Since 2017, Joni Mitchell’s friends have been joining her in her living room for singing circles that became known as “Joni Jams.” In 2018, Brandi Carlile performed Mitchell’s “A Case of You” at Mitchell’s 75th birthday tribute. In 2019, Mitchell had dinner with her friend Marcy Gensic, Carlile, and Catherine Shepherd, Carlile’s wife; she invited Carlile to select and invite the musicians who’d join the jams. All these roads led to the Newport Folk Festival: on July 24, 2022, Mitchell returned to the Newport stage where Carlile and Mitchell’s friends had orchestrated the largest Joni Jam ever. The celebration is captured on At Newport, produced by Carlile and Mitchell.
The album opens with Carlile’s long introduction to the players, which ends with her welcoming Joni Mitchell to the stage to swelling applause from the crowd. The artists gathered for the jam include, among others, Carlile’s bandmates Phil and Tim Hanseroth, Wynonna Judd, Marcus Mumford, Celisse, Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig of Lucius, Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes, Allison Russell, Shooter Jennings, and SistaStrings.
The jam launches into high gear with an exuberant version of “Big Yellow Taxi” that’s followed up by a gorgeous rendition of “A Case of You,” featuring Carlile trading vocals with Mumford and Mitchell’s own steady vocals. In between some songs, Carlile chats with Mitchell about various matters, including Mitchell’s story of the cross-country drive on which she wrote the songs on her album Hejira.
Ben Lusher’s stately piano chords introduce “Both Sides Now,” flowing under Mitchell’s vocals on an elegant and contemplative version of the song. Ethereal background vocals and Josh Neumann’s haunting cello runs weave around Lusher’s piano and shape the song’s atmospheric tone. Mitchell plays guitar on “Just Like This Train,” and then the Joni Jam offers up the highlight of the set: a lush, languorously unfolding rendition of “Summertime.” The set, and album, closes with a rousing sing-along to “The Circle Game.”
Thanks to Carlile, At Newport fittingly celebrates Mitchell’s artistry and welcomes her back to the stage where she belongs and from which she has been missed. Mitchell’s fans will certainly be singing along with every song.
At Newport is available HERE.