In a surprise appearance at the Newport Folk Festival Sunday, singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell, still recovering from a near-fatal brain aneurysm in 2015, stirred awe and applause when she performed onstage at the Rhode Island show for the first time in 53 years.
"Please welcome back to the Newport stage for the first time since 1969: Joni Mitchell!" exclaimed six-time Grammy Award winner Brandi Carlile as she introduced the Rock & Roll Hall of Famer, Kennedy Center honoree and Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award winner.
Escorted onto the stage, able to stand but having difficulty walking, the 78-year-old music icon jammed with Carlile, Taylor Goldsmith, Celisse Henderson, Wynonna Judd, Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig of Lucius, Marcus Mumford and others on "Both Sides Now," "A Case of You," "Big Yellow Taxi" and more classics from her songbook, many captured in audience videos posted online. She additionally stood to give a rousing electric-guitar solo.
The 13-song set, Mitchell's first full-length public concert since 2000, also included covers of such standards as "Why Do Fools Fall in Love" and "Love Potion No. 9," reported Rolling Stone magazine.
Afterward backstage, nine-time Grammy winner Mitchell told CBS News' Anthony Mason, "No, I've never been nervous about being in front of an audience. But I want it to be good, y'know, and I wasn't sure that I could be. But I didn't sound too bad tonight, so … !"
On March 31, 2015, Mitchell was found unconscious in her home and rushed to a hospital, where doctors removed an aneurysm — a clot blocking the flow of blood — in her brain. In 2020, she told the U.K. newspaper The Guardian she was "just inching my way along," saying she was "showing slow improvement but moving forward."
She told CBS, "I'm learning" to play the guitar all over again. "I'm looking at videos that are on the net to see where I put my fingers. 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 don't know how. You have to learn all these things by rote again. I was into water ballet as a kid, and I forgot how to do the breaststroke. Every time I tried it, I just about drowned. So, there's a lot of going back to infancy almost. You have to relearn everything."
"Even we don't know how we're going to top this weekend!" the festival's Instagram account posted. "Closing out with the Joni Jam was a bucket list item for all."