Watch the Full Set of Joni Mitchell’s Amazing Comeback Performance at the Newport Folk Festival

“She’s doing some­thing very, very brave right now for you guys. This is a trust fall, and she picked the right peo­ple to do this with.” — Bran­di Carlile intro­duc­ing Joni Mitchell at the New­port Folk Fes­ti­val, 2022

Come­back queen Joni Mitchell stunned fans with her recent appear­ance at the New­port Folk Fes­ti­val this sum­mer, her first full pub­lic con­cert since 2000. In New­port tra­di­tion, sur­prise stars make an appear­ance every year. For­mer guests have includ­ed Dol­ly Par­ton, Cha­ka Khan, and Mitchel­l’s friend David Cros­by. Mitchel­l’s arrival this year was a rev­e­la­tion. She appeared out of the blue, when most peo­ple rea­son­ably assumed she’d nev­er per­form again after suf­fer­ing a debil­i­tat­ing brain aneurysm in 2015 that left her unable to speak or walk.

Yet, as we point­ed out in an ear­li­er post, Mitchel­l’s return to the stage has been years in the mak­ing. Since her aneurysm, she has con­found­ed even the neu­ro­sur­geons with her recov­ery, teach­ing her­self to play gui­tar again by watch­ing online videos and learn­ing to sing again not long after she re-learned how to get out of bed. When Mitchel­l’s long­time friend Bran­di Carlile announced her arrival on the stage with, “This scene shall for­ev­er be known hence­forth as the Joni Jam!,” Carlile referred to years of recent musi­cal get-togeth­ers in Mitchel­l’s liv­ing room.

The “Joni Jams” at Mitchel­l’s Los Ange­les home includ­ed “a very spe­cial cir­cle of friends,” music writer and radio host Aim­sel Pon­ti notes, includ­ing “Her­bie Han­cock, Paul McCart­ney, Elton John and Bon­nie Raitt. Most­ly, from the way Carlile described it, Joni would crack jokes and take it all in rather than par­tic­i­pate all that much.” But she was lis­ten­ing, learn­ing, and becom­ing inspired by her peers and the younger artists who joined her onstage: Carlile, Wynon­na Judd, Mar­cus Mum­ford, and oth­ers. As Carlile fin­ished her own New­port set, the stage filled with cush­iony chairs and couch­es, and sev­er­al more musi­cians.

“We’re here to invite you into the liv­ing room,” Carlile says in her pas­sion­ate intro­duc­tion (above), while the audi­ence holds their breath await­ing the announce­ment of her spe­cial guest. Then Carlile “told us about all of Joni’s pets and her many orchids and the hid­den door to the bath­room,” writes Pon­ti. “Then she told us how it does­n’t feel com­plete with­out Joni there to crack jokes and nod with approval.” Then her hero took the stage to gasps, in a blue beret and sun­glass­es, and hun­dreds of fans born too late to see her in her glo­ry days wept as she joined with Carlile on the first song, “Carey.” The New York Times’ Lind­say Zoladz describes the moment:

When Mitchell first came out onstage, she seemed a tad over­whelmed, cling­ing to her cane and back­ing up Carlile, who took the lead on a breezy, cel­e­bra­to­ry “Carey.” But over the course of that song, a vis­i­ble change came over Mitchell. Her shoul­ders loos­ened. She began to shim­my. And all at once she seemed to regain her voice — her voice, sonorous and light, seem­ing to dance over those bal­let­ic melodies at a jazzy tem­po all her own.

The first time Mitchell took the stage at New­port in 1967, she came at the behest of Judy Collins. She was a young unknown, about to become a folk god­dess. When she returned to New­port in 1969, she was a star in her own right. Over the decades, she has left fans with mem­o­ries of her per­for­mances that they have guard­ed like trea­sures as they’ve aged with her. (The Guardian has col­lect­ed a few of these poignant rem­i­nisces.) Now she’s an inspi­ra­tion to an entire­ly new young gen­er­a­tion and, one hopes, to old­er artists who might feel they have lit­tle left to con­tribute.

“The 78-year-old Mitchel­l’s per­for­mance,” Kirthana Ramiset­ti writes at Salon, “show­cased an artist tran­scend­ing the chal­lenges of aging and seri­ous health issues.… To hear music writ­ten in the full blos­som of her youth, yet per­formed with a weight­i­ness and know­ing per­spec­tive from hav­ing weath­ered so much in her life, arguably gave these songs a greater pow­er than when they were first record­ed.”

Such is often the case with artists as they mature beyond youth­ful sen­ti­ments and grow into their youth­ful pre­coc­i­ty. (It has been so for Paul Simon, whose own reap­pear­ance at New­port this year seems over­shad­owed by Mitchel­l’s come­back.)  Ramiset­ti quotes Mitchel­l’s “The Cir­cle Game,” with which she closed out her sur­prise set — “We’re cap­tive on the carousel of time / We can’t return, we can only look behind from where we came.”

Watch Mitchel­l’s full live New­port set (in jum­bled order) at the top of the post (or on this playlist), and see the setlist of orig­i­nals and clas­sic cov­ers from her his­toric per­for­mance just below.


Come in From the Cold

Help Me

Case of You

Big Yel­low Taxi

Just Like This Train

Why Do Fools Fall in Love


Love Potion #9



Both Sides Now

The Cir­cle Game

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

How Joni Mitchell Learned to Play Gui­tar Again After a 2015 Brain Aneurysm–and Made It Back to the New­port Folk Fes­ti­val

Joni Mitchell Sings “Both Sides Now” at the New­port Folk Fes­ti­val: Watch Clips from Her First Full Con­cert Since 2002

Hear Demos & Out­takes of Joni Mitchell’s Blue on the 50th Anniver­sary of the Clas­sic Album

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness.

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