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Joni Mitchell Returns After 20 Years in First Ticketed Concert

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joni mitchell

Joni Mitchell, the legendary singer, gave her first full headlining act in 23 years at the Echoes Through the Canyon festival. Mitchell announced a unique headline performance at Carlile’s festival, which took place yesterday at the Gorge Amphitheatre in Washington State.

The Seattle Times reports, Joni Mitchell performed a 24-song career-spanning concert with Carlile and an ensemble of backup musicians that included Marcus Mumford, as well as some covers.

The 26,000 or so spectators who jammed the Gorge Amphitheatre on Saturday felt a jittery atmosphere. For years, thousands of Joni Mitchell fans believed they would never be able to witness one of the greatest living composers perform live again.

Fans who made the journey to the legendary Washington venue were minutes away from seeing music history, two decades after Mitchell stopped from performing and eight years distant from her life-threatening brain aneurysm.

At the opening notes of “Big Yellow Taxi,” one of Mitchell’s oft-reinterpreted hits, Mitchell and the 20 or so all-star musician buddies who acted as her backing band transformed the peppy melody into a big ol’ family singalong.

The audience could hardly contain their joy, briefly hushed when Mitchell’s anchor vocals were unaccompanied, only to erupt again when the rest of the chorus joined her.

As stunned spectators stood for an extended standing ovation following the opening song, the 79-year-old’s pleased chuckle seemed to make them cheer even louder. Following a surprise set with Brandi Carlile and pals at the Newport Folk Festival last year as Joni Mitchell & the Joni Jam.

Joni mitchell

Fans came from all over the world

Fans travelled from as far away as Australia and England, San Francisco, and Saskatoon (Mitchell’s hometown in Saskatchewan) to witness Mitchell’s first true, ticketed headlining show in years.

The Newport set and last night’s show, the highlight of Carlile’s Echoes Through the Canyon weekend, were extensions of private jam sessions Mitchell has held at her house for the past four years while recovering from a 2015 aneurysm that left her unable to speak, let alone sing and play guitar. The monthly jams, which Carlile eventually assisted in organising, prepared the way for Mitchell’s public return to music, as she relearned to sing and play guitar.

Saturday night was less of a regular concert and more of an opportunity to collectively celebrate a generational artist’s wide-ranging canon and bathe in Mitchell’s light for 2 hours and 40 minutes. Carlile phrased it better, or at least more poetically, in her opening remarks on stage, comparing the intimate Joni Jam experience to peeking into a tiny hut inside a snow globe.

The stage was decorated in the style of a living room, complete with couches, lights, end tables, and even framed pet photos. Mitchell sat front and centre with Carlile in plush easy chairs, wearing sunglasses and a pink floral-print blouse, bantering like old friends sipping pinot grigio when not singing into matching golden microphones. “When you come to Washington, you drink out of a Yeti,” Carlile exclaimed as she filled a glass for a friend. (Mitchell afterwards made fun of Carlile for drinking directly from the bottle.)

Joni Mitchell

Old rock ‘n’ roll adventures

The Joni Jam felt like a campfire hootenanny coupled with a music nerd’s fantasy storyteller session. Carlile acted as interviewer/fan-girl-in-chief between songs, getting Mitchell to talk about old rock ‘n’ roll adventures — knee-slapping quests for wolf-howl recordings, spacing lyrics with Bob Dylan, with whom she played the Gorge in ’98 — and the inspiration behind some of Mitchell’s most revered songs.

Mitchell vigorously tapped her cane on the massive stage to “Raised on Robbery” – a song about a prostitute in a Saskatoon hotel, she’d explain later. Mitchell’s sassy vocals matched one of the night’s revelling rockers, before cooling off with “Come in From the Cold” and the hazy gentle rocker “Amelia.” Mitchell’s lone voice seemed louder on the latter, as though the first few gang-vocal tunes cleared a runway for the honoree to take off, just as the sun sank into an amber glow hanging over the canyon behind her.

Mitchell’s all-star supporting cast — which included the Hanseroth twins, Marcus Mumford on percussion, and Annie Lennox and Sarah McLachlan as backup singers in an embarrassment of vocal riches — formed a half circle around Mitchell and Carlile, with each member getting their chance to shine and heap praise on the woman of the hour.

