Here’s why Joni Mitchell’s performance at the Newport Folk Festival is so amazing

Brandi Carlyle (right) introduces Joni Mitchell to a special Johnny Jam at the 2022 Newport Folk Festival in Fort Adams State Park, RI, on Sunday.

Karleen Steale for The Boston Globe via Getty Images

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Karleen Steale for The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Brandi Carlyle (right) introduces Joni Mitchell to a special Johnny Jam at the 2022 Newport Folk Festival in Fort Adams State Park, RI, on Sunday.

Karleen Steale for The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Joni Mitchell’s surprising performance at the Newport Folk Festival on Sunday has already become a legend. The unsuspecting crowd cheered as the singer-songwriter took to the stage for her first public performance since suffering from a debilitating cerebral aneurysm in 2015.

And they continued the celebration as the nine-time Grammy-winning singer wowed the lucky audience with her many beloved songs, including “Big Yellow Taxi” and “Both Sides Now” as well as a cover of “Summer”.

According to Mitchell’s website, “The last time Johnny sang with guitar in hand in front of a paying audience was 8,660 days ago, on her 55th birthday.”

Many loyal fans didn’t think this day would come again after Mitchell’s brain aneurysm An abnormal bulge in one of the brain’s arteries – which made her unable to speak or walk, let alone play the guitar.

In an interview with CBS News after the show, the famous singer, now 78, talked about losing the ability to talk and walk, or even get up from a chair. She described the experience of the past few years as “a return to childhood”.

Mitchell also explained that she learned to play the guitar by watching videos of herself “to see where I put my fingers.”

On Sunday, she delighted festival-goers when she rose from a luxurious gold-trimmed armchair to play a guitar solo during a performance of “Just Like This Train.”

Joni Mitchell played electric guitar solo during a stage performance of “Just Like This Train”.


It took years for the esteemed singer to regain even the most basic of skills

Dr. Anthony Wang, a neurosurgeon at the University of California’s Ronald Reagan Hospital, is among those stunned by Mitchell’s recovery.

“To be able to recover to the point of being able to perform as a musician is really unbelievable,” Wang told NPR. He explained that brain surgeons often use “return to work” as an indicator of successful functional recovery. “But this work is rarely so accurate.”

While there are different types of aneurysm events, Wang explained that the most life-threatening types of aneurysms are those that then burst within the blood vessel wall due to intense pressure.

“This is a really serious condition and about half of these patients die before they reach the hospital. As for those who do, about half of them have permanent neurological problems,” Wang said.

For those who survived the rupture, Wang said, “This event will cause problems such as paralysis or coma, aphasia, and seizures.”

It’s unclear what type of aneurysm Mitchell suffered – whether it ruptured at all or caught in time to prevent this from happening. She was found unconscious at her home on March 31, 2015, and in the years since starting rehabilitative therapy has been somewhat private about the details of what happened. Either way, Wang said Mitchell’s recovery must have taken an enormous commitment.

As recently as October 2020, Mitchell said Watchman The effects of a brain aneurysm were more devastating than the bout of polio that left her unable to walk as a child.

“Polio hasn’t caught me like that, but the aneurysm took a lot, really. It took away my speech and my ability to walk. And you know, I got my speech back pretty quickly, but I still walked and struggled with,” she said.

What it takes to recover from a brain aneurysm

Wang suggested that the success of her recent recovery was likely three-pronged: the immediate treatment Mitchell received from surgeons to protect the aneurysm from bleeding again; “After that, patients will begin their rehabilitation, their physical rehabilitation, their cognitive and mental rehabilitation, and so on.” He described this as a “really critical period” when great strides in recovery could be made.

He said that based on Mitchell’s current ability to work, she appears to have had a “really good recovery period, which doesn’t happen to everyone but happens to a lot of patients.”

Finally, Wang touched on Mitchell’s will to regain the skills he was said to have lost. This is something the singer also talked about with CBS, saying, “I don’t know, but the surgeon who did the brain surgery on me said I had will and determination.”

When asked if Mitchell’s attempt to relearn how to play the guitar was the same as when someone first learned to play the instrument, Wang said it’s unclear because it depends on where the aneurysm has ruptured.

If the injury occurs in the areas of the brain responsible for motor strength, Wang said the patient can bounce back by working on strength training. But if it occurs in the parts of the brain responsible for coordinating movements, then it is more complex.

“So playing an instrument and coordinating the vocal cords, things like this, are very complex subtle movements that can take a long time to relearn,” he said.

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