Joni Mitchell Performs At Famed Folk-Music School Reopening

Other big-time folkies such as Peter Yarrow, Steve Earle and Gillian Welch also play gala event.

CHICAGO -- Legendary singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell displayed her classic

folk-style Friday at the gala opening of the new home of the Old Town School of Folk

Music, a facility that over four decades has been a breeding ground for such illustrious

folk-rockers as Roger McGuinn and John Prine.

Mitchell's legendary voice wafted through the hall, creating the sense of warmth and

musical intimacy that has helped define the genre through the years. As she sang, she

accompanied her always poetic words with her trademark guitar-phrases and a subtle

sway of her hips.

Joining Mitchell for the musical portion of the event were Peter Yarrow of '60s folk-trio

Peter, Paul and Mary, roots-rocker Steve Earle and traditionalist folk-singer Gillian

Welch.

"It's remarkable," Yarrow told the well-heeled crowd, "that people as substantial as

yourselves can still get down. If this had been 30 years ago, the CIA would have been

watching."

Also on hand were Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and 425 benefactors who had paid $5,000

each to be there for the opening-night festivities. The performance was the culmination of

a fund-raising and red-tape-slicing campaign by the school that took a dozen years and

raised more than $9 million toward the remodeling of a regional library on North Lincoln

Avenue. Previously, the school was located on West Armitage Avenue.

"How great it is to be away from Washington," Durbin said, referring to the current

political turmoil involving President Clinton's sex scandal.

From the start of her performance, Mitchell captivated the audience. She sang songs

such as "Crazy Cries of Love" and "Facelift," from her upcoming album, Taming the

Tiger, which is due Tuesday. And she regaled everyone with wry stories and

anecdotes about her music.

She led off with a series of newer songs, including "Slouching Toward Bethlehem," "Sex

Kills" and "Turbulent Indigo," filling the acoustically dazzling performance-space with

complex pickings from her deeply resonating electric guitar. And through it all, her vocals

reigned supreme. Her voice has aged like a black-and-white photograph -- the grainier it

becomes, the more it endows her words with a somber authority.

Mitchell's performance was, in its singular way, the perfect tribute to the Old Town

School of Music. Since it was founded in 1957, the school has trained such

subsequently illustrious musicians as Roger McGuinn of the Byrds, John Prine, Bob

Gibson and the late Steve Goodman. It currently provides classes for up to 3,000

students each week.

In many ways, the night also belonged to Yarrow. Over the years, he has done numerous

benefits for the school and worked behind the scenes and out of the spotlight, raising

funds to make the new space a reality.

Drawing on his connections to the community, Yarrow began by taking the Peter, Paul

and Mary classic

HREF="http://www.addict.com/music/Peter,_Paul_And_Mary/Puff_The_Magic_Dragon.ra

m">"Puff the Magic Dragon" (RealAudio excerpt) and peppering it with the

names of the donors and board members, along with little references to their

decade-long struggle to raise funds for the new facility. He even brought out the school's

executive director, Jim Hirsch, on guitar and one of the school's founders, Frank

Hamilton, as a backing vocalist.

But not everyone was thrilled about the nature of the event, with its high-priced tickets

and white-collar guest list.

While Mitchell was singing the strident "Turbulent Indigo," concert-goer David Stowell

said, "She's singing about [this] audience -- all the corporate-types despoiling the Earth

for profit." Stowell said he had gotten his ticket from a friend.

But such negative thoughts were few and far between. While some were there to see

Mitchell, others had come to show their support for the school itself.

Katy Burno, daughter of one of the school's donors and a guitar student at the school,

said, "It's more that the Old Town School has a new home. It's a beautiful place for

musicians."