Joni Mitchell, 78, Makes Surprise Performance For First Public Concert Since Brain Aneurysm

Seven years after Joni Mitchell suffered an aneurysm that left her temporarily unable to walk or talk, the music icon gave her first full live performance in twenty years.

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Joni Mitchell surprised fans gathered Sunday (July 25) for the finale of the Newport Folk Festival. Though the finale was billed as “Brandi Carlile & Friends,” it was Joni, 78, who stole the show, joining Brandi, 41, Marcus Mumford, Wynonna Judd, Blake Mills, Jess Wolfe, and others for a 13-song set that covered Joni’s impressive body of work. Not only did this surprise performance mark Joni’s return to the Newport Folk festival for the first time since 1969, but it was her first full live public concert since 2002 (and the first following her 2015 brain aneurysm.)

(Sachyn Mital/Shutterstock)

With comfortable chairs on the stage, the event mirrored the “Joni Jams” that Mitchell has held in her living room in the wake of her aneurysm. The set began with the other artists performing “Carey,” “A Case of You,” and “Help Me,” per What’s Up Newport. The set also contained “Big Yellow Taxi,” “Just Like This Train,” and “Why Do Fools Fall In Love.” Joni occasionally sang along to her own songs throughout the concert but stood to play the guitar solo on “Just Like This Train.” She also took the lead for three songs – George Gershwin’s “Summertime,” “Both Sides Now,” and “The Circle Game.”

“No, I’ve never been nervous about being in front of an audience,” Joni told CBS Morning’s Anthony Mason on the Monday after the show, per The Hollywood Reporter. “But I want it to be good. And I wasn’t sure I could be. But I didn’t sound too bad tonight!”

I’m learning,” she told Mason. “I’m looking at videos that are on the net to see where I put my fingers, you know. It’s amazing what an aneurysm knocks out – how to get out of chair! You don’t know how to get out of a bed. You have to learn all these things by rote again. I was into water ballet as a kid, and I forgot how to do the breaststroke. Every time I tried it, I just about drowned, you know?. So, a lot of going back to infancy almost. You have to relearn everything.”

Joni suffered a brain aneurysm in 2015 that nearly silenced her iconic voice. “I always think that polio was a rehearsal for the rest of my life,” Joni said during the 2021 Kennedy Center Honors, referring to the disease she battled when she was 9 (h/t The Express). “I’ve had to come back several times from things. And this last one was a real whopper. But, you know, I’m hobbling along, but I’m doing all right!”

“Once again, I couldn’t walk. I had to learn how again. I couldn’t talk. Polio didn’t grab me like that, but the aneurysm took away a lot more, really,” she said. Took away my speech and my ability to walk. And, you know, I got my speech back quickly, but the walking I’m still struggling with. But I mean, I’m a fighter. I’ve got Irish blood! So you know, I knew, ‘here I go again, another battle.'”

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