Joni Mitchell surprises folk festival crowd with first full set in 20 years


Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell stole the show with a surprise appearance at the Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island on Sunday, playing her first full set in more than two decades alongside country star Brandi Carlile.

The 78-year-old singer, who last year celebrated the 50th anniversary of her album “Blue,” played some of her biggest hits, including “Big Yellow Taxi” and “A Case of You.”

Seated in a pink wingback armchair, her blonde hair pulled into pigtails beneath a dark beret, Mitchell drew applause from the opening lines of “Both Sides Now.”

The set had been billed on the festival lineup simply as “Brandi Carlile and Friends.” Mitchell has mostly kept out of the limelight in recent years after suffering a brain aneurysm in 2015 that left her disabled but not defeated.

“Joni’s looked at life from so many sides and she came out of the storm singing like a prophet,” Carlile wrote on Twitter after the show. “After all she’s been through, she returned to the Newport Folk Fest stage after 53 years and I will never forget sitting next to her while she stopped this old world for a while,” she wrote, adding: “I can’t even watch it without the tears from coming back.”

The stage was set up like Mitchell’s California living room, where she has been hosting “Joni Jams” for the past few years, CBS reported.

At one stage during the set, Mitchell picked up an electric guitar and played “Just Like This Train,” as a beaming Carlile looked on, clapping and playing occasional air guitar. Mitchell told CBS she taught herself to play again after the aneurysm.

The many layers — and lovers — of Joni Mitchell

In January, Mitchell demanded her work be removed from music-streaming service Spotify in protest of coronavirus misinformation she said was being featured there. She said at the time that she stood in solidarity with fellow artist Neil Young, who posted a letter on his website demanding that his catalogue be removed from Spotify in response to “fake information about vaccines” on the platform.

Speaking to “CBS Mornings” after the show, Mitchell said she was nervous during pre-show rehearsals, “but I didn’t sound too bad tonight,” adding: “I’m feeling the love.”

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