UPSTATE BEAT – In 2015, when I saw a solo performance by David Crosby in The Egg’s Hart Theatre, the iconic rocker performed a gorgeous cover of singer Joni Mitchell’s “For Free.” It was a touching tribute to his ailing friend, who had recently been hospitalized with a brain aneurysm.
Eight years later, after a long period of recovery and therapy, Mitchell has outlived the Crosby, Stills and Nash co-founder, who died earlier this year.
Last July, she made her first public performance in nine years with an unannounced set at the Newport Folk Festival. And just a week ago, Mitchell accepted in person the 2023 Gershwin Prize for Popular Song from Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden during a tribute concert at DAR Constitution Hall.
Tributes to Mitchell, one of the most influential folk and pop singer-songwriters of all time, are always welcome. On Saturday, some of the Capital Region’s premier female musicians gather on stage at Cohoes Music Hall during Women’s History Month to honor one of the pioneering women of music.
Belle Skinner, Girl Blue, Hold on Honeys and Zan & The Winter Folk will pay homage to Mitchell’s unconventional compositions, unflagging spirit and deeply personal lyrics during the almost-sold-out show.
“Joni has been a major influence on a whole generation of singer-songwriters. I can recognize her influence in my own music and in the music of all the ladies who will be sharing the stage on Saturday night,” says Arielle O’Keefe, aka Girl Blue, who among other tunes is excited to cover Mitchell’s “Down to You,” from her 1974 “Court and Spark” album.
“I think she taught us about painting outside the lines, playing with form and progression and fitting lyrics together in funny, unexpected ways,” adds O’Keefe. “She showed us what it looked like for a woman to write the songs, play the instruments, produce the tracks, speak her mind and hold her own. I think we all felt encouraged by her to explore the limitations we placed on ourselves, or the culture placed on us. When I think of Joni Mitchell, I think, ‘She’s the boss.’”
Zan Strumfeld of revivalist folk act Zan & The Winter Folk cites “River” as her favorite Mitchell track, the first song of hers that she ever heard at age 11, and she plans to perform “Both Sides Now” at Cohoes Music Hall – her second favorite Mitchell tune.
“To me, Joni Mitchell feels like a companion,” Strumfeld says. “It’s almost as if she’s lived beside me over the last 20 years. She perfectly encapsulates the beauties and tragedies of life in a way that makes me want to return to her again and again — especially when I’m feeling the same. It’s hard to explain, but I feel like so much of myself musically and beyond is because of her.”
Relative newcomers to the local music scene, Hold On Honeys are a minimalist indie folk vocal trio. Members Emily Curro, Raya Malcolm and Shannon Rafferty plan to lend their tight-knit harmonies to Mitchell’s tunes.
“Joni was definitely a trailblazer for female artists, and we really resonate with that,” say the group members in a collective statement. “Her consistent dedication to honesty, authenticity and specificity in her musical storytelling inspires us. As a group, we connect with her intricate melodies, and we love building harmonies into her music.”
The Capital Region indie-folk artist known as Belle-Skinner demonstrated her devotion by releasing an entire album of live Mitchell covers in 2022 (available at https://belle-skinner.bandcamp.com/album/belle-skinner-sings-joni-mitchell-live-2).
“I come from a family of immigrants, so I didn’t grow up listening to Joni. In fact, the first Joni song that I learned was one that I initially heard performed by someone else,” says Belle-Skinner. “I think that’s a testament to the quality of her songwriting. She can speak through many different performers and still touch you.”
“There’s a whole lot of depth in her songs: the tragic, the ugly, the beautiful, the bold,” she adds. “She said herself in an interview that throughout the tragedy and illness in her life, she always had a ‘joie de vivre’ inside her, and it made her a fighter. When I think of Joni Mitchell, I think of both frailty and resilience – ultimately the things that make a person human. We’re blessed that she gave us a lifetime of music.”
The Week Ahead
— Next week is a big week for local music, with Bruce Springsteen & E Street Band rolling into MVP Arena on Tuesday. Hopefully you got tickets that didn’t break the bank account.
— It’s also St. Patrick’s Day week, so we wanted to give you a heads up on a show that we’ll cover in more detail next week. On March 16, Kevin McKrell’s “Upstate Irish” show will celebrate 35 years of local Irish music at The Hart Theatre at The Egg, with a headlining set from the McKrells and members of Donnybrook Fair, Get Up Jack and others on the bill. The band Good Things – featuring Bob Long, Kathi Quinlan and Michael Eck – will also play songs to honor the late Frank Jaklitsch, a foundation of the area’s Celtic scene.
Learn more at www.theegg.org/event/upstate-irish-kevin-mckrell.
Contact Kirsten Ferguson at [email protected].