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Open Letter to Joni   Print

by Mary Gilchrist
Saskatoon StarPhoenix
March 15, 1969

You weren't sure, were you Joni, that the hometown audience was really with you Friday night.

Saskatoon built a very large hall while you were away. Suddenly there you were, standing alone on its stage facing 2000 people. (There would have been more but the Centennial Auditorium can only seat that many.)

They were very quiet weren't they? They were a little shy about joining "Just another home town kid," as you put it, in the choruses of your songs.

But they were with you, all the way, Joni.

It takes courage to face a hometown audience for the first time. They knew that. It takes even more courage to present an entire show by yourself. You had no band nor accompaniment, no comic entertainer to loosen up the audience, not even a master of ceremonies.

A good many seasoned performers wouldn't even try to go it alone. You did, and it went fine.

That was because you recognised your audience wasn't there for tinsel. You gave them substance.

In the songs you have written, you have said what so many of us don't know how to say. A cab driver once took me through the 'ghostly garden' of New York City, too. I didn't realise then his name was Nathan La Franeer, but it must have been the same up-tight cab driver you sang about last night.

"But we crawled the canyons slowly,
through the buyers and the sellers,
through the burglar bells and the wishing wells
With gangs and girlie shows…"

You value the words you use, don't you?

And the sounds. It would be foolish to describe your voice by trying to liken it to any other vocalist's style. Somehow it's not enough to say you sing; rather you deal with sounds, making them effective and appropriate. You put the ideas and words and sounds together to give them meaning.

You were born in Fort Macleod, Alberta, but Saskatoon claims you. Only seven years ago you finished high school here and moved on to sing your song poems in coffee houses in Calgary and Toronto. Then there was New York. Now you live in California where you write songs and make more records.

This week you came home again to neighbours and classmates and teachers who were proud. And among the 2000 there were friends you've never met - those who became your friends through hearing your songs on records. Still others were only introduced when you carried your guitar on stage, smiled shyly and began to sing.

But Joni, you owe your friends another favour. They've become accustomed to the sort of performer who rushes out for five curtain calls before their hands are even warmed from clapping.

They thought you were coming back, but you didn't. Try to make that curtain call back here in Saskatoon, soon.

With warmest regards,
Mary L Gilchrist

 

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