Joni Mitchell made a rare public performance tonight (July 24) at the Newport Folk Festival, her first at the event since 1969. Mitchell, 78, was helped onstage with the aid of a cane to join close friend Brandi Carlile during her set, and sat in a large chair while singing “A Case of You,” “Just Like This Train,” “Both Sides, Now,” “Big Yellow Taxi,” “Summertime” and “Circle Game,” among others. She even stood up to play some electric guitar at one point.
Among the other musicians on stage at various times during Mitchell’s surprise appearances were Wynonna Judd, Marcus Mumford, Lucius, Blake Mills, Shooter Jennings, Allison Russell and Dawes’ Taylor Goldsmith.
Carlile is a longtime Mitchell devotee and has previously performed the latter’s classic album Blue in its entirety. Carlile also inspired Mitchell to perform two songs on stage at her own MusiCares’ Person of the Year tribute on April 1 in Las Vegas, her first multi-song appearance in public since 2013.
Mitchell has been in frail health since suffering a brain aneurysm in 2015. She has not toured since 2000 and hasn’t released a new studio album since 2007’s Shine. In recent years, Mitchell has overseen a number of archival releases of her legendary back catalog and has been somewhat more frequently in public. In January, she joined fellow ’60s folk rock icons David Crosby and Neil Young in demanding her music be removed from Spotify in protest of the streaming service’s relationship with podcaster Joe Rogan.
Mitchell’s Newport Folk appearance tonight comes a day after Paul Simon’s surprise performance during a tribute to his music led by Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats. Simon had never previously performed at the event.