Here is why Joni Mitchell’s Newport Folk Festival 2022 Performance Was so Incredible

Sunday’s surprise performance by Joni Mitchell at the Newport Folk Festival is quickly becoming legendary. The crowd erupted when the singer-songwriter took the stage for her first public concert since 2015 when she suffered a devastating brain aneurysm.

In addition to “Big Yellow Taxi” and “Both Sides Now,” as well as a cover of “Summertime,” the nine-time Grammy-winning performer delighted the crowd with several of her most cherished tunes.

According to Mitchell’s website, the last time she performed with a guitar in front of a paying audience was 8,660 days ago, on her 55th birthday.

After Mitchell’s brain aneurysm – an abnormal bulge in an artery in the brain – which rendered her unable to speak, move, or play the guitar, many loyal admirers never imagined this day would arrive.

In an interview with CBS News following the performance, the 78-year-old legendary singer discussed losing the ability to speak, walk, and even rise from a chair. She characterized the past few years as a “return to childhood.”
Mitchell also revealed that she relearned guitar by watching films of herself “to see where I placed my fingers.”

During a performance of “Just Like This Train” on Sunday, she surprised festivalgoers by rising from an extravagant, gold-trimmed armchair to play a guitar solo.

It took the famous vocalist years to restore even the most fundamental abilities.
Dr. Anthony Wang, a neurosurgeon at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, is astonished by Mitchell’s recovery.

“Recovering to the point of being able to perform as a musician is very astounding,” Wang told NPR. He explained that brain surgeons frequently utilize “return to work” as an indicator of a successful functional recovery. Rarely, though, is the art nearly so sophisticated.

newport folk festival 2022
newport folk festival 2022

While there are various sorts of aneurysm events, Wang explained that the most life-threatening are those in which the blood vessel’s weakening wall expands and eventually ruptures due to extreme pressure.

“This is a very serious condition, and nearly half of the patients die before reaching the hospital,” said Wang. “Of those who survive, around half are left with chronic brain impairments.”

Those who do survive a rupture will experience paralysis or coma, aphasia, and convulsions, according to Wang.

It is unknown what type of aneurysm Mitchell experienced or whether it ruptured or was detected in time to prevent rupture. On March 31, 2015, she was discovered unconscious in her house, and in the years after she began rehabilitation therapy, she has been quite secretive about the incident. In either case, Wang stated that Mitchell’s recovery must have required an enormous amount of effort.

Mitchell told The Guardian in October 2020 that the symptoms of the brain aneurysm were worse than the attack of polio that left her unable to walk as a youngster.

“Polio did not affect me in such a way, but the aneurysm was significantly more devastating. Took away my capacity to speak and walk. And, you know, I recovered my voice quickly, but I’m still having trouble walking “She stated.

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What is required for recovery after a brain aneurysm?

Wang hypothesized that Mitchell’s recent recovery was likely the result of three factors: the quick treatment she received from surgeons to prevent the aneurysm from rupturing again, a favorable prognosis, and a positive attitude. “Thereafter, patients will begin their rehabilitation, including their physical rehabilitation, cognitive rehabilitation, mental rehabilitation, etc.” This is a “very, really key moment” in which significant rehabilitation progress can be made, according to him.

Based on Mitchell’s current capacity to function, he concluded that she had “a really good kind of recovery phase, which does not occur for everyone but does occur for many patients.”

Wang concluded by discussing Mitchell’s desire to restore the allegedly lost talents. The singer also discussed this with CBS, stating, “I don’t know, but the surgeon who performed brain surgery on me said I had determination and guts.”

Wang responded that it is uncertain because it depends on where the aneurysm broke.

If the injury happened in regions of the brain important for motor strength, according to Wang, the patient can recover through strength training. If it happens in regions of the brain important for movement coordination, however, the situation becomes far more problematic.

“Therefore, playing an instrument and vocal cord coordination are extremely intricate fine movements that would be difficult to relearn,” he explained.

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