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Cheers Joni, we could drink a case of you right now Print-ready version

by Warwick McFadyen
July 27, 2022

Joni Mitchell, who has rarely appeared in public recently, performs at the Newport Folk Festival. Photo: NINA WESTERVELT

It was only four minutes. But it was long enough. A woman in her late seventies was sitting in a chair, a cane leaning beside her. A younger woman was sitting next to her, holding a microphone. The older woman had dark glasses on. The microphone was placed before her. They were singing.

It was joyous, it was beyond joyous. The woman in the chair was Joni Mitchell. The other woman was Brandi Carlile. They were singing "A Case of You". It's not too much to say the vaults of heavens lit up with glowing gratitude and a rapture of appreciation. The joy circled the globe, found itself within this breast as it would have among her worldwide legions of fans.

The odds against this happening, of simply giving voice again, to sing, for Mitchell were large. She had had a brain aneurysm in 2015. Her housekeeper found her on the floor of her house, after Mitchell had apparently been lying there for hours.

Mitchell's appearance this week at the Newport Folk Festival was one of only a few public appearances she has made since the aneurysm.

She appeared briefly as MusiCare's "Person of the Year" this year during the Grammy celebrations. But she hasn't toured for 22 years, and hasn't put out an album since "Shine" in 2007, after famously declaring a few years before that that she was through with the music business. The last time she played at Newport it was July 1969. Two men landed on the moon the day after her performance.

And now we are over the moon. In the waves of dark news that crash through the days, here was a tiny light.

For it was more than four minutes. Mitchell also performed "Both Sides Now", "Big Yellow Taxi", and "The Circle Game". She even stood up and played electric guitar.

No cane needed.

As with all voices, they mellow over time, the pitch is harder to reach, the notes harder to hold. Throw in a life-threatening medical event which Mitchell experienced and the very achievement of summoning music, the melody and the lyrics, is breathtaking.

Carlile, a Mitchell fan who performed the artist's album "Blue" in its entirety last November at Carnegie Hall, took the high notes at Newport, and if at times they were out of time with each other just a little, it made the performance even more endearing. This was a harmony of love and respect from one to the other.

Mitchell, despite the lowering of octave range, still breathed the songs, and exhaled the emotion, made all the more powerful by the love in the room from the musicians and the audience. The intonations and nuances that Mitchell has made her own over her career were still there. How could they not be? They are part of the song and soul of the artist. The essence never leaves.

Which is the beauty in these few moments at Newport. When Mitchell sang, eyes closed to the world, we were all swimming in a river. Her river.

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Added to Library on July 31, 2022. (1653)


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