Celebrating 75 Years of Joni at the Palms

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As her 75th birthday approaches, Joni Mitchell seems ubiquitous in the public eye. Consider the following: A two-night, star-studded birthday bash planned at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles. Mitchell sightings at this summer’s Seal and James Taylor Hollywood Bowl show (with photos all over Facebook). A recent biography by David Yaffe with fawning reviews in the New Yorker. And last year, her 1971 masterpiece Blue topped NPR’s 150 Greatest Albums by Women. All this, despite the fact that Mitchell’s last recording was over 10 years ago and she hasn’t performed in longer.

But you don’t need to head south to celebrate this iconic singer-songwriter’s birthday. Veteran Santa Barbara songstress Kimberly Ford performs her tribute to Mitchell in a four-city, Bay Area run, stopping at The Palms Playhouse on Saturday, Nov. 10. The show is at 8 p.m. Tickets are $23.

For more than five years, Ford and her band, Celebration of Joni Mitchell, have earned standing ovations from capacity crowds, drawing on a roughly 40-year trove of songwriting gems. The band is coming off several big shows in the last year, including Ventura’s Olivas Adobe Park where septuagenarian women danced in tie-dyed shirts with flowers in their hair. Graying men openly cried when Ford encored with Woodstock. Yes, Mitchell’s music dredges up those emotions more than four decades after she penned the anthem about the gathering at Yasgur’s Farm.

Other high-profile shows include an SRO show at Kuumbwa Jazz Center in Santa Cruz, The Fremont Theater in San Luis Obispo, JoniFest in New Orleans, The Gaslight Theater in Oro Valley and Green Valley Performing Arts Center and the historic Lobero Theater in Santa Barbara on Joni’s birthday in 2016.

Ford has also toured in Fresno, Felton, Visalia, Ojai, Camarillo, the Midwest and Ireland since founding the band more than five years ago.

Joni fans just can’t seem to get enough at these events, singing along on such baby-boomer anthems as “Big Yellow Taxi,” “Both Sides Now” and, of course, “Woodstock.” The band covers a large swath of Mitchell’s repertoire with a focus on her early years through 1980. Other tunes include “Free Man in Paris,” “Court and Spark,” “Help Me,” “Conversation,” “You Turn Me On,” “I’m a Radio,” “Blue and River.” And critics have taken notice.

“No singer on the West Coast is paying more scrupulous attention to Mitchell’s wondrous book than Santa Barbara’s Kimberly Ford,” writes Andy Gilbert in Santa Cruz’s Good Times. “Possessing a bright and flexible soprano that effortlessly rises into Mitchell’s upper range, Ford has spent the past four years honing a vast array of Mitchell material, from the hits to the misses (as Joni once called her favorite songs that didn’t connect at the time).”

Ford’s passion for music — and all things Joni — began in her native Fresno, where she caroused the city’s burgeoning arts district. She landed in Santa Barbara in the early 1980s and lived briefly in Seattle, where she studied at the Cornish College for the Arts with Jay Clayton. Further studies ensued at the Banff Jazz Institute with Sheila Jordan.

Ford eventually returned to Santa Barbara where she honed her skills at local watering holes. Today, she is an internationally known singer and guitarist with four CDs, spanning jazz to Americana genres. She maintains a robust private teaching practice at her home-based studio and also works as a clinician with the Santa Barbara Vocal Jazz Foundation. Ford is also co-director of the Santa Barbara Jazz Camp and on the vocal faculty of the Northwoods Jazz Camp in Wisconsin.

The band features George Friedenthal (Kenny Loggins) on keyboards, piano and melodica; Lee Rollag, guitar and violin (Roger Miller); Tom Buckner, saxophone (Grant Geissman); Tom Etchart, bass (Dianne Reeves); and Charles Levin, drums and percussion (Madeline Eastman).

Mitchell, who suffered a brain aneurysm in early 2015, still ranks as the poet laureate of the 1960s singer-songwriters. Over more than three decades, the multiple Grammy winner molded contemporary folk with elements of rock, jazz and world music into a sophisticated and peerless sound.

Her canon of work is more relevant today than ever. Writing for NPR, music critic Ann Powers said that “after nearly fifty years “Blue” remains the clearest and most animated musical map to the new world that women traced, sometimes invisibly, within their daily lives in the aftermath of the utopian, dream-crushing 1960s.”

A Celebration of Joni Mitchell featuring Kimberly Ford appears Friday, Nov. 10, at The Palms Playhouse. For tickets go to https://www.eventbrite.com/e/a-celebration-of-joni-mitchell-featuring-kimberly-ford-tickets-50075664661. Tickets are also available at Armadillo Music in Davis (530-758-8058, phone and in-store purchase), Davids’ Broken Note, 527 Main St., Woodland (in-store purchase), and Pacific Ace Hardware, 35 Main St., Winters (in-store purchase).

For more information on A Celebration of Joni Mitchell and to see a video of the band, go to www.celebrationofjonimitchell.com or on Facebook at “A Celebration of Joni Mitchell.” To interview Kimberly Ford, call or text 805-689-8975.

For booking information, Contact The Paz Group Entertainment, New Orleans, www.thepazgroup.com

michael@thepazgroup.com, 504-382-0343

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