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Grassroots and good times Print-ready version

by Laurel Douglas
Edmonton Journal
August 5, 1994

‘Joni karma’ sets the stage as Folk Fest kicks off

Call it fate, chance or magic – six die-hard Joni Mitchell fans met Thursday to share a front row blanket at the Edmonton Folk Festival.

“We’ve got Joni karma here,” said Friedeman Weinhardt, linked arm in arm with his new wife, Anne-Marie.

He surprised his wife with tickets only hours earlier as the “grand finale” in a honeymoon planned specifically around their favorite artist’s appearance.

The surprises didn’t stop there. In the line outside Gallagher Park, the couple bumped into long-time friends, Melanie Williams and Malcolm Guthridge. Williams and Weinhardt hadn’t seen each other in more than two years but both said they were thinking of each other as they headed to the festival. As co-workers 10 years ago, they “just tripped out together on Joni all the time,” Weinhardt said.

Williams wasn’t about to let this opportunity slip through her fingers, she said. She and Guthridge drove from Ottawa, occasionally sleeping on the side of the Trans-Canadian Highway.

“We’ve had an agreement for 10 years that no matter where in the world Joni’s playing, we’re going,” said Guthridge, who grew up listening to his mother’s records.

Outside the park, the four friends hooked up with two English fans who have followed Mitchell around the globe.

Anita Gabrielle first saw Mitchell play in London in 1967 and since then was first in line every time the folk legend crosses the Atlantic.

She had no idea, however, that the woman who inspired her to begin writing music would be playing in Edmonton this summer. She and Steph Daniels were vacationing in Calgary when they spotted an ad for the folk festival. The two fans frantically arranged to get tickets and gave Mitchell a bouquet of pink gladioli and mauve irises as she warmed up for Thursday night’s concert.

Gabrielle had been planning to tell Mitchell what an inspiration she was, but instead the first thing out of her mouth was “I see you’ve got a bit of a cold, Joni?” she said laughing as she related the story.

Because she’s so down-to-earth, you just start chatting with her, said Gabrielle. “Whenever I’ve met her, she’s been so nice.”

For these six fans, getting tickets to Mitchell’s third concert in five years was a dream come true.

“If you believe in magic, this is it,” Gabrielle said.

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Added to Library on March 9, 2005. (5273)


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anitagabrielle on

As one of those lucky to make the front page of the Edmonton Journal on August 5 1994 when Joni played the Edmonton Folk Festival and having promised myself and JMDL that I would one day write the full version of the most amazing few days - here's what happened.

My partner Steph and I had last seen Joni play in Paris on the Refuge of the Roads tour in 1983. Through a series of strange coincidences, we'd managed to meet and chat with Joni and Larry Klein outside the Hotel Warwick in Paris in '83. I had held a dream of meeting Joni since I first heard her sing in 1968 and meeting her once seemed amazing, but I never thought it would happen again. In those days it was hard without the internet to find out where or when Joni was playing and, as I lived in the UK and everyone I knew thought Joni's music was 'depressing', I felt quite alone with my long time love of her music.

I had never travelled west to the USA or Canada. Our much beloved (English) niece, Helena (whom we called H), lived as an artist in Calgary. H had become ill. We really wanted to see her, so we arranged to visit and have a holiday. We booked to go for two and a half weeks and set off towards the end of July in 1994. It was great to see H looking well and she took us around Calgary on our first days. It was a fabulous city. One night, over dinner, we were looking in a local paper and there it was. An advert for the Edmonton Folk Festival, including a performance by Joni Mitchell. Surely not? She couldn't be playing her first gig whilst we were around in Canada after over ten years? But sure enough, she was. The Festival was due to run for four days, Thursday to Sunday and we were booked on a flight home on the Friday evening (August 5th) from Calgary.

So there was only one possible time we could see Joni. Only if she played the Thursday evening would we be able to go, so we phoned and we couldn't believe it. Joni was playing that Thursday night! Now I am a bit of a wuss and got quite cold feet. What if we missed our flight? Calgary was a couple of hundred miles from Edmonton. It was TOO FAR, I said, pathetically. Steph being Steph couldn't believe my negativity, told me I was being an utter fool and how could I possibly be the Joni fan I claimed to be if I had such cold feet?

