Scenes from Joni Mitchell's 'Joni Jam' at the Gorge
Twenty-seven thousand people responded to the invitation of their lives Saturday night at the Gorge Amphitheatre in eastern Washington State, where Joni Mitchell played her first announced concert in 20 years in the company of a trusted — and dazzling — company of friends.
The Joni Jam, as the evening was billed, was organized by Mitchell's spiritual daughter and main 21st century champion Brandi Carlile, who herself had headlined the dramatically scenic venue the night before.
Since 2019, Carlile has been part of the semi-regular singalongs at Mitchell's California home that have been key to the superstar's recovery from a 2015 aneurysm; there, fellow famous confidantes like Elton John and Herbie Hancock have helped Mitchell nurture and challenge herself as she learned to walk, sing and play guitar again. At some point, the idea began forming to take this intimate healing circle public.
A brief set at last year's Newport Folk Festival set the stage for this full set, which lasted for nearly three hours, and had a global and intergenerational audience of Joni fans shedding buckets of tears. The remarkable career-spanning set list included Mitchell chestnuts like "Big Yellow Taxi" and, of course, "Both Sides Now," next to critics' favorites like "Amelia" and excellent deep cuts from "A Strange Boy" to "Come In From The Cold." Mitchell took the lead on many, while the artists gathered around her supported her with star turns of their own.
Those in attendance would have been thrilled at hearing Annie Lennox sing "Ladies of the Canyon" or Sarah McLachlan reprise her version of "Blue" under any circumstances. But nothing could top the mere presence of a happy and highly capable Mitchell.
As the night wore on, she further blessed the proceedings with bawdy and playful storytelling, musical exchanges with Carlile that had them finishing each other's sentences, and a little bit of virtuosity on her trusty Fender guitar. Every move she made — even the percussive tap of her bespangled cane — drew from all the enthusiasm the evening's expanded circle could generate and multiplied it a hundredfold.
This photo gallery captures the delight felt by all in an evening when the lines between performers and fans, and a legend and her many inheritors, fell away, and a recovery that once seemed like it would require a miracle manifested, the result of that most human shared asset: love.
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