Joni and the Jam at the Gorge, June 2023
It’s been almost 2 weeks since we saw the Joni Mitchell concert at The Gorge Amphitheatre and I’m still floating. We knew we were in for something special. We couldn’t have known how special.
And to think I almost didn’t buy the tickets. It was a soggy, grey November afternoon on the ferry home, and I was scrolling uselessly through Facebook when the Ladies in the Canyon concert at the Gorge with “Joni and the Jam” popped into my feed. “Tickets On Sale Soon” it said. What could it hurt to have a quick look? I clicked the link and low and behold there were pre-sale tickets available with great seats. I selected 2 shockingly expensive tickets and pressed confirm before the ferry docked and I could change my mind.
I was 8 years old when my family gifted me Joni’s Ladies of the Canyon album. It was 1971, the album was brand new and it was my first record. I was just learning to play our crappy, second hand guitar and her music was like a lightning rod of inspiration for me to listen deeply, learn well and sing with all my heart. I must have played that album a thousand times, sitting cross legged on our blue living room carpet with the album cover on my lap, leaping up to reset the needle on my favourite songs over and over again. I knew every word of every song. I was mesmerized by her lyrics, her drawings and the way the melodies settled deliciously in and around my heart.
My love for her music has consistently circled back to me my entire life. In the 80’s it was Chalk Mark in the Rain, Turbulent Indigo in the 90’s, and then Shine in 2007 – each album somehow lifted and moved me when I needed it the most. Even as Joni’s music shifted and as my music tastes changed, her melodies and lyrics continued to weave themselves into my life.
And so there we were to hear her live in the most stunning setting ever. It was surreal. Neither my husband or I have ever been to the Gorge – and despite reviewing all the beautiful photos and descriptions, I figured it couldn’t possibly be that gorgeous. It was.
Brandi Carlisle’s rich vocals and easy stage presence opened the show under an arc of blue sky that melted to peach as the sun set. The hills and the canyon beyond kept changing colour in a way that an indoor theatre company could only dream to replicate. Swallows swooped overhead and hawks were busy floating on thermals over the cliffs. I kept looking around at our natural theatre in stunned delight wondering how it could possibly get better. It did.
Joni Mitchell was assisted on stage and settled into a grand chair next Brandi Carlisle. In 2015, Joni suffered a catastrophic brain aneurysm and lost her ability to do the most basic things. Including playing guitar and singing. The support to relearn her music was inspired by Brandi Carlisle’s friendship and the almost monthly informal jam sessions in Joni’s living room. The support and love for Joni from the rest of the musicians on stage that night was palpable and elevated the performance to yet another whole, beautiful level.
The rest of the “Joni Jam” included in part – can you believe it – Annie Lennox and Sarah Mclaughlin. We had no idea who would be performing alongside Joni and Brandi as the concert had simply been billed as Joni Mitchell, with Brandi Carlisle and Friends. More surreal joy ensued. With Cam’s arm wrapped around me, more happy tears trickled down my cheeks. I eventually stopped brushing them away and just let them wash over me.
For the next 3 hours we were awed by music sung by Joni, to Joni and shared with Joni. And the stories. Between songs, Brandi would prompt Joni with “Remember that story you told me about…?” And Joni would be off with precious, little vignettes of her touring travels in the 60’s and 70’s, all delivered with ease, humour and a little giggle that bubbled up throughout the entire evening. Joni was having the time of her life.
The songs (and stories) just kept coming and wafting over and through us, lifting and floating the 27,000 strong crowd that had travelled from every corner of the world to be there. Three generations of us surrendering to the rhythms and lyrics that have played such a huge part in our lives. It was dreamlike to hear the music I have loved for the past 50 years sung by Joni and her Jam – the lyrics reframed and remarkably more meaningful than ever before.
And to think I almost didn’t buy the tickets. It’s a big reminder to me to do the things that light me up. Don’t wait. Don’t hesitate. Include the people I love and take the leap for an experience of a lifetime. I’m so glad I did.
Thank you Joni. We did feel like stardust and golden.