‘I’m still levitating’: Allison Russell joins Joni Mitchell at Newport Folk Fest


TORONTO — Allison Russell is at the height of her emotions after joining several friends and musical contemporaries on stage for Joni Mitchell’s surprise performance at the Newport Folk Festival.

Sunday’s concert was the first time the legendary Canadian singer-songwriter has played a full live set in more than two decades, while Montreal native Russell lent backing vocals and played clarinet.

« I’m still floating, » the Juno-winning artist behind « Outside Child » said over the phone from Rhode Island a day after the performance.

« With each song, you could see her visibly gaining strength and power. She sang with all her heart and we all could witness and support her. »

Mitchell’s return to live music set social media on fire Monday morning as fans shared video of the set. The beloved musician appeared as a guest of Grammy-winning artist Brandi Carlile, who closed this year’s edition of the festival with a performance called « Brandi Carlile & Friends ».

Instead, it was Mitchell, 78, at center stage, accompanied by Carlile and other guests including Wynonna Judd, Marcus Mumford and Russell.

« She was so humble, in a way, ‘I hope I’m doing a good job. I hope I sound good,' » she recalled telling Mitchell.

The show kicked off with the band singing « Carey » before moving on to other classics including « Both Sides Now », « Big Yellow Taxi » and « Summertime ».

Mitchell sat in the middle on an overstuffed chair that looked like a throne. The set design was inspired by what is called the « Joni Jams », an invitation-only event for musicians who join Mitchell at her Los Angeles home to perform together.

« It was Brandi’s idea, to make Joni feel as relaxed and comfortable as possible, and to give Newport attendees the gift of joining Joni in her living room, » Russell said.

« It was such a relaxed atmosphere at the same time, in front of 10,000 of Joni’s new best friends. »

At one point Mitchell strapped on an electric guitar to play « Just Like This Train », before closing the show with « The Circle Game ».

The Newport, Rhode Island Music Festival has long embraced Mitchell’s presence in folk music. In 1967, when she was still an unknown singer, the organizers invited her to be part of a lineup of up-and-coming musicians that also included Leonard Cohen.

Mitchell has gradually returned to public life after suffering a brain aneurysm in 2015.

Last December, she was honored by the Kennedy Center in recognition of her lifetime achievement for artistic excellence, while in April she was named Person of the Year by MusiCares at the Grammys.

After Sunday’s show, Carlile invited Mitchell, Russell and the other musicians to celebrate over dinner. This allowed Russell to chat with his idol about their shared Canadian roots.

« Joni had her favorite dish, which is lobster, » Russell said.

« I have to tell him about Saskatchewan, » she added, as Mitchell grew up in Saskatoon. « She was so excited to find out that my family was from there, and our mutual appreciation for the beauty of Saskatchewan, which some people miss but we deeply feel. »

After missing a recent edition of Joni Jams due to his busy schedule, Russell plans to attend the next one. She said one thing the Newport show proves is that Joni is far from done being an entertainer.

« It’s almost as if the world has consigned her to history, but she’s very present, » said Russell, who will perform at the Edmonton Folk Festival on August 6.

« Her legacy isn’t nearly over and she’s not nearly over. I think she’s entering a whole new season. »

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on July 25, 2022.

David Friend, The Canadian Press


Back to top button