NEWPORT, RI (CelebrityAccess) – If you want to add, “I was there when,” to your lexicon of musical history – then all you have to do is attend the Newport Folk Festival (NFF).
No, I wasn’t there when Bob Dylan first played the folk festival in 1963 or 64, or when he came back the next year in 65 and was booed off the stage when he went electric.
I wasn’t there when The Pixies, often credited for creating a blueprint for alternative rock – went acoustic. The set was deemed “Pixies Go Acoustic” as a play on words about Dylan going electric back in 65.
I’ll admit I’m spoiled. I live about fifty minutes from the doorstep of Fort Adams State Park. Due to recent surgery, I wasn’t able to attend Saturday’s (July 23) surprise guest appearance by Paul Simon and his spectacular collaboration with Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats – just another milestone in NFF history.
I was able to attend on Sunday (July 24), enjoying the atmosphere, meandering backstage, and chatting with entertainers and industry professionals. Soon, my wife and I sat down to enjoy our lunch with the brother and niece of one Brandi Carlile. The talent tree in that family is strong as both are musicians themselves. That conversation alone would fill an entire page, but our talk turned to the rumor(s) spreading around the festival site that folk icon Joni Mitchell would take the stage with his sister that very evening – along with the reported “sightings” of Mitchell being in the Newport area. I asked my lunch companions if the rumors were true. He responded with a twinkle in his eye and said, “I can neither confirm, nor deny, but I did hear them rehearse recently and she sounded pretty phenomenal.”
I was in attendance back in 2019 when Carlile decided to bring her group of legendary friends on stage. Several famous female musicians joined the singer/songwriter that year, including Courtney Marie Andrews, Rachael Price, Bridget Kearney (of Lake Street Dive), Candy Carpenter, and Molly Tuttle to sing Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi.”
However, Carlile was just getting started. Next to take the stage with Carlile was Amy Ray from the Indigo Girls and Lucy Dacus. Linda Perry joined the historical moment by leading the entire Fort through the famous chorus of her 4 Non Blonde hit, “What’s Up.” Sheryl Crow, who played the headlining stage the previous day appeared like magic to sing her hit, “If It Makes You Happy,” with Carlile and country music superstar, Maren Morris, only to then be joined by Maggie Rogers and Yola for a version of “Strong Enough.” Jay Sweet (NFF Executive Producer) then escorted Judy Collins on stage … only to be followed up by the legendary Dolly Parton.
Carlile now HAS history at the NFF because she’s MADE history. As it turns out, the rumors were indeed true. On Sunday, Carlile re-created what has been called “Joni’s Jams” (Mitchell’s legendary living room get-togethers) right there on the NFF stage with the legend herself, Joni Mitchell. But she wasn’t alone – singing backup was none other than Wynonna Judd, Taylor Goldsmith, Holly Laessing, Marcus Mumford, Jess Wolfe (Lucius), Blake Mills, and Celisse Henderson.
There were few dry eyes in the audience as Mitchell made her first public performance in 20 years and first public appearance since the Grammys earlier this year after suffering a brain aneurysm in 2015 that left her almost fully incapacitated. She spent those years working tirelessly to regain her ability to walk and eventually perform music once again.
There are touchstones in musical history, and it appears the NFF has cornered the market on most of them under the leadership of Jay Sweet. A man who magically seems to create one every year.
I’m not sure what ingredients Jay uses in his magic sauce, but one is certainly collaboration, inclusive of his relationships with the artists. More importantly, the trust he has in his artists and performers to create these magical, historical moments while supporting them fully.
That was never more apparent or evident than on Sunday when Carlile united her friends to help uplift and support her idol and mentor, Joni Mitchell .. and every single person in the audience felt it.