It has taken Joni Mitchell nearly a quarter century to get over the insult she suffered the last time she played a Canadian folk festival.
The time was the mid-'60s. The place was Toronto, the Mariposa festival. Mitchell and Neil Young were just at the beginning of careers that would take them to the pinnacle of international hippie stardom. The pair expected Mariposa to be a gathering of the Canadian folk family. "But they copped an attitude," Mitchell recalled at a news conference Friday, the day after a rare and spectacularly successful concert at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival.
"They didn't want anybody with too much drawing power at a certain point, and Neil and I got banned. They resented our success."
That experience is not the only reason Mitchell hasn't played a Canadian festival since. In the last five years she has performed live only four times, including Thursday's show.
"I had poor health for most of the '80s," said Mitchell, sucking on cigarette after cigarette in a stifling hot tent behind the festival's main stage.
"Every decade I have to go a few rounds with death, ya know? I'm a polio survivor. There's a thing called post-polio syndrome. And I have an allergy to air conditioning, so a lot of flying brings on strange symptoms. Flying, which heavy touring requires, had to be held to a minimum."
Still, appearing in Edmonton was important. Mitchell wanted to test the waters of audience approval for material from her new album due this fall, called Turbulent Indigo.
She felt it went well, despite the familiar entreaties from audience members who think Mitchell should stay in Canada (she actually does spend much of her year at a secluded home in British Columbia).
"What side of the border didja write that song on, eh?" she mocked, mimicking a hoser accent. "I say, well, did you like it? "You know, Bryan Adams called me up a while back. The heat was on him with this Canadian content thing, and he was being persecuted for recording elsewhere.
"He called me for assistance, and I couldn't think of anything to say at the time. I came up with an analogy later on. What if the Dutch went through the Van Gogh museum and said, 'oh, we can't hang that here because he painted it in (France)?' "
Dressed in white cotton overalls and leather sandals, Mitchell looks a barely weathered waif who doesn't show the full measure of her 50 years. Her straight blond hair sports nary a fleck of grey, and her long, bony face is marked by only a few wrinkles.
If anything, age has made her more relaxed. Never particularly fond of the news media, Mitchell faced the phalanx Friday with articulate charm and an earthy sense of humor.
Asked to reminisce about Woodstock, she reminded the assemblage that she never actually performed at the famous event -- she just wrote the song that became a hit for Crosby, Stills and Nash.
"I was supposed to play Sunday night but I had to play Dick Cavett on Monday morning" and her agent was afraid she wouldn't be able to get out of Woodstock in time for the show.
(This article appeared three days later in the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. Both versions were identical up to this point. The Calgary Herald ended it like this...)
Mitchell's popularity has been uneven throughout her career. She is probably one of a handful of performers who defined folk music in the 1960s and early '70s, but her experimentation with jazz in the 1980s lost her a lot of listeners.
But one big barrier has finally dropped -- Mitchell said that under the terms of her new record contract, she is obliged to produce a Best of Joni Mitchell album.
"I've kept that at bay as long as I can," she says. "They're going to make me do it now. I just didn't like the idea."
(...and the StarPhoenix ended it like this:)
Her popularity has been uneven throughout her career. She is probably one of a handful of performers who defined folk music in the 1960s and early '70s, but her experimentation with jazz in the 1980s lost her a lot of listeners.
Her personal artistic vision, though, has never been compromised. You won't hear a Joni Mitchell song backing a sweaty beer commercial, nor has she caved to country music's appropriation of erstwhile pop stars.
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Added to Library on February 24, 2002. (2553)
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