Well, some people believe you only live once, so we found out where to purchase tickets in Calgary and went and paid by Steph's credit card. The salesperson told us that the tickets hadn't arrived in Calgary yet, but we told they were due in the following week when we would be back from touring. We asked dear Helena if she'd go into the shop and collect them for us. We had a plan. We'd get back by the Monday evening, spend Tuesday with H, drive to Edmonton on Wednesday, go to the gig Thursday, drive back Friday to Calgary and fly home Friday night. Sorted! I even stopped worrying.

Off we went towards the Rockies where we had the most fantastic time, driving up to Johnson Canyon, staying in a little cabin where we heard a guy with the most beautiful voice singing 'Danny Boy' from the hot tub around midnight, under the biggest, starry sky I had ever seen. On to Banff, Wells Grey National Park - all incredible places so beyond anything I had ever experienced. The days passed with every day so beautiful but the time came to return and we motored back down to Calgary and arrived back on the Monday night, only to find Helena had not got our tickets. We were both really cheesed off with her. It meant a trip in to Calgary, but it had to be done, so Tuesday morning in we went to collect our tickets only to find they hadn't come. The salesperson who had taken our money said we'd need to collect them at the Ticket Office at the Festival site. Now, you know I'm a wuss, so I was all set to get a refund and forget the whole thing. 'No. We're going' says Steph. 'You're such a scaredy cat. Come on, where's your spirit of adventure?' Gone off and left me with my spirit of I-need-to-feel-safe, I thought.

Undeterred, Wednesday morning came and off we drove in the car from Calgary to Edmonton and arrived Wednesday afternoon at the Festival site and started looking for a ticket office. Nothing there, nothing doing. We wandered about and found a caravan with a guy in it and told him all about our trip. He said that the ticket office at the site would open a couple of hours before the event started and our tickets should be there. 'Any trouble, as you've come so far, here's my card.' It read 'Don Snyder, Festival Organiser.' We thanked him very much and, as we were leaving, a young woman called to us and told us to arrive early because, what would happen, would be people would queue from early on and, when the gates opened, would sprint to get the best vantage points and mark our their territory with their blankets. Her advice was to get there early! This was most useful, because we hadn't thought about that at all.

Next morning, the day of the gig, dawned bright and beautiful and, for some reason, we picked up a lovely bunch of flowers JUST IN CASE we happened to bump into Joni. Well, you just never know. It was late morning when we made our way to queue. Even at that time, we were a bit of a way back. We joined up next to a young couple who called Friedman and Ann-Marie who had chosen to honey moon at the gig. They both loved Joni and then, most extraordinarily, they met up with their friends Mel and Malcolm who just 'happened' to see them in the queue and calmly announced they driven 10 days from Ottawa to get there! They hadn't seen each other for years. Their journey from Ottawa made our wee drive from Calgary to Edmonton seem a bit pathetic, but being from the UK made it a bit better.

I never had met anyone as mad about Joni's music as me, so hanging out with other Joni fans and sharing Joni's stories (especially Steph and I having met her in Paris) was like being in Heaven. I seem to remember Mel and Malcolm either had a daughter or were planning to have a daughter and were going to call her (or she was called), Amelia. I don't remember now, but are you out there, you guys?

Time went by and suddenly the not so mad Joni fan, Steph thought she would go for a walk to see how long the queue was. She came back and whispered to me that she thought she had heard Joni sound checking. 'Come and have a look, just in case.' We left our bags and camera and walked quite a way, with the flowers. Maybe we might just get them to Joni.

Sure enough, the sound from the arena sounded like Joni. Steph, bold as brass, walked up to the Security and said 'We've come from England to see Joni Mitchell play. We met Don Snyder yesterday who was most helpful and said we could give these flowers to Joni after the sound check.' She thrust Don's card into the Security Guard's hand. My mouth fell open as the guard waved us in - but I said nothing as we walked into the arena and listened to the rest of the sound check. We even had a little chat to Joni who really liked to flowers! She was as gracious, kind and down to earth as I remembered her from Paris. It was so lovely.

