Following a year in which many concerts were cancelled or postponed, music lovers packing lawn chairs and blankets are making their way onto the lawn of the Hunterdon County Library in Flemington, NJ this Tuesday, July 13, 2021. They’re all here to enjoy a live Joni Mitchell tribute performance by NJ singer/songwriter Emily Grove.
Grove, from Wall, NJ, has a sound that many describe as alternative folk. A former student at Boston’s famed Berklee College of Music, as well as the recipient of several Asbury Music Awards, Grove has shared the stage with such artists as Glen Burtnick, Willie Nile, and Marshall Crenshaw, and has toured the United States and the United Kingdom with British musician David Ford.
Before tonight’s show, we chat with Grove who tells us what the past year has been like for her.
“It’s actually been amazing,” explains Grove. “It’s crazy; it’s weird! I kept busy doing session work, and performed live on Facebook for over a year. It was awesome! I would do theme nights and cover songs as well as originals, and people would ask for requests, but I was always talking to a screen.”
Beginning last summer, however, Grove went back to doing live performances. Acknowledges Grove, “It’s one thing to perform virtually, but there’s nothing like having a live audience. I love hearing the live audience now; a performer can really feed off the energy of a live audience.”
When asked how she initially became introduced to Joni Mitchell’s music, Grove recalls, “My parents played all kinds of music for me when I was growing up; they were open to any kind of music from Dwight Yoakam to Etta James to Ella Fitzgerald. At first, I listened to Joni’s hits. Her vocals were the first thing to get me,” but Mitchell’s eclectic musical style was also an attraction to Grove who acknowledges, “She’s not folk, she’s not rock, she’s not jazz — she’s ‘Joni.’ She’s a musical alien.”
With regards to this evening’s line-up of songs, Grove reveals, “Tonight, I’ll be playing a lot of different Joni Mitchell songs. It’s the 50th anniversary of her album, Blue, so I’ll be doing a bunch of songs from that record.” Pointing out, “Because Joni’s music uses multiple tunings, I brought two guitars with me tonight. I have my old standby guitar — my Gibson, which I call ‘Henry’ — but I’ll be playing songs with odd tunings on my Taylor, which I call ‘Gus,’” Grove declares, “I’d have to say I’m a little nervous because some of Joni’s music can be pretty scary to perform!”
Highly respected by critics, Rolling Stone magazine referred to Joni Mitchell as “one of the greatest songwriters ever,” and allmusic.com went on to proclaim, “When the dust settles, Joni Mitchell may stand as the most important and influential female recording artist of the late 20th century.”
Originally a visual artist, Mitchell — born Roberta Joan Anderson in Alberta, Canada — began her music career singing in small nightclubs in her native country but, in 1965, moved to the United States and began touring. Making her album debut with 1968’s Song to a Seagull, she and her music went on to help define both an era and a generation with such popular compositions as “Big Yellow Taxi” and “Woodstock,” in addition to a list of seminal albums including 1970’s Ladies of the Canyon, 1972’s For the Roses, 1974’s Court and Spark and Miles of Aisles, 1975’s The Hissing of Summer Lawns, 1976’s Hejira, not to mention 1971’s Blue.
As we get ready for tonight’s concert — set to take place outside the Headquarters Branch of the Hunterdon County Library in Flemington, NJ — we see audience members of all ages on lawn chairs and blankets dotting the grassy slope to the side of the building. Overall, it’s a cool, cloudy evening with a bit of a chill in the mountain air — in short, a perfect night for a summer concert.
Following an introduction by the library’s Chelsea Rizzolo, Emily Grove takes the stage and commences the evening’s open air performance with “Woodstock.” Crooning “We are stardust/We are golden/And we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden,” Grove demonstrates her impressive vocal range as she easily switches from a light and airy head voice to her resonant chest voice while accompanying herself on ‘Henry,’ her trusty Gibson acoustic.
After welcoming the crowd, Grove explains, “Since this is the 50th anniversary of Joni’s album, Blue, it’s only fair that I start off with some songs from that record.” Launching into “All I Want,” Grove’s expert rhythmic timing is evident as she sings “I wanna talk to you/I wanna shampoo you/I wanna renew you again and again” while approximating Mitchell’s original dulcimer part on the guitar.
Grove follows up with two more gems from Blue including “My Old Man,” her lilting soprano dancing over her strumming guitar, and the breezy “Carey,” Emily channeling a young Miles of Aisles-era Joni via her voice and guitar, the audience enjoying the fresh air and live music mix after what, for many, was a very a long quarantine.
Following avid applause, Grove announces, “This is from a different album, Court and Spark,” adding, “Pretend I’m playing piano.” In her resonant voice with perfect diction, she croons, “Love came to my door/With a sleeping roll/And a madman’s soul/He thought for sure I’d seen him…” from the album’s title cut. Continuing with another selection from Court and Spark, Grove gives a heartfelt performance on “Free Man In Paris,” after which a happy audience member calls out, “Very nice!”
