Joni Mitchell Joins Brandi Carlile, Wynonna Judd and More for Surprise Appearance at Newport Folk Festival
Brandi Carlile always has a few tricks up her sleeve. On the last night of this year’s Newport Folk Festival, Carlile surprised the audience by bringing out Joni Mitchell for an exceedingly rare live appearance — her first at the festival in over 50 years.
Billed as “Brandi Carlile and Friends,” the Sunday evening set opened with Carlile performing songs from her own catalog alongside bandmates Phil and Tim Hanseroth. After “Stay Gentle” segued into a solo rendition of “Over the Rainbow,” Carlile asked the crowd to be patient while she and the festival crew prepared for a “very, very f---ing special” surprise.
Antique-looking sofas and chairs filled the stage and it soon became clear what Carlile was up to: recreating the fabled living-room jams that have taken place at Mitchell’s home in Los Angeles in the last few years and featured memorably in Carlile’s memoir. When Mitchell took the stage, after a moving speech from an unusually shaky Carlile, the crowd reacted with rapturous cheers and applause.
Carlile and Mitchell were joined on stage by Wynonna Judd, Allison Russell, Celisse Henderson, Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig of Lucius, Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes, Marcus Mumford and Blake Mills. Backed by a band that included Mumford and the Hanseroth Twins, the artists took turns singing lead on beloved songs from Mitchell’s catalog as well as the occasional oldie. When Mitchell herself took the lead, first on George Gershwin’s “Summertime” and then on “Both Sounds Now,” musicians and audience members alike appeared overcome with emotion.
“Can the world just stop?” Carlile exclaimed toward the end of the set, which capped off a reliably memorable weekend at the festival grounds in Rhode Island. Famed as the place where Bob Dylan shocked the crowd by going electric in 1965 — and, more recently, where Dolly Parton performed a surprise set with the Highwomen in 2019 — the festival has a reputation for delivering big moments.
On Saturday, Paul Simon emerged from retirement to perform a four-song set at the end of Nathaniel Rateliff & The Nightsweats’ “American Rune Revue” tribute. This year’s festival also included performances from Maren Morris, Adia Victoria, Valerie June, Hurray for the Riff Raff and the Black Opry Revue.