landed her first Grammy nomination (and win) in a folk category - best folk performance for her sophomore album, Clouds (1969) - but she hasn't been nominated in a folk category since. Turbulent Indigo (1995) won for best pop album. Both Sides Now (2000) won for best traditional pop vocal album. This new album is likely to be slotted in one of those two categories. (If it does well, it may also have a shot at an album of the year nomination.)

In terms of genre-specific performance categories, Mitchell has usually been slotted as pop. Mitchell was nominated for best pop vocal, performance, female four times - for Court and Spark (1974), The Hissing of Summer Lawns (1976), Chalk Mark in a Rain Storm (1988) and the title track from Both Sides Now. She won pop instrumental performance for "One Week Last Summer," a track from her 2007 album Shine.

The traditional pop category was generally reserved for collections of songs from the Great American Songbook, from its inception in 1991 until fairly recently. But it has taken a broader view in recent years. The current rules state: "This category is for performances of a type and style of song that cannot properly be intermingled with present forms of pop music. This includes older forms of traditional pop such as the Great American Songbook, as well as cabaret/musical theater-style songs and previous forms of contemporary pop. This would also include contemporary pop songs performed in traditional pop style - the term 'traditional' being a reference, equally, to the style of the composition, vocal styling and the instrumental arrangement, without regard to the age of the material."

Final placements are determined by a large screening committee that listens to the record and is charged with making the determination based on the sound of the music, not the artist's image or where the album landed on various charts or (in this case) the fact that it was recorded at a festival associated with a specific genre.

Mitchell will turn 80 on Nov. 7, three days before the 66th annual Grammy Award nominations are announced on Nov. 10. The awards will be presented at Arena on Feb. 4, 2024.

This was Mitchell's third time performing at the Newport Folk Festival, following appearances in 1967 (where she met Leonard Cohen) and 1969 (where she met another lifelong friend and collaborator, James Taylor).

The album features live performances of such classics as "Big Yellow Taxi," "Carey," "Help Me," "A Case of You" and "Both Sides Now." Mitchell closed her set with "The Circle Game," which she performed at the Newport Folk Festival in 1967.

Mitchell wrote all of the songs on the album except "Summertime," the Porgy & Bess classic that was written by George & Ira Gershwin and DeBose Heyward.

Music journalist-turned-filmmaker Cameron Crowe wrote the album's liner notes, which could bring him his second nod for best album notes. He was nominated in 1986 for writing the notes for Bob Dylan's Biograph.

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