Stating, “I’ll do this jazz-esque tune about kissing and being in France,” Grove performs “In France They Kiss on Main Street,” from The Hissing of Summer Lawns, before introducing the audience to her other guitar, ‘Gus,’ which, according to Grove, “likes to be fickle when it’s humid.” Announcing, “If anyone has a kazoo, they can join in at the end of this next one,” Grove eases into “For Free” from Ladies of the Canyon. Singing this soft gentle song with feeling, Groves accompanies her lovely soprano with slow soft strumming on her Taylor acoustic.
Switching back to ‘Henry,’ she goes from standard tuning to an “open D” tuning for a lesser-known cut from Ladies of the Canyon entitled “He Comes for Conversation,” her ringing guitar accompaniment contrasting with her soft head voice. Stating, “Joni did a lot of songs on piano, but let me just play guitar and make it work,” she reverts back to ‘Gus’ to sing the title song from Blue. Grove’s voice deftly moves up and down the scale as she sings, “Everybody’s saying that hell’s the hippest way to go well/I don’t think so/But I’m gonna take a look around it though,” before her voice floats with melancholy on “Blue/I love you.”
The crowd registers its approval and Grove asks rhetorically, “Why am I still in Blue? Do I like the album?” before commencing with another song from the disc, “California,” her voice skipping to the beat of this rhythmic ballad complete with a live fade-out ending. After re-tuning, she launches into a number with a distinctly unique Mitchell guitar sound, “Coyote,” from Hejira. Rhythmic strumming underscores Groves’ expert lyric turns of phrase on an upbeat rendition that doesn’t disappoint.
Grove follows up with two of Mitchell’s best-known tunes. Telling a story with her expressive soprano, she starts off with Blue’s “A Case of You” — another track which Mitchell originally recorded on dulcimer — and follows up with the classic Mitchell composition, “The Circle Game.” Conjuring images of summertime merry-go-rounds, Grove serenades, “And the seasons, they go round and round/And the painted ponies go up and down/We’re captive on the carousel of time/We can’t return, we can only look/Behind, from where we came/And go round and round and round, in the circle game.”
The audience reacts with earnest applause, and Grove responds by acknowledging, “I write a lot of sad songs, and Joni wrote sad songs, too. This one reminds me of Christmas and loss.” Here, she performs another Blue standout, “River,” her floating soprano dynamically crying out the lyrics as it contrasts with her strumming guitar accompaniment.
After thanking the audience for the positive reaction to her music tonight, Grove confesses, “This one gets to me. I hope I don’t cry,” before giving a picture-perfect vocal rendition of “Both Sides, Now,” a 1969 radio hit for Judy Collins and a Mitchell composition which was selected by Rolling Stone magazine as one of its “500 Greatest Songs of All Time.”
Insisting, “I can’t end on a sad one!” Grove switches guitars one last time, exclaiming, “Let’s see if my hands can handle all these bar chords!” As she performs another cut from Ladies of the Canyon, 1970’s “Big Yellow Taxi,” Groves chants, “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone?”concluding the evening’s 17-song set and leaving the crowd wanting more.
After the show, we chat with Hunterdon County Library’s Chelsea Rizzolo, Adult Services Librarian at the facility’s Headquarters Branch. Comments Rizzolo about tonight’s event, “We are thrilled to have live music back at the library after a year off. Emily Grove blew us away! She was engaging, and has an incredible voice. I really like how she falls in love with her music; she’s a real treasure!”
Rizzolo also tells us about several upcoming free events in the library’s Summer Concert Series, including a program on July 27 at 6:30 pm by musician Joe Makoviecki entitled 20th Century Folk Music. Explains Rizzolo, “This program is sort of a lecture/concert hybrid in that Joe Makoviecki has quite a background in folk music history. As a result, he will be talking about the history of folk music, in addition to showing videos and performing live.”
According to Rizzolo, on August 11 at 6:30 pm, The Eric Mintel Jazz Quartet will also present a program here at the Headquarters Branch. Maintains Rizzolo, “The group is a crowd favorite which has performed at our library many times and they’ll do songs by Dave Brubeck like “Take 5” and “Blue Rondo à la Turk,” in addition to some originals.”
Lastly, in addition to the events at the library’s Headquarters Branch in Flemington, Rizzolo mentions that additional summer performances will be held at the library’s North County Branch in Clinton. They include Coo coo Cachoo, a Simon and Garfunkel tribute group, on July 21 at 6:30 pm, along with Rainbow Fresh, a full band with a “Marvin Gaye meets Latin groove,” which will take the stage on August 4 at 6:30pm.
To learn more about Emily Grove, please go to facebook.com/EmilyGrove. For more information on upcoming concerts in the Hunterdon County Library’s Summer Concert Series — including Joe Makoviecki on July 27 at 6:30 pm and the Eric Mintel Jazz Quartet on Aug. 11 at 6:30 pm at the Headquarters Branch, 314 Route 12 in Flemington; and Coo coo Cachoo on Wed. July 21 at 6:30 pm and Rainbow Fresh on Wed. Aug. 4 at 6:30 pm at the North County Branch, 65 Halstead Street, Clinton — please go to hclibrary.us.
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