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Joni Mitchell At Newport Print-ready version

by Kyle Lemmon
Flood Magazine
July 27, 2023

A Joni Jam is a truly beautiful thing, and Brandi Carlile knows it - as a performer, as a nine-time GRAMMY-winning songwriter, and as a longtime fangirl of the one and only Joni Mitchell. Audiences at the Newport Folk Festival last summer also learned this when the Canadian-American icon shocked them with a surprise performance - her first in 20 years - delivering 11 classics from her iconic songbook.

Mitchell's defiant return to performing live is simply titled At Newport, but these tracks do a great job of showcasing her unique and infectious performance personality. Mitchell is back and full of bubbly energy for her music and friends. When she speaks about her personal favorite albums among her own discography, the crowd hangs on her every word. Co-produced by close collaborator Carlile, Mitchell was joined on stage by a star-studded band led by Carlile and her bandmates Phil and Tim Hanseroth along with Wynonna Judd, Marcus Mumford, Ghosts of the Forest's Celisse, Lucius' Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig, Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes, and more.

Joni shared with the audience that one of her favorite albums from her catalog is the 1976 folk-jazz epic Hejira - which, she notes, translates to "running away with honor" in Arabic - from her Asylum Records era. Before launching into Hejira's soaring folk song "Amelia" she recounts some vivid memories that the album's songs conjure up for her so many decades later. She sets up the track by telling a funny story from this period about how she'd bought a new Mercedes-Benz and drove across the United States with no driver's license. She spent the whole time tailgating truckers and "running away, but with honor." Many of the Mitchell classics are present for this show as well, including "Big Yellow Taxi," "A Case of You," and "Both Sides Now." She also played guitar for a solo instrumental version of "Just Like This Train."

The first song Joni sang during a Joni Jam - a term applying to the intimate gathering of close friends hosted by Joni and Carlile during her recovery from a brain aneurysm to bring these songs back to life in a live setting - was George Gershwin's timeless classic, "Summertime." Her live version here is an absolute stunner and perfect for her current lower-register voice. The live piano melts over her vocals like tiny ice cubes in a glass before getting stirred up with the rest of the band during the chorus and extended jam session. The concert ends with a sing-along of "The Circle Game," and there can't be a better way to conclude a live album.

At Newport puts an artist's life and lyrics on the other side of storms, and the perspective is truly beautiful to hear - never have the lyrics to "Both Sides Now" felt more pertinent within the context of the songwriter's storied career: "I've looked at life from both sides now / From win and lose and still somehow / It's life's illusions I recall / I really don't know life at all." This is a remarkable live recording fit for an already-illustrious discography. Wrap it around your heart and hold it close. Even if you weren't there, a Joni Jam is powerful enough to connect, no matter the distance.>/p>

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Added to Library on July 28, 2023. (1258)

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