Joni Mitchell Sings Again in Miracle Performance at Newport Folk Fest

On Sunday at the Newport Folk Festival, the legendary Joni Mitchell performed for the 1st time since 2013, following a severe brain aneurysm

With 9 Grammy wins and 17 nominations, Joni Mitchell has achieved a status of mythical proportions in the realm of folk music. In 1997 the musician was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for her contributions to music over a career that has spanned a lifetime. 

Tragically, the born troubadour whose voice has resonated with and through so many, hadn’t performed in front of an audience since 2013 due to a life-threatening brain aneurysm that left her temporarily unable to speak or walk in 2015. 

But on Sunday, after seven difficult years of recovery, the 78-year-old songstress sang and played her guitar to a crowd of awe-stricken fans at the Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island. 

Mitchell wore dark glasses and a blue beret, her long white hair cascading into two ponytails. She sat on a chair that resembled a throne in a posture so at peace she might as well have been sitting criss-cross under the Bodhi tree.

A golden microphone was adjusted so that she could sit and sing, hardly moving, resting her hands on the arms of the chair. 

A tribe of highly talented musicians were scattered across the stage. Their ranks included Wynonna Judd and Marcus Mumford of Mumford & Sons.

Brandi Carlile, often lauded as Mitchell’s protégé, sat next to the legendary singer for the entire performance, smiling admiringly at her idol as she enraptured the audience and everyone on stage. Many were in tears. 

Mitchell sang 13 of her most beloved songs, including “Carey,” “Both Sides Now,” “A Case of You,” “Circle Game” and “Big Yellow Taxi.”

The performance, which came as a total surprise to festival-goers, will certainly be immortalized along with other fabled performances at the Newport Folk Festival since its inception in 1959. 

“I’ve never been nervous about being in front of an audience,” the singer told CBS News in an interview following the performance. “But I wanted it to be good. And I wasn’t sure it could be. But I didn’t sound too bad tonight!” 

Mitchell explained that she relearned to play the guitar by watching old footage of herself. “I’m looking at videos that are on the net to see where I put my fingers,” she said. “It’s amazing what an aneurysm knocks out—how to get out of a chair! You don’t know how to get out of a bed. You have to learn all these things by rote again.”

While Mitchell entered the stage holding a cane and sat for most of the performance, she amazingly managed to stand and play her guitar for an instrumental rendition of her song “Just Like This Train.” She ended the trance-like solo with an almost girlish smile. Ecstatic applause ensued.

“To see her pick up that guitar again…yeah, instant tears, and that was after the instant tears from hearing her sing again,” one person commented on a Youtube video of the performance.

Perhaps, the most moving moment of the performance was Mitchell’s return to a song she wrote when she was 19 called “Both Sides Now.”

“Want to sing us a couple more?” asks Brandi Carlile. 

“Okay,” says Joni with a coy grin. 

The song ended with a bout of joyous laughter from Mitchell. 

“Oh, that’s beautiful,” she says.

Stay on top of the latest in L.A. food and culture. Sign for our newsletters today