‘I was overwhelmed with emotion’: readers on their memories of seeing Joni Mitchell live

After her surprise appearance at the Newport folk festival, Guardian readers share their recollections of Mitchell’s rare gigs
• Joni Mitchell gives first full live performance since 2002

‘I cheered and someone glared at me for the noise’

It was my first concert, at the RDS Main Hall in Dublin in early 1983. I’d recently bought her then-new LP Wild Things Run Fast. I remember cheering when one of the new songs came on and someone next to me glared at me for the noise. I risked taking my camera in and got some photos – the one below is the only one I can locate. I don’t remember much else of the concert after almost 40 years. At the time I was living in a small Irish midlands town due to my job, but I made the effort to drive down in my new (to me) Mini on my first long road trip to Dublin. What still rankles when I recall the concert was the theft of my concert programme as I always retain them. Tom Kenny, 62, retired bank official, Ashbourne, Ireland

Joni Mitchell at the RDS in Dublin in early 1983.
At the RDS in Dublin in early 1983. Photograph: Guardian Community

‘It was a rowdy crowd, but she delivered a stunning performance’

The first time I saw Joni play was at the Isle of Wight festival in August 1970. It was a difficult performance and she was clearly unnerved by a restless audience. It was a rowdy crowd, probably more suited to the likes of the Who, the Doors, Jimi Hendrix and Jethro Tull. Other acoustic performers such as Leonard Cohen also suffered from an audience disinclined to sit and listen to the music. It was also a time of agitprop and radical politics – music should be free, man – and it was overwhelmingly male.

Joni Mitchell and Tom Scott playing at the Isle of Wight festival in August 1970.
Joni Mitchell and Tom Scott playing at the Isle of Wight festival in August 1970. Photograph: Guardian Community

These were still early days for Joni. Her third album, and her breakthrough in the UK, Ladies of the Canyon had only been released a few months before so she was not at all well known. But once she got the measure of the occasion, she delivered a stunning performance, with the help of a great band led by Tom Scott. Working at the festival, I had the opportunity to take photos in front of the stage. I was 18, just entering the music industry, managing one of very few official food outlets on site, which gave me the huge benefit of a stage front pass.

The next time I saw her was at Wembley Stadium in 1974, with much the same band, led again by Tom Scott, this time with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and the Band. By this time the UK had woken up to west coast music. Joni had also released three more albums – Blue, For the Roses and Court and Spark, and was an acknowledged talent. Philip Haines, 70, Exeter

Iain Forsyth’s Joni Mitchell autograph.
Iain Forsyth’s Joni Mitchell autograph. Photograph: Guardian Community

‘I don’t think I appreciated how privileged I was’

I only got to see Joni once, on the Wild Things Run Fast tour in 1983 at the Edinburgh Playhouse. I was right at the front and I don’t think that I really appreciated at the time quite how privileged I was. I remember in particular just how relaxed she seemed, holding the audience enthralled. It was not her greatest period or band, but the set ranged across her career. There was a short solo acoustic set, which was sublime.

Afterwards, I hung around by the stage door with a few others, where a limo was waiting, and she autographed my programme (remember those?). It was a fantastic, memorable night. I have come and gone a bit with Joni over the years, but along with Bowie she is an artist who has been a companion all my adult life. Iain Forsyth, 60, business analyst in the public sector, London

‘She changed for ever how I view performing artists’

I saw her in Nashville in 1974 with Tom Scott and the LA Express. It was an amazing night after several days of bad, sometimes scary, weather. She quietly commented: “I can’t believe things can be so beautiful and yet so mean.” Later in the evening, as she glided gracefully through her acoustic set, some audience members lovingly shouted out requests. With the slightest smile, she said: “Nobody ever asked Van Gogh to paint Starry Night again.” We cheered, and in the moment, she changed for ever how I view performing artists. Cathey Sawyer, theatre director, actor and playwright, West Virginia

‘I was overwhelmed with emotion’

Debbie Smith.
Debbie Smith. Photograph: Guardian Community

I was 15 years old when I first heard Joni Mitchell. The first track I heard was The Circle Game – not one of my favourites now – but I was hooked. The first album I heard was Song to a Seagull and I still listen to it now. In 1983, I had been married for 18 months, living and working in London and managed to get two tickets for Joni Mitchell at Wembley in April.

