In November 2018, celebrated figures in the music industry and fans of Joni Mitchell clubbed together to celebrate the legendary singer-songwriter’s 75th birthday with a tribute concert, writes Holly O’Mahony…
The event was held at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at L.A.’s the Music Center and was a two-night affair, with performances taking place for two-and-a-half hours each night. The parade of musicians who took to the stage to play covers of the Canadian singer’s songs and pay tribute to her talent included those who have known her for years, like Graham Nash and James Taylor, and younger musical talent influenced by her music such as Norah Jones.
While the two-night concert was completely sold out, thankfully it was recorded. This Thursday evening, March 21, Greenwich Picturehouse is screening the recording of the concert – Joni 75: A Birthday Celebration – offering its own audience a chance to get closer to the soulful and heartfelt tribute event. The screening also includes behind-the-scenes interviews and footage of the moment Mitchell herself made a rare public appearance.
Mitchell is known for creating music that draws on folk, rock, pop and jazz styles, and for writing songs that reflect on environmental and social issues as well as her own personal feelings. Over the course of her career, Mitchell has received a host of prestigious awards – including eight Grammys – and has been described by Rolling Stone as “one of the greatest songwriters ever”. Her most popular songs including ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ and ‘Woodstock’ (both released in 1970) helped define an era in music, while her 1971 album Blue is frequently cited as one of the greatest of all time. Her music continues to influence a number contemporary artists – Taylor Swift, Ellie Goulding and Katy Perry among them.
In 2015, Mitchell suffered a brain aneurysm, after which she was required to undergo physical therapy to learn to walk again, and since then, has made very few public appearances. While her recent health battles prevented Mitchell performing at her tribute concert, the singer did make an appearance on the second night to blow out her birthday candles.
Of the concert, Vanity Fair’s Julie Miller reported: “The moment that Joni Mitchell entered the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in downtown Los Angeles on Wednesday evening – a rare public appearance for the influential singer-songwriter on her 75th birthday – the entire theater full of her friends and fans leapt to their feet for a ‘Happy Birthday’ serenade.”
While Rolling Stone journalist Steven H. Horowitz said: “The star power was world-class. Chaka Khan, Diana Krall, Kris Kristofferson, Emmylou Harris, Glen Hansard, Rufus Wainwright, Seal, Los Lobos, La Marisoul, Cesar Castro and Xochi Flores took turns throughout, some altogether faithful to the source material and others more liberal. The highlights were unexpected and, when surprising, electric… The unifying effect of Mitchell’s music rang out.”
Music writer-turned-filmmaker Cameron Crowe captured the essence of what the experience meant to the performers in his toast: “For every dark and light thought we thought might not be understandable or relatable, for every time we wondered whether anyone understood, there was a Joni song or painting or story or performance to whisper in our ear, ‘You’re not alone. I’ve been there. I am there. Let’s be brave.’…She has given us heavenly inspiration when heaven is in short supply.”
Audiences to Greenwich Picturehouse this Thursday have the chance to relive the moving tribute concert to Joni Mitchell, one of the greatest living musical legends.
Joni 75: A Birthday Celebration is showing at Greenwich Picturehouse, 180 Greenwich High Road, Greenwich, London SE10 8NN. March 21, at 8:30pm. Admission: £16.10/£15.10 concessions/£10.10 children. www.picturehouses.com/cinema/Greenwich_Picturehouse