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The Crack Magazine


All the Ladies of the Canyons

Joni Mitchell at the Gorge Amphitheater

If you were one of the more than 25,000 fans lucky enough to make the three-hour pilgrimage over the luscious green mountains of Washington State to the Gorge Amphitheater to see Joni Mitchell, chances are you’re still processing the pure and resplendent magic of the evening. Billed as a “Joni Jam”, the three-night female-centric star-studded weekend was put together by one of Mitchell’s biggest fans and supporters, Brandi Carlile. A Grammy winner herself, Carlile met Mitchell at the tail-end of her long recovery from a 2015 brain aneurysm that left her in a coma and unable to speak or walk. When Carlile asked if she was still singing, Mitchell told her, “Oh, I don’t do that anymore. I’m a painter now.” It’s not clear if Carlile took that as a dare, but since then she’s has been a fixture in Mitchell’s living room in her Malibu home, and flanked with an ever-changing rotation of generational singers, songwriters and musical luminaries who no doubt unwittingly aided in Mitchell’s astounding recovery. Mitchell took to the Gorge stage just after sundown with blonde pigtails and her trademark beret. Behind her the Columbus River stretched out into canyons and vistas for miles making it feel like she had etched herself into panoramic painting. The stage felt homey dotted with sofas, plush chairs and warm standing lamps to feel like Mitchell’s comfy living room back in California. The evening’s ‘jammers’, a who’s who of Joni fans and uber-talent alike, including Celisse Henderson, Annie Lennox, Sarah McLachlan, Prince’s Wendy & Lisa, Marcus Mumford, Alison Russell and Lucius, seemed just as at-home in the glittering twilight. Relaxed, with tumbler of wine in hand, Mitchell wasted no time with the awestruck crowd diving straight into ‘Big Yellow Taxi,” her throaty, deep-velvet notes puncturing the warm Seattle air. Throughout the evening, Carlile and Mitchell bantered like old friends at a camp-out. In between stories of pissing off Bob Dylan, writing songs about prostitutes from Saskatoon, and taking in the worshipping crowd herself, Mitchell was serenaded by fellow Joni Jammers with Celisse Henderson singing with Mitchell and the crowd on ‘Raised on Robbery,” Annie Lennox’s reverenced rendition of “Ladies of the Canyon”, and Sarah McLachlan’s aching interpretation of Mitchell’s seminal song “Blue.” For three full hours, Mitchell and her band of merry musicians held court, their dulcet tones echoing through the canyons, just as promised. At close to midnight, and at the ripe age of 79, Mitchell showed no signs of stopping as she dove heartfelt into Frank Sinatra’s “Young at Heart.” When Carlile asked how she was feeling, Mitchell retorted, ‘Viva la old age!” If Mitchell’s life in art and music, along with this astounding community of women gracing her stage is the example, Viva la old age indeed.

By Pamela August Russell

Photo Credit: Mark Seliger