Brandi Carlile on How She Got Joni Mitchell to Perform a Full Set for the First Time Since 2002

Brandi Carlile opened up in a candid essay about a recent performance at the Newport Folk Festival with Joni Mitchell, the legendary musician's first full set in decades

Brandi Carlile introduces Joni Mitchell for a special Joni Jam at the 2022 Newport Folk Festival at Fort Adams State Park on July 24, 2022.
Joni Mitchell and Brandi Carlile. Photo: Carlin Stiehl for The Boston Globe via Getty

Getting Joni Mitchell back on stage was an unforgettable experience for Brandi Carlile.

The pair recently teamed up at the 2022 Newport Folk Festival last weekend, sharing the stage for a surprise performance that marked Mitchell's first full set in more than 20 years.

The legendary Blue singer-songwriter, 78, delighted the Rhode Island crowd with 13 songs, including classics like "A Case of You," "Both Sides Now" and "Big Yellow Taxi" — which she feared she may never sing again after suffering a near-fatal brain aneurysm in 2015.

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Joni Mitchell performs during the 2022 Newport Folk Festival at Fort Adams State Park
Joni Mitchell. Douglas Mason/Getty Images

In a new essay for U.K. outlet The Times, published Thursday, Carlile, 41, said she and Mitchell agreed to perform at the festival after they attended the 2022 Grammys and the Recording Academy's charity MusiCares' concert thrown in Mitchell's honor. "But the agreement was very much that we'll just sit around in a circle and play the songs, like we always do at the Joni Jams. Sometimes Joni sings, and sometimes she doesn't want to," she wrote.

After this, Mitchell picked up the guitar again and started relearning chords — but she developed some apprehension along the way. She worried about expectations, so Carlile decided to give her a FaceTime call and chat through it. "We had one of the best conversations we've ever had," she wrote.

"I said, 'Joni, since we all met you, we've all started working together, we've become a family. You've created a community around you,'" she recalled. "'All we want to do is just sit there in a circle and sing to show you what you've done for us. And if you sing along, f---ing awesome; if you don't, we're just so happy to be with you. This is our way of thanking you. We don't want you to feel like there's something that you have to do.'"

She continued, "And [Mitchell] said, 'I get the spirit of it now. We will just sit there and look at the water and sing.' And after that if she was apprehensive in any way, we didn't know it. I don't know if it will ever happen again. I just know that I will follow her everywhere she goes."

Joni Mitchell performs with Brandi Carlile during the 2022 Newport Folk Festival
Joni Mitchell and Brandi Carlile. Douglas Mason/Getty Images

Sunday's performance marked Mitchell's first full set since she headlined a benefit concert in Los Angeles in 2002, and her first public performance since 2013, when she sang briefly at a concert tribute in Toronto, according to her website.

"I've never been nervous about being in front of an audience," Mitchell later told CBS News. "But I want it to be good. And I wasn't sure I could be. But I didn't sound too bad tonight!"

The 10-time Grammy winner added that after her aneurysm, she had to teach herself to play the guitar again, among other skills that had to be relearned.

"I'm learning," Mitchell said. "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."

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