Off Joni went in a limo to her hotel and there we were - in the arena, without tickets and with our bags and camera outside somewhere on the pavement and we'd been gone over an hour. Steph said 'What a chance to get a great view.' Of course, I instantly though about the fact that it was still about 3 or 4 hours till the gates opened. As usual (in those days) I began to worry. Steph had a new plan. One of us should stay in and try and be unobtrusive whilst the other went and got the tickets, camera and bags. Being the wuss, I knew she'd be the one to stay as I'd be rumbled within moments. Steph gave me the credit card and receipt with which she'd bought the tickets in Calgary, so that I could collect them from the Ticket Office. Off I went, back outside.

Our new friends and bags weren't anywhere to be seen, but I walked along and soon found that they'd moved up and, bless 'em, taken our bags with them. Another or so hour passed and the time arrived for the Ticket Office to open, so I went to collect our tickets, hoping Steph was still okay in the arena.

I was about fourth in line at the Ticket Collection office and eventually got to the front and said I'd come to collect two tickets in the name of Daniels, paid for in Calgary. I passed over Steph's credit card, the receipt and number so the guy could locate our tickets. It seemed like hours as he scanned, hunted and searched. Nowhere was there a record of our transaction, let alone tickets. 'Sorry, we're sold out' he said. I was stunned. I was outside, Steph inside. I felt furious with Helena, then started to have visions of myself listening to the whole gig from outside the gates. I saw myself driving with Steph back to Calgary with her telling me what a great time everyone had had. And the Ticket person was just saying ' Sorry' ?????

For a change, I didn't panic but called upon my inner Steph to think clearly what to do. I thought fast and tried to be assertive. I asked if I could buy two more tickets there and then with 'my' credit card because there had been this terrible mistake, we'd come from England, I had a receipt for the payment blah,blah. To my great pleasure, (and possibly because I looked close to tears), the Ticket person took the card, ran it through and asked me to sign. So I did..........and hoped he wouldn't look too closely at the forged signature.

I grabbed the tickets and found my friends, the bags still with them safe and soon after, the gates were opened and we just RAN towards the stage. The people first through were already marking their territory as they do in Canada and I looked and looked and there was Steph! Right at the very front!! Not thrown out, but trying to mark places for us all. I called to Friedman who grabbed Ann Marie, Mel and Malcolm and, as natives, they had HUGE blankets and helped us mark our space. The relief was unbelievable and the excitement uncontainable. Our chattering and energy led to the journalist from the Edmonton Journal making his way over and talking with us which is why our stories (mine somewhat truncated as you can imagine) 'Grass Roots and Good Times' made the front page next day.

As for the gig itself, well I enjoyed all the support acts and seeing Joni performing up close once again was just terrific. The tunes she played that night were from the soon to be released 'Turbulent Indigo' and the songs that made most impact for me were Sex Kills and the stupendous first hearing of 'The Magdalene Laundries'. That song just shook me through to my boots and tears were not far away. Some years later, I worked for an organisation involved with the Redress Boards in Ireland and many survivors of the abuse by Catholic priests and nuns recognised themselves as the 'lame bulbs' Joni sings of. Several survivors I knew took great solace from the song.

I seem to recall the Joni finished the night with a guitar rendition of 'Woodstock'. It's interesting because I also started to write my own arrangement of 'Woodstock' after that gig in Edmonton. It was the first time I'd seen Joni sing 'Woodstock' on the guitar and I found Joni's rendition that night very haunting and, to me, it sounded pretty grim. None of the youthful optimism I heard in the original all those years ago. Of course it was also 25 years after Woodstock so the verse (to the same verse tune of Woodstock) I added

"I saw Joni sing one August
And it was 25 years on
When this song cracked through the night air
On the whiplash of her tongue.
The chords rang hard and cynical
Soft grey clouds hung in her eyes
But I could still see butterflies through
Canadian twilight.

We sang:

We're stardust. We are golden and
We've got to get ourselves back to the garden'

I think I wanted to hang on to the optimism of the original.

After and extraordinary few days, I walked on air the next morning and when, at breakfast, Steph brought the Edmonton Journal to the breakfast table and there we were along with our new friends on the front page, I felt completely overwhelmed. We caught our flight home without a hitch, but I don't think even at 26,000 feet, the plane was half as high as I felt.

I forgave our dear Helena for everything. If she HAD gone to get our tickets in Calgary, none of these wonderful events would have unfurled. Our beloved H died at just 33 in 1997 of the brain tumour that had led to our trip to Canada. Here's to you Helena. Thanks for everything. We still love and miss you!

Anita September 7 2009