An Unexpected Gift from Joni Mitchell

A lesson in aging gracefully and a reminder of the power of song in a dark time

Micah Sifry


Newport, RI — July 24: Brandi Carlile introduces Joni Mitchell for a special Joni Jam at the 2022 Newport Folk Festival at Fort Adams State Park on July 24, 2022. (Photo by Carlin Stiehl for The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Woke up, it was a Monday morning and the first thing that I thought was: what do I write about today? Another column about the dark clouds hanging over our heads and the challenges we face with our climate, our democracy, and the disconnect between our leaders and the public?

Not today.

Today I’m celebrating a gift from a living legend, a parcel of poetry and song so powerful it can release and erase, or at least ease, the pain of the moment. I have no way of knowing for sure, but I’m betting that right now mystic chords of memory are ringing across the continent and beyond as the generations that grew up with Joni Mitchell discover that she has returned, delivering a full set of her classics last night at the close of the Newport Folk Festival.

To hear Joni, who is now 78 years old and hasn’t sung in public in 20 years, reprise songs like A Case of You, Both Sides Now and The Circle Game in the rich baritone that her voice has ripened into, to listen as she parried harmonies with Brandi Carlile and a circle of adoring musical partners, many of whom were opening crying as they performed with her, is for me to be reminded not just of the continued resonance of the dreams of…