Joni Mitchell saluted in song, then takes to the stage at all-star ‘JONI 75’ birthday concert
The final standing ovation for Joni Mitchell at Wednesday’s “JONI 75: A Birthday Celebration” came after 21 of her songs had been performed, even though the iconic Canadian troubadour did not sing one note or say a single word.
But there was no doubt she was the star of the show at the Los Angeles Music Center’s Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. The health-challenged Mitchell appeared on stage there for the first time anywhere in five years – and the first time since suffering a near-fatal brain aneurysm in 2015.
The sold-out audience of 3,000 swooned at her presence and serenaded her with “Happy Birthday” at both the start and conclusion of the concert. They cheered when, seated on stage, Mitchell blew out the candles on her cake.
And some fans were dabbing away tears when Mitchell stood – with assistance – and gingerly swayed along during a reprise of the grand finale of “Big Yellow Taxi,” her bouncy 1970 environmental lament (which in later years was recorded by Bob Dylan and sampled by Janet Jackson).
The audience Wednesday contained at least as many celebrities as there were music greats honoring Mitchell on stage. Among them were everyone from Tom Hanks, Angela Bassett, Jake Gyllenhaal and Eric Idle to Jon Hamm, George Takei, Mandy Moore and Oscar-winning filmmaker Cameron Crowe, a 1972 University of San Diego High School graduate.
Crowe wrote the liner notes for Mitchell’s 2004 compilation album, “Dreamland.” At a postshow arts fundraising dinner Wednesday, he presented Mitchell with the Music Center’s Excellence in the Performing Arts Award.
“She remains our best field reporter in matters of the heart, or in the world... or if you’re just looking for an excuse to kick up your heels and feel more alive,” Crowe said, toasting Mitchell. “She is inspiration at a time when heaven is in short supply.”
The featured singers included Seal (who delivered a breathtaking and wonderfully distinctive version of “Both Sides Now”), Brandi Carlile (who was no less stunning on “Down Joni Mitchell performs in Toronto at a nuns’ convention on April 16, 1968.
to You”) and Rufus Wainwright (who soared on “Blue,” then coasted on “All I Want”). The full set list appears below.
The lineup also featured two of Mitchell’s former paramours, Graham Nash and James Taylor, the latter of whom struggled to come to grips with the wistful “River” but found his footing on “Woodstock.”
Nash led the audience in a sing-along of “Our House,” the lilting ode to domesticity he wrote in 1970 when living with Mitchell in Laurel Canyon.
“Every song you’ll hear tonight was written by Joni, except this one,” Nash said at the start of the second half of the concert. (The first half began more than 40 minutes after its scheduled 6:30 p.m. start time, reportedly because of a traffic backup that ensnared Mitchell.)
“I was 26. You were 27,” Nash continued, before adding the only political commentary of the concert. “And, quite frankly, after the elections last night, I’m glad to have ‘Our House’ back.”