Paul Simon wasn't the only '60s-era legend to make a surprise appearance at this year's Newport Folk Festival. Joni Mitchell, who previously played Newport Folk Festival in 1967 and 1969, returned to the festival for the first time in over 50 years to play a surprise set! Her appearance followed Joni performing two songs when she was honored at this year's MusicCares' Person of the Year in April, which was her first live appearance in nearly a decade and first since she suffered a brain aneurysm in 2015, but this much lengthier performance marked her first full set in over 20 years. The set was initially announced day-of as "Coyote Jam," and then renamed "Joni Jam" once Joni made her surprise entrance, in reference to the guest-filled "Joni Jams" that Joni used to host at her home. She spent much of the set seated next to Brandi Carlile (who also performed with her at MusicCares and who frequently shared vocal duties with her at Newport), and other guests on stage included Marcus Mumford, Wynonna Judd, Alison Russell, Lucius, Blake Mills, Taylor Goldsmith, Shooter Jennings, Celisse Henderson, and more. She played classics like "A Case of You," "Big Yellow Taxi," "The Circle Game," "Both Sides Now," "Carey," "Help Me," "Amelia," and "Just Like This Train" (the latter of which she did as a solo electric guitar performance), as well as later songs like "Come In from the Cold" and "Shine," and covers like George Gershwin's oft-covered "Summertime," Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers' "Why Do Fools Fall In Love," and The Searchers' "Love Potion No. 9."
CBS News interviewed Joni and Brandi, the latter of whom had the idea to bring Joni Jam to Newport. "I dreamed it," Brandi said. "The first time she opened her mouth and sang 'Summertime' and I saw Herbie Hancock burst into tears and everybody in the room catch their breath because she had decided to sing, really decided to sing, you know, I knew. I knew she'd do it at Newport. I can't really say how I knew it. I just pictured her out there. I pictured the water and the fort and the boats."
Joni also told CBS that she's had to relearn guitar after her aneurysm. "I'm learning. I'm looking at videos that are on the net to see where I put my fingers, you know. It's amazing what an aneurysm knocks out – how to get out of chair! You don't know how to get out of a bed. You have to learn all these things by rote again. I was into water ballet as a kid, and I forgot how to do the breaststroke. Every time I tried it, I just about drowned, you know?. So, a lot of going back to infancy almost. You have to relearn everything."
Marcus Mumford also told CBs that it was "a complete dream" to play with Joni. Watch video of the CBS segment below.
Brandi Carlile previously wrote an essay for Joni's 2021 box set The Reprise Albums (1968-1971) that said, "In my opinion, Blue is the greatest album ever made. Blue didn’t make me a better songwriter. Blue made me a better woman." Brandi also performed Blue in full at Carnegie Hall last year, and in Los Angeles in 2019.
Joni Mitchell @ Newport Folk Festival 2022 Setlist (via)
Come in From the Cold (with Taylor Goldsmith)
Help Me (with Celisse Henderson)
A Case of You (with Marcus Mumford) (+ Brandi Carlile)
Big Yellow Taxi (with Brandi Carlile)
Just Like This Train (Joni on electric guitar)
Why Do Fools Fall in Love (Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers cover)
Amelia (with Taylor Goldsmith)
Love Potion #9
Summertime (George Gershwin cover)
Both Sides Now
The Circle Game (with Wynonna Judd)