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In pictures: Joni Mitchell at Massey Hall

Canadian music legend's big night out at the Luminato Festival

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On Tuesday, the Luminato festival presented Joni: A Portrait in Song – A Birthday Happening Live at Massey Hall, in honour of Joni Mitchell’s months-away 70th birthday. The Georgia jazz singer Lizz Wright opened the tribute concert with a poised, brooding version of The Fiddle and the Drum, Mitchell’s anti-war song from 1969.

Aaron Vincent Elkaim/THE CANADIAN PRESS

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Backed by a jazz ensemble led by drummer Brian Blade, six guest singers rendered soulful versions of 17 Mitchell compositions. On hand were young singer-songwriter Liam Titcomb, the flamboyant Montreal balladeer Rufus Wainwright, the Cold Specks’ vocalist Al Spx, the alto Lizz Wright, the affecting songstress Kathleen Edwards and the Irish folk-rocker Glen Hansard (shown here).

Aaron Vincent Elkaim/THE CANADIAN PRESS

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Kathleen Edwards, who delicately dialed up You Turn Me On, I’m a Radio and charismatically drove an upbeat sing-along of Big Yellow Taxi, described her inclusion on the bill as a “total honour.”

Aaron Vincent Elkaim/THE CANADIAN PRESS

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Joni Mitchell blissfully offered meandering stories and recited This Rain, This Rain, a new poem inspired by the writings of painter Emily Carr, set to music. To a well-wisher in the sold-out crowd who asked where she’d been, the long-retired Mitchell replied: "Thank you. I was sick. That's all. What can you do? But I'm back."

Aaron Vincent Elkaim/THE CANADIAN PRESS

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Mitchell wasn’t expected to sing, but she surprised with Furry Sings the Blues (a character study of bluesman Furry Lewis from 1976’s Hejira) and Don't Interrupt the Sorrow, which she introduced as “the closest I ever came to being a feminist.” Her range is now greatly reduced, but there was grace to the way she managed within her lower, limited register.

Aaron Vincent Elkaim/THE CANADIAN PRESS

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The guest singers joined the iconic honouree for the star-dusted closing number, Woodstock, a generation’s anthem – “everywhere, there was song and a celebration.”


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Applause for the beaming Mitchell, who kicked off her shoes and joked that Luminato artistic director Jorn Weisbrodt had pushed her into appearing at the concert: “He shoved me off the cliff.”


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When Mitchell left the stage, the audience broke into Happy Birthday, beating the rush by acknowledging a big day that doesn’t happen until November. She re-emerged and took one final bow. “This is so much fun," she said. On Wednesday, with added guests Herbie Hancock and Esperanza Spalding, a second tribute concert happens at Massey.


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