When Mitchell wasn’t leading a song, the Joni Jammers took turns leading songs, singing with and for the revered music legend — a frightening notion, according to Carlile, who opened with a stripped-down acoustic set. Celisse Henderson, a frequent Carlile collaborator who Mitchell likened to a female Jimi Hendrix (but a far better voice), was extensively featured throughout the night.

Mitchell’s voice has undoubtedly changed

Her moving guitar solo complemented Mitchell’s bluesy “Summertime,” which transported the audience to a smokey speakeasy. The low-lit number was the first song Mitchell sang in their private jam sessions, so the Gorge performance was somewhat of a full-circle moment.

Sarah McLachlan’s honest, stunning performance in “Blue” was another guest-led highlight. Carlile, a late-blooming Mitchell fan who grew up hearing McLachlan and Lilith Fair at the Gorge, was definitely in a good mood, lying back in her cushy chair, eyes closed and mouthing along with every syllable, pausing only to pull from her wine bottle.

Mitchell’s voice has undoubtedly changed since she recorded her most acclaimed work in the 1970s, but she sang with soul, vigour, and tenacity throughout the marathon performance.

She also had an instrumental solo moment, playing lead guitar on “Just Like This Train” (like she did in Newport) and “If” during the encore.

The only time it was clear her previous tour was 20 years ago was when she asked what all the lights in the audience were during a gospel-infused “Shine,” which saw Carlile let loose vocally after spending much of the concert as a supporting voice alongside Mitchell’s. “That was quite a spectacle, all the little lights from your cellphones,” she laughed.

Joni Mitchell & the Joni Jam set list:

1. “Big Yellow Taxi”
2. “Night Ride Home”
3. “Raised on Robbery”
4. “Come In From the Cold”
5. “Amelia”
6. “Carey”
7. “Sex Kills”
8. “Summertime” (George Gershwin cover)
9. “Ladies of the Canyon” (Annie Lennox)
10. “Help Me” (Celisse Henderson)
11. “Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way” (Rick Whitfield original)
12. “Love Potion No. 9” (The Clovers cover)
13. “A Case of You”
14. “A Strange Boy” (Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman)
15. “Cactus Tree” (Lucius)
16. “California” (Marcus Mumford)
17. “Blue” (Sarah McLachlan)
18. “Why Do Fools Fall in Love” (Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers cover)
19. “Shine”
20. “Both Sides Now”
21. “Circle Game”

Encore:
22. “Just Like This Train”
23. “If”
24. “Young at Heart” (Frank Sinatra cover)

About Joni Mitchell

Joni Mitchell is a Canadian singer-songwriter and visual artist who is considered one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century. She was born on November 7, 1943, in Fort Macleod, Alberta, Canada, as Roberta Joan Anderson. Mitchell’s music spans multiple genres, including folk, pop, jazz, and rock.

Mitchell’s career began in the 1960s folk music scene, where she gained recognition for her distinctive soprano voice and her skillful guitar playing. She released her debut album, “Song to a Seagull,” in 1968, followed by the critically acclaimed “Clouds” in 1969. Her third album, “Ladies of the Canyon” (1970), brought her mainstream success with songs like “Big Yellow Taxi” and “Woodstock.”

Throughout her career, Joni Mitchell released several influential and highly regarded albums, including “Blue” (1971), “Court and Spark” (1974), and “Hejira” (1976). Her music often showcased introspective and personal lyrics, exploring themes of love, relationships, and the human condition. Mitchell’s poetic songwriting style and unique melodies set her apart from her peers and made her an icon of the singer-songwriter movement.

Aside from her musical achievements, Joni Mitchell is also known for her visual art. She began painting in the late 1960s and has created numerous works of art throughout her life. Her art often reflects her personal experiences and complements her music.

Over the years, Joni Mitchell’s work has earned her numerous accolades, including multiple Grammy Awards and inductions into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. Her impact on popular music and songwriting continues to resonate with artists and fans alike.

Please note that the information provided here represents a general overview of Joni Mitchell’s career up until September 2021, and there may have been additional developments since then.

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