Joni Mitchell at Newport (Live)
In 2015, a brain aneurysm briefly robbed Joni Mitchell of the ability to walk and speak, let alone sing and strum her guitar. In the years that followed, she slowly regained her movement and conversation while largely remaining out of the public eye. Her singing voice returned as well, though it had transformed from her once crisp, ethereal soprano—one of the most recognizable vocals in popular music—and, with rehabilitation and time, deepened into a rich alto. At one point during this period of recovery, Mitchell found herself at a dinner with Brandi Carlile, a devout Mitchell disciple, and shared that there was something missing in her life that she eagerly wanted to bring back. “We just got to talking, and she was explaining that she isn't sad that she doesn't play music anymore, but she said that there isn't music in her house with all these old instruments and these dulcimers and these great guitars and this stunning, life-changing piano,” Carlile told Apple Music in 2020. “She said, 'Can you bring some friends over and I'll invite some friends over and we'll jam?'” And thus the “Joni Jam” was born: Carlile started inviting friends—like Hozier, Paul McCartney, Marcus Mumford, Harry Styles, Chaka Khan, Herbie Hancock, Elton John, and Maggie Rogers, to name a select few—to join them at Mitchell’s home in Los Angeles on a monthly basis. Soon, Mitchell's home was once again brimming with the sounds of impromptu harmonies over her own “Circle Game” and the sultry strains of Gershwin's “Summertime,” a languid tune Mitchell relished in singing. The Joni Jam went public in 2022 when Mitchell stunned the Newport Folk Festival—and the world at large—by making her return to the stage, a prospect that seemed utterly impossible seven years prior. Curated by Carlile, Mitchell’s Newport Folk set featured many Joni Jam mainstays, and the vibe was a faithful recreation of those special evenings at Mitchell’s home. Couches, lamps, and other cozy flourishes were brought in to mimic the living room aesthetic, and Mitchell sat in the center of a semicircle, flanked by Carlile and the rest of her band of modern folk all-stars as they worked through her repertoire. Joni Mitchell at Newport (Live) is a document of this remarkable event, one that not only captures Mitchell’s first concert since her aneurysm, but the kinetic elation in every clap, improvisation, and cheer from her “Joni jammers,” as well as the Newport Folk crowd. It’s also a tribute to Mitchell and the precious connections she’s made with generations of artists, with Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes, guitar impresario Celisse, Lucius, Mumford, and of course Carlile fortifying Mitchell’s voice with their own at several points throughout the program. “A Case of You” showcases Mitchell’s dexterity with her new timbre and octave, which is complemented beautifully by supporting vocals from Carlile and Mumford. “Both Sides Now” remains the ever-reliable tearjerker, and its reflective lyrics land with a hard-won intensity that smolders differently now—especially when compared with 1969’s original recording of the plaintive ballad. Mitchell’s chuckles and exclamations of joy, as well as Carlile and co.’s quips and various vocalizations, are welcome reminders that Joni Mitchell at Newport (Live) is special because it isn’t a pristine studio recording, but a bit of magic caught on tape. For those who weren’t lucky enough to witness Mitchell’s incredible surprise (or receive an invite to her latest living room session), this is the next-best thing: an artifact from a once-in-a-lifetime performer delivering a once-in-a-lifetime performance.