Joni Mitchell at the Newport Folk Festival (Photo: Rick Farrell)

In Saturday’s Newport Folk recap, I wondered how the Festival could outdo itself after welcoming music legend Paul Simon to the Fort Adams stage. There were rumors of a “big name” coming on the third day of the 2022 festival, but there are always rumors at Newport that fail to develop, so most festival-goers were eagerly looking forward to announced acts like Brandi Carlile, The Roots, and Japanese Breakfast.

Well, the impossible happened – Joni Mitchell returned to Newport. Mitchell had last played the celebrated festival in 1969, and given her recent health challenges, most folks assumed she would likely never return.

But with the encouragement of friends like Grammy Award-winner Brandi Carlile, Mitchell made the trip from California to Newport surprising the audience on Sunday. It was one of the most inspiring moments ever at Newport, or for that matter, at any music festival.

For her set, Joni was surrounded by friends in a living room setting with chairs and sofas onstage arranged to mimic Mitchell’s home in Bell Air where she occasionally hosts “Joni Jams” with fellow musicians. Brandi Carlile organized the all-star backing band, which included Marcus Mumford, Taylor Goldsmith, Wynona, Blake Mills, Lucius, and members of Carlile’s band among others.

The set began with other artists taking the lead on Mitchell classics like “Carey,” “A Case of You,” and “Help Me.” There were sing-a-longs of do-wop favorites Joni covered including “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?” and “Love Potion #9.” Seated for most of the set, Mitchell rose to her feet, took out her guitar, and strummed a few verses of “Just Like This Train,” while sharing stories of how her own experiences inspired the music. Joni sang along to a few songs early in the set, but given her health, no one expected her to take the lead herself.

But she did! With the support of an enthusiastic crowd, Mitchell sang three songs, beginning with an absolutely spellbinding take of the George Gershwin classic “Summertime.” She then sang a gorgeous version of her classic “Both Sides Now,” made famous by Judy Collins.

The set closed with an epic take of “The Circle Game,” the audience singing along to every word, so fitting given the occasion. For so many in the crowd, including myself, the moment was transcendent. Maybe you remember tunes like “Circle Game” as being your first folk song, perhaps around a campfire, along with that twinge of melancholy you felt in the lyrics.

Most of the artists who performed earlier in the day could be spotted on the side stage viewing area, totally mesmerized by her performance. I even spotted Roots founder Questlove, who had just finished a rousing set of his own, in the photo pit taking pictures alongside photographers.

Carole King, Dolly Parton, Aretha Franklin, Taylor Swift – all legends. Let’s understand something though – Joni Mitchell is the greatest female singer-songwriter of all time. (Perhaps the greatest singer-songwriter period, but let’s save that debate for another day.) She’s not the top seller or the richest, and she never headlined stadiums, but her contribution to popular music and culture, particularly from the late 1960s through the early 1980s was unprecedented. Ask any aspiring singer-songwriter (particularly female) who inspires them, you will undoubtedly hear Joni’s name.

If Mitchell’s appearance was the headline, Sunday’s story will read as one of the great days in festival history. A high-energy gospel celebration “Love Will Go All the Way,” led by Phil Cook, kicked off the day. Outstanding sets from Sierra Ferrell, Valerie June, and Buffalo Nichols were well received, as was a politically charged set with Ukrainian folk band Dakhabrakha. LA punk rock quartet The Linda Lindas, featuring perhaps the youngest performer ever at Newport, brought some teen angst to the Quad Stage and The Roots kicked total ass in a memorable Fort Stage performance. Sets from Maren Morris, Anais Mitchell, and Japanese Breakfast were strong, this day would have been a complete success even without Joni Mitchell.   

Special thanks to WUN Photographer Rick Farrell for some hard-to-get pics of Joni and the rest of the artists from Sunday, July 24. Check them out below.

Ken Abrams

Lifestyle Editor Ken Abrams writes about music and more for What'sUpNewp, Providence Monthly, SO RI, and The Bay. He DJ's "The Kingston Coffeehouse" Tuesday nights, 6-9 PM on WRIU 90.3 FM.

Rick Farrell

​Rick Farrell of Mojo Photography has been drawn to music his entire life. Maybe it was growing up in Newport, RI, host to the venerable Newport Jazz and Folk festivals. Or maybe it was the countless hours listening to his older siblings' classic LP's and 45's on the stereo in the 1960's. Whatever the reason, there has always been a strong connection.

He had originally taken up photography as a hobby, eventually gravitating towards shooting professionally in 2007. Never knowing what his true passion or niche was, proved to be very frustrating to say the least. Then in 2009 he shot a concert, and everything seemed to click. He had discovered his passion! Concert photography!

He considers himself fortunate to have photographed shows at some of the premier venues in New England, including Fenway Park and Gillette Stadium. He has literally photographed hundreds of shows, including some of the biggest acts in today’s music industry. He has photographed many esteemed festivals including the New Orleans Jazz Festival, Newport Folk Festival, Newport Jazz Festival, and Farm Aid. His work has been published in numerous outlets locally, regionally, and nationally.

Musically, he loves everything from rock to country, jazz, R&B, pop, and classical. There is no greater feeling for him than capturing a moment on stage for others to enjoy for posterity. Whatever your taste, his goal is to provide "music for your eyes."