The penned the anthem for the golden children of Woodstock, idealizing the spot as the new hippy garden of Eden. But Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young had the hit with the song "Woodstock," and Joni Mitchell never actually set foot in the place. Her manager kept her in Manhattan that weekend so she wouldn't get caught in traffic and miss the chance to appear on "The Dick Cavett Show."
This Saturday, Aug. 15, Mitchell finally plays "the garden," 29 years after the fact. The day also marks the first official concert by the legend in the New York area in 15 years — since she headlined Jones Beach for the "Wild Things Run Fast" tour.
Mitchell's disappearance from the concert scene mirrored a downsizing in her album sales and a lowering of her critical standing through the '80s and early '90s.
But things have begun to turn around lately — at least in terms of the singer's media profile and critical regard.
Mitchell's last album, 1994's "Turbulent Indigo," received the most glowing reviews since her '70s commercial heyday and snared her two Grammys (including Best Pop Album). Spurred by the LP's beauty and bite, Billboard gave her a Century Award for distinguished creative achievement.
At the same time, the emerging wave of female artists — from Sarah McLachlan to Jewel to Alanis Morissette — offered hosannas to her in interviews.
"She's always been in front of the culture at any given time," explains Bill Flanagan of VH1. "Culturally, we've finally caught up with her again."
Still, Mitchell's commercial performance remains underwhelming. Even with the hoopla, "Turbulent Indigo" didn't sell much more than its lower-profile predecessor. It moved 276,000 copies, compared with 223,000 for 1991's "Night Ride Home."
"It's a shame that the Grammy wins didn't do for her what they did for Bonnie Raitt," says Wally Breece, who runs the most authoritative Web site on the star (www.jonimitchell.com).
The fact that Mitchell hasn't played live in so long hasn't helped. According to the star, lingering physical problems from childhood polio have made it difficult for her to sustain her energy on tour. Yet in May, Mitchell tested the waters for a "comeback" by playing full 75-minute sets on seven dates down the West Coast with Bob Dylan and Van Morrison.
And she'll follow the Woodstock date with an album, "Taming the Tiger," out Sept. 29, to be promoted by a recently taped TV concert special, featuring material from throughout her career.
Sympathetic observers hope this time the public will finally fall back in synch with her. "People forget," Flanagan explains, "that even albums everyone loves now, like [1976's] 'Hejira' or [1975's] 'Hissing Of Summer Lawns' flipped people out at the time."
A Hiss From Rolling Stone
Rolling Stone called "Hissing" the worst album of the year. Later, it became recognized as the album that brought African rhythms to pop, way before Peter Gabriel or Sting's similar forays. Things got worse for Mitchell when she released the jazz album "Mingus" in 1979. "She lost her airplay from that," says Breece.
Mitchell complained that her '80s work wasn't adequately promoted. But observers opine that she has paid a price for holding to her high standards. "She's not interested in pop trends, [and] she doesn't want to repeat past successes," says Flanagan. "That's why you couldn't take one song from any of her albums and put it on any other album by her."
For how many other artists does that hold?