By Karen Bliss
Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame Inductee Joni Mitchell performed for the first time ever at the 66th Annual Grammy Awards (Feb. 4), singing her wistful 1966 classic “Both Sides Now”, which brought many in the audience and at home to tears.
Sitting on a throne-like chair, hair in two thin braids, with an ornate cane in her hand, she was joined by an ensemble that included Brandi Carlile, fellow Canadian Allison Russell, and Jacob Collier.
The 80-year-old folk legend, who received a standing ovation, was then presented with a Grammy Award — her 10th — by host Trevor Noah for Best Folk Album for Joni Mitchell at Newport, produced by Carlile. She was not given time for an acceptance speech.
In introducing her performance, Carlile said, “Whether we know it or not, any one of us out here who ever dreamed of becoming a truly self-revealing signer-songwriter is standing on the shoulders of one Joni Mitchell.
“Joni is one of the most influential and emotionally generous creators in human history. She redefined the very purpose of a song to reflect the contents of a person’s soul. And before she took this leap, the popular song was observational; it was brilliant and influential, of course, but
but the exhilarating risks that we all now take by turning ourselves inside out for all the world to see, started, as far as I could tell with Joni Mitchell doing it first,” she continued.
“She’s like the first person to strip down at the skinny dipping party and take that awkward, terrifying leap, before everybody else eventually joyfully follows. In some ways, she didn’t have a choice but to take these leaps.”
She then talked about Mitchell’s basic survival: poverty, Polio, and, as of 10 years ago, a near-fatal brain aneurysm. “She didn’t dwell too much on how her art was being received because she was relearning how to speak, let alone sing,” Carlile said. “She’s learned to walk three times.”
She concluded by calling her “the matriarch of imagination, a true Renaissance woman, my hero and yours.”
Carlile met Mitchell via record exec Clive Davis and helped Mitchell return to performing after the aneurysm in 2015 and extensive rehabilitation. She started hosting “Joni Jams” at her house, for which Carlile helped assemble the musicians, such as Hozier, Marcus Mumford, Elton John, Annie Lennox, and Paul McCartney.
She made her triumphant return to the stage, unannounced, in 2022 on the “Brandi Carlile and Friends” set at the Newport Folk Festival, playing 13 songs of her originals and covers, aided by a backup band.
Last summer, they took the concept to Quincy, Washington, billed as Joni Jam: Joni Mitchell & Brandi Carlile at Gorge Amphitheatre. It was her first ticketed concert in 20 years, and it, not surprisingly, sold out.
This October, Mitchell will perform two Joni Jam shows with Carlile at the Hollywood Bowl October 19-20, her first shows in Los Angeles since 2000.
Mitchell’s recording career began in 1968 and, to date, includes 19 studio albums and six live records. Her best-known songs include “Big Yellow Taxi,” “A Case of You,” “Help Me,” and “Both Sides, Now.”
She is a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee (1997), a member of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame (1981), and received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award (2002). More recently, the Kennedy Center Honors recognized her lifetime contribution to American culture in 2021 and last year, she was awarded the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song at an all-star tribute concert in Washington, D.C.