This was truly the most feel good moment to happen in popular music since forever. Joni Mitchell returned to the Newport Folk Festival for the first time in over fifty years, performed her first proper concert in nearly twenty years, and the world seemed to stop. Take the time to watch even a few minutes of her set and feel all the uncertainty and chaos in the world around you melt away instantly.
This story is getting attention for all the right reasons. After hearing that she had suffered a brain aneurysm, I was resigned to the fact that Mitchell would never appear in public again, let alone perform music. But then came the Kennedy Center honours, and the Grammys appearance, and finally this set at Newport which sprung out of a series of informal jams she'd been having at her home for the past few years. She nearly died and had to relearn everything (walking, getting out of bed, next to those everyday tasks relearning the guitar seems rather trivial). She had to regain her passion for singing. She worked on it privately, with the support of her friends through their informal jam sessions, to the point where she felt good enough to appear on stage again. Even then, it was uncertain what she'd be up to doing once they arrived at Newport.
When I was growing up in the 80's, Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen were niche artists, even in Canada. They were years past their 70's primes and widely respected, but not considered as part of an inner circle of all-time greats. Rock criticism was dominated by admiration of the stadium-filling classic rock giants (Led Zep, The Who, The Rolling Stones). Rock stars in the 80's were MTV-ready celebrities with a larger than life aura. The era of the introspective singer-songwriter writing folksy melodies and confessional lyrics was a fading memory.
It's been wonderful to see Joni Mitchell get the credit she's due over the past few years, with her albums now frequently mentioned among the best of all time. The appearance at Newport was the best possible tribute to her: she was feted as an all time legend, treated as a queen seated in a luxurious throne-like chair, holding court in front of thousands of her followers who will never forget those moments they got to share with her.