Joni Mitchell strode back onto the stage to accept the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, and proceeded to announce to the world that not only she was capable of performing at the show she has coming up with Brandi Carlile at the Gorge Amphitheater in Quincy Washington on June 10th 2023, but that she was able to be more than a ghost of glories past. Joni’s voice is back, full throttle, she is knocking it out the park, and not only that has not lost any of her previous jazz-soaked inflection, nor her ability to play with a melody line. Joni lived and breathed out Gershwin like a Goddess coming back from somewhere that the mere mortal do not often return from.
Her voice is as strong as it ever was in her later career years of Miles of Aisles, and even has a certain deep velvety resonance that was perhaps once missing from her cut glass vocals. Joni has all the emotion of a woman who has kissed the abyss, and all the perfection of some a woman who was born to sing. Joni, my friends, is back.
I have to admit, I did wonder if the upcoming date was going to be a nostalgia kick only, with Brandi Carlile carrying the show hard, and to be frank, just having Joni on stage participating in her own songs would be more than enough to please the critics and fans alike. What I did not expect was for Joni to get stronger, more confident and find her wonderous voice once again, after surviving a brain aneurysm that almost killed her after putting her in a coma and making her have to learn how to speak, play guitar and move all over again. This is nothing short of a miracle. Joni Mitchell can carry her own show, she can sing her own songs as well as she ever has done, and is a vocal force to be reckoned with once again. This is a comeback that we only ever see in fairy tales and movies and I am beyond excited.
I won’t be able to make it up to Washington to see the show, and for that I am terribly sad. This is going to be the performance of a lifetime, a modern miracle, an act of supreme love for her art and craft.
As for Gershwin, her performance was legendary, the toying with the melody line, the clarity of her voice, the control of her breath and the way the notes sounded, led to a superlative performance of the song. Her performance has an equal – Nina Simone, Janis Joplin and and Ella Fitzgerald have all put forward perfect renditions – but I have never heard it sung better. I am in awe.
There is great beauty in the survival of the human spirit, but even more in seeing someone come back from the brink to thrive with a little help and encouragement from her friends. Bravo!