Baby boomers across the Western world prompted a severe Kleenex shortage this week after viewing video clips of Joni Mitchell performing some of her classic tunes live for the first time in years.
The surprise performance took place on Sunday at the famed Newport Folk Festival as part of a Brandie Carlile & Friends set. “This scene shall be forever known henceforth as the Joni jam!” longtime Mitchell supporter Carlile said at the outset, according to Variety, before she brought out Mitchell.
The 75-year-old Mitchell suffered a brain aneurysm in 2015 but had been largely retired from public performance even before that, appearing only sporadically in the last 20 years.
With vocal support from next-generation fans, including Marcus Mumford, Wynonna Judd, Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes and Carlile, a seated Mitchell stunned the audience by digging deep into her classic repertoire for austere version of “Both Sides Now,” “Big Yellow Taxi” and “The Circle Game,” as well as some standards like “Why Do Fools Fall in Love,” Gershwin’s “Summertime” and “Love Potion #9.” She also played guitar on some songs.
Her voice, once a bell-like soprano now carries a deep, resonant authority, coming close to the resonance Leonard Cohen brought to his later years. Mitchell’s co-performers were clearly moved, with Judd and Carlile wiping back tears during the performance.
In her review for National Public Radio (NPR), Ann Powers wrote: “Two decades ago, Mitchell had surprised fans with a lower register made evocatively dark by years of cigarette smoking. Here was another revelatory voice, showing the marks of her recent health struggles and her determination to recover, stunning in its honesty.”
Video clips of the performance went viral after being posted on social media, causing an outpouring of heartfelt comments from fans who emotionally wrote that never thought they would see their hero perform again.
One viewer tweeted: ‘I’m not sure if I find it heartbreaking or uplifting or maybe some ineffable combination of the two.’