After an unglamorous metro ride to the Civic Center, I walk up the hill and gamble on the entrance to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. I follow an older couple up the stairs and to my left and right are people sitting on the steps beers in their hands and hot dogs in the others. As the amateur I am, I go to will call and the woman fretfully looks for my ticket—not there. I panic, “I’m writing an article for USC’s radio station!” A sigh of relief empties both her and me and she refers me to the press table. Within minutes, I pick up my ticket and head inside. This is no run-of-the-mill concert venue. Everything’s elevated from the flowery, shiny, flowy garb of those at least twenty years and up around me to the sleek dark bar and glimmering chandeliers along the walls every five steps. There are books being sold on the first floor and people keep passing and I recognize their faces, but can’t place most of them. This was not the Norah Jones concert I thought I was seeing, it was infinitely better—it was Joni Mitchell’s 75th birthday celebration.
I follow a crowd into the elevator and a woman turns to me and says: “You’re too young to be a Joni fan.” I would never be caught dead being a fake fan so out of nowhere I find myself saying, “Yes I am. You have got to accept it” to which she laughs. The elevator threatens to break as all of the lit up buttons go dark, but I make it to the second floor and walk out to find the entire floor has been set up. There’s fake grass on the floor, wooden tables, colored glasses, candles, and instruments set up in the middle. Finally, I get to my seat and the theatre is unbelievable—it has plush yellow velvet chairs and somehow though it is rather big, it makes you feel like it’s intimate. I start talking to Phil and Donna; the fans next to me. Phil had flown in from Cincinnati to come to both nights of the celebration because the minute he saw the event announced he was there—it was instantaneous. He even got on the waitlist for the soiree that was happening after the dinner, which was organized by Meryl Streep, Jake Gyllenhaal, Julianne Moore, Armie Hammer among others.. Donna was somehow on Joni’s website and fate brought her to the tickets. She flew in from Philadelphia. When Seal sang “Both Sides Now” right before the intermission, intermission came and she was bawling. She had sung the song at her sixth grade chorus concert.
Before the concert started, all iPhone cameras were pointed at the left entrance in anticipation of Joni Mitchell herself. Everyone was standing eagerly to watch the legend come in. When she came in, all eyes were glued to her as she was assisted to her seat. It was like the moment in The Holiday where renowned film icon Arthur makes it to the celebration of him. The audience was alive and awestruck as they watched someone who had impacted their lives so much and been so influential through her music arrive at her birthday celebration. When Chaka Khan came onstage, she spoke to this feeling by saying, “I just want you to know how many times you’ve saved my life and I want you to know if you need me, I’m here” which seemed to be the echoing feeling throughout the night.
From Seal’s song before intermission to the second half of the show the standout performances emerged. At intermission, I hopped in the drink line behind Jon Hamm who left to say hello to St. Vincent and tried to come back to his spot only to see his date had left. I offered him the spot, because well...it’s Jon Hamm, but he ran off to find her. After intermission, Graham Nash, Mitchell’s past love, performed the only number not by Mitchell, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s “Our House,” and talked about being thrilled to have it back, referring to the results of the election. The song spoke to Nash lived with Mitchell when they were in their mid-twenties.
Another body-chilling song was Brandi Carlile and Kris Kristofferson’s rendition of “A Case of You” will be etched into my brain for life. Although Kristofferson seemed to be needing some assistance, Carlile supported him and her delicate and soulful voice pulled them through together. When Carlile was alone onstage, she shared a moment with the crowd. In their conversation backstage, Kris told Brandi he doesn’t remember ‘all that much,’ and to that she asked, “But what do you remember about Joni?” and he replied, “Only everything, and she is perfect in every way.” The love in the room was palpable. It was one of those nights that makes all audience members grateful they’re alive and able to experience something so emotional.
James Taylor closed with “Woodstock” after one of the many audio recordings that were interspersed throughout the night of Mitchell talking about how she never went to Woodstock, but based on what she had heard about it from Nash. The night closed with an endearing vocal collision of all of the very different singers belting “Big Yellow Taxi” as Mitchell was brought onstage and smiled. It captivated the entire audience as she was surrounded by the love of artists she calls friends. She had barely been seen in public since suffering a brain aneurysm in 2015, but her smile and pure bliss was moving and inspiring to see. It was a night that proves that time and time again live performances just can’t be replicated or captured—they have that indescribable magic to them.
— Gabriella Clifford, DJ