I remember crying as we walked up the long path to the old Wembley Stadium and feeling overwhelmed with emotion that I was surrounded by hundreds of other people who felt the same way I felt about Joni Mitchell’s music and her words. We were standing in the main arena but quite a long way back. I managed to make my way nearer to the front, singing along to every song. It was just magical. I can always find a Joni Mitchell song to fit my mood and her words are so clever – she is a poet. My favourite track is probably People’s Parties, though picking one track is really impossible. Her music can still make me cry. Debbie Smith, 63, Eastbourne

‘I saw her in Birmingham for £6.50’

Fiona Conway
Fiona Conway’s ticket. Photograph: Guardian Community

I saw her in Birmingham in 1983. She was a big influence on my teenage years and I simply loved her incredible music. Myself and two friends had borrowed binoculars and they were passed along our entire row so that everyone had a closeup to cherish. It was one of my all time best gigs. Even now, when a Joni track is played on the radio – 6 Music, mainly – I can sing along almost word-perfect and I am transported. If ever I need uplifting, Coyote from the film The Last Waltz will do it – guaranteed. Oh, and the ticket price for the Birmingham gig was £6.50! Fiona Conway, 59, teacher, Corby

Contributor

Guardian readers

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

CD: Joni Mitchell, Shine

Despite some painfully simplistic moments, Joni Mitchell's sombre anti-war album contains some fine work, says Neil Spencer.

Neil Spencer

16, Sep, 2007 @10:57 PM

Article image
CD: Joni Mitchell, Shine

(Hear Music)

Alexis Petridis

21, Sep, 2007 @10:59 PM

Article image
10 of the best: Joni Mitchell - readers' choice
Earlier this week, we listed 10 essential tracks from the singer-songwriter's back catalogue. Here are 10 more, as recommended by Guardian readers

Guardian music

02, May, 2014 @3:42 PM

Article image
Share your memories of watching Joni Mitchell play live
Following Joni Mitchell’s first proper live performance in 20 years, we would like to hear your memories of her past gigs

Guardian community team

26, Jul, 2022 @1:30 PM

Article image
Old music: Joni Mitchell – Carey

Emine Saner: If you're having doubts about your life, Joni Mitchell's voice might swoop in unbidden, telling you to listen to yourself

Emine Saner

19, Apr, 2012 @8:42 AM

Article image
Joni Mitchell: 10 of the best
Not simply a confessional singer-songwriter, Joni Mitchell skewers others – and herself – by exploiting the tension between cynicism and romanticism

Alex Macpherson

30, Apr, 2014 @11:24 AM

Article image
Joni Mitchell announces new live album in rare interview with Elton John
The singer will release a recording of her recent appearance at Newport Folk festival, her first full performance in 20 years

Shaad D'Souza

12, Nov, 2022 @7:30 AM

Article image
Joni Mitchell at 70: bolt from the Blue

As the great songwriter celebrates her birthday, Alex Macpherson praises the shrewd eye that takes her work beyond conventional songcraft and on to a higher plane

Alex Macpherson

07, Nov, 2013 @4:43 PM

Article image
Joni Mitchell: ‘I’m hobbling along but I’m doing all right’
Singer discusses health difficulties in rare public speech as she accepts Kennedy Center award

Ben Beaumont-Thomas

06, Dec, 2021 @12:32 PM

Article image
Joni Mitchell attends gig as she continues recovery from aneurysm
Singer goes to a Chick Corea concert in LA in her first public appearance since she was hospitalised in 2015

Guardian music

22, Aug, 2016 @8:41 AM