Joni Mitchell, the revered Canadian singer-songwriter and one of the defining musicians of the 1960s and 1970s, surprised an audience in Rhode Island on Sunday when she appeared at the Newport Folk Festival to perform her first full set in about two decades, guitar in hand.
Mitchell, who has never been in the limelight, has remained largely out of the public eye since she suffered a brain aneurysm in 2015. As she recovered, she made a few cameo appearances: in December, she gave a rare public address as she accepted a Kennedy Center Honor, and in April, made a TV appearance at the Grammys and was honored at a gala for Grammys-affiliated charity MusiCares.
But on Sunday, Mitchell, 78, wearing a beret and sunglasses, performed some of his most iconic songs, including “Carey,” “Big Yellow Taxi” and “Both Sides Now.”
At one point, Mitchell, electric guitar slung over his shoulder, performed a several-minute solo during “Just Like This Train,” as fans cheered and cheered.
“After all she’s been through she returned to the Newport Folk Fest stage after 53 years and I’ll never forget sitting next to her as she stopped that old world for a while “said singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile, who sang for Mitchell. when appearing at a festival, said in a Twitter post.
After “looking at life from so many sides,” Mitchell came “out of the storm singing like a prophet,” she added.
Although Mitchell has limited her appearances in recent years, she hasn’t avoided the headlines.
In January, Mitchell joined Neil Young in boycotting streaming service Spotify, over its role in providing a platform for Covid-19 vaccine misinformation.
“Irresponsible people are spreading lies that are costing people’s lives,” Mitchell wrote of the company at the time. She added: “I stand in solidarity with Neil Young and the global scientific and medical communities on this issue.”
On Sunday, several musicians, including Carlile, accompanied Mitchell on stage and sang with her. “I’ll never get over it. I can’t even watch it without tears coming back,” Carlile later wrote on Twitter. “Please forgive me.”
As Mitchell and Carlile sang “A Case of You” from the influential “Blue” album, released over 50 years ago, Mitchell sang:
Oh, I could drink a case of you, baby
And I’ll still be standing
Oh, I’ll still be up.
The crowd screamed.