“We Are Stardust. We Are Golden.” Emily Grove’s Tribute to Joni Mitchell at McLoone’s
It’s a beautiful August 19, 2016 evening at Bruce Springsteen’s famed Asbury Park, NJ boardwalk. Appropriately, music fills the air as couples stroll the boards enjoying the cool ocean breezes. Strains of Pete Seeger’s folksy “Turn, Turn, Turn” can be heard strummed on a guitar, followed by the sound of a drummer playing his solo funk beat on a small drum set and next, the melodic cascade of an authentic island tune played on an array of Caribbean steel drums.
But it’s the music of Joni Mitchell as performed by Emily Grove and friends that the folks at Tim McLoone’s Supper Club on the boardwalk have come to hear tonight. Inside, people mill about, finding their tables as opening act Joseph Alton Miller welcomes the crowd with his vibrant vocals and acoustic guitar as patrons enjoy their dinner awaiting the musical main course.
Soon, a large cadre of musicians files onto the stage, illuminated by a starlight background in this intimate boardwalk supper club.
Over the course of the evening this group will include the likes of such talented Jersey Shore musicians as James McCaffrey, Zac Silva, and Matthew C. Brown on guitar; Kevin Grossman on drums; Cody McCorry and Zach Westfall on bass; Joe Gullace on trumpet and Denis Daley on sax; Matt Wade and David Ross Lawn on keyboards; Anthony D’Amato, Bre Cade, and JaQuita May, and Joseph Alton Miller on vocals — not to mention the extraordinary musician whose idea it was to create this magical night of music: Emily Grove.
Grove, a singer-songwriter from Wall, NJ, has a sound that many describe as alternative folk. A 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.
As a youngster, Grove recalls listening to the sounds of Johnny Cash played in her house. In addition, she was influenced by her father’s favorite groups, the Rolling Stones and the Beatles, in addition to the folkier sounds of Paul Simon which her mother enjoyed so much she named Emily after Simon’s composition, “For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her.”
And tonight, at nearly 9pm, Emily may be found onstage at McCloone’s.
As she and her friends start to play the opening number from Joni Mitchell’s classic 1971 album, Blue — “All I Want” — the music encircles the room, enveloping the audience in the warm embrace of Joni Mitchell’s art.
And art, unquestionably, is what Joni Mitchell creates.
Highly respected by critics, Rolling Stone magazine referred to 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, produced by David Crosby, she and her music went on to help define both an era and a generation with such popular songs as “Big Yellow Taxi” and “Woodstock.”
Later credited as the sole producer on the majority of her recordings and also known for designing her own album artwork throughout her lengthy career, Mitchell’s lyrics are universally praised for their beautiful and personal poetry. Her music, too, is well-regarded for its unique ability to transcend traditional notions of melody, rhythm, and harmony. Thus, it presents a challenging labor of love for musicians who appreciate the complexity and artistry of Mitchell’s creations and still have the audacity to want to perform them.
And even though the young musicians currently on stage at McLoone’s are all a part of Asbury Park, NJ’s thriving contemporary music scene, