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Joni Mitchell gave fans the ultimate gift on her birthday. She graced them with her presence Print-ready version

by James Reed
Los Angeles Times
November 8, 2018

Joni Mitchell blew out birthday cake candles as the crowd serenaded her at Wednesday's "Joni 75" celebration. (Richard Shotwell / Invision/Associated Press)

Will she or won't she?

There were rumors - and fingers crossed - that she might appear, but nothing had been officially announced.

So when Joni Mitchell attended Wednesday night's "Joni 75," a birthday celebration in her honor, she gave the star-studded tribute concert an immediate jolt of excitement and poignancy. (The two-night affair kicked off Tuesday, but Mitchell did not publicly attend that performance.)

"Ladies and gentlemen, the guest of honor has arrived and is taking her seat," an announcer informed the audience at the start of Wednesday's show at Los Angeles' Dorothy Chandler Pavilion as part of the Music Center's festivities.

A swell of cheers rippled through the room and then grew even louder when the iconic singer-songwriter eventually entered the venue and was assisted getting to her seat.

A Joni Mitchell appearance is rare these days as she recovers from a string of health problems, including a brain aneurysm in 2015. To commune with the artist on the day of her 75th birthday felt like a gift for her devoted flock.

Some of the kinks that had irked The Times' Mikael Wood at Tuesday's performance had been smoothed over on Wednesday. Mitchell's attendance cast a long shadow over the evening, with the performers - Emmylou Harris, James Taylor, Chaka Khan, Graham Nash, Rufus Wainwright and Diana Krall among them - notably humbled by her presence.

"Hi, Joni," Krall said shyly as she settled in at her piano for a deep reading of "For the Roses."

"Joni was an inspiration for any girl who ever wanted to pick up a guitar," Harris recalled.

Khan made Mitchell's legacy personal: "I want you to know ... how many times you've saved my life."

"I love you so much," Norah Jones confessed to her hero in her preface to "Borderline."

And Brandi Carlile, who sweetly helped Kris Kristofferson through "A Case of You," reminded the audience that Kristofferson had famously advised Mitchell to "save something" of herself after she played her heartsick album "Blue" for him back in the day.

"Thank you, Joni, for not saving anything for yourself," Carlile said.

After the entire cast blasted through a closing rendition of "Big Yellow Taxi," the curtain dropped for a little longer than usual. When it rose, there was Mitchell: a vision in scarlet red, wearing a black bolero hat similar to the one she sported on the performance program, with a blond braid draped over her shoulder.

A collective gasp morphed into rapturous applause as Mitchell stood center stage, propped up by a cane and a companion on either side. Right on cue, the crowd serenaded her - "happy birthday, dear Joni" - as a cake was brought over. Mitchell blew out the candles to more cheers.

The performers gave "Big Yellow Taxi" another spin, and Mitchell smiled and swayed while others sang one of her signature hits.

As fans waved and she did the same, Mitchell slowly exited stage right just as the final curtain fell. She never said a word - her songs had already spoken volumes.

This article has been viewed 1,110 times since being added on November 9, 2018.

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