WOODSTOCK – To Joni with Love
by Elena Greco
May 23, 2015
I have always loved Joni Mitchell’s song about one of the most important events in our country in the 60s. I want to talk about the song, but right now I find that I just want to express my feelings about Joni Mitchell. As some of you will know, Joni has been in the hospital for over a month now, possibly the result of a stroke; they are being very private about the details, but obviously she has been incapacitated. I so hope that she will recover. So when I perform this song of hers on my next concert, I will be doing it with her in mind.
I didn’t fully appreciate who and what Joni is until later in life. When I was younger, I just simply enjoyed her music and thought she was very creative. But as I’ve gotten older, I realize that the extent of her creativity is far beyond that of almost anyone I can think of in the recording industry. She started as a visual artist and began making music as a folk singer. She covered the genres of folk, pop, rock and jazz with equal mastery and creative distinction. She played guitar and piano very well and had a truly unique voice. But there are two things that really stand out for me about her music, and one is her composing skill, her use of complex harmonies, rhythms and changes. I have to use the word “composing,” because she used far greater skill in writing music than the majority of songwriters in the popular genres. And the other thing that continues to strike me is her incredibly visual lyrics. Her lyrics are true poetry. And I love that she always did the art for her own albums, and produced most of her albums herself. There was certainly not another woman doing all of these things at the time she started doing them, so she opened up a lot of possibilities for women in general, and particularly women in music.
I love many of her songs. The one I think I like the most – and I cannot tell you exactly why – is WOODSTOCK. It’s early Joni Mitchell, not as complex musically or harmonically as some of her later music, but as is usually the case with her music, it has an interesting melody with an extensive range. And the poetry is magical to me. It’s such a simple and yet profound statement of what we are as human beings. It’s interesting to me that she wrote this song about a very significant event which she was unable to attend, and yet she totally grasped and conveyed the essence of that event better than anyone who was there.
I programmed an arrangement of WOODSTOCK on my last concert using guitar and bongos, but the guitarist got sick at the last minute, and I didn’t feel I could do the song with an acoustic piano at that time, felt it would be far too heavy, so I skipped the song, with great regret. This time, late in concert production, things didn’t work out with the guitarist again (for a different reason), and I decided to try the song with piano. Because having the same circumstance twice in a row must mean something, right? To my surprise, I found a more mystical quality in the song using just the piano and dropping the percussion, which I think probably expresses my feeling about the song better than my original intention, and pianist Richard Gordon found just the right pianistic background to echo this feeling, so I’m happy to present an arrangement that I think Joni might like. I know she would like that we have explored the song creatively, rather than copying her or any of the others who have covered this song over the years! So, this one’s for you, Joni! Please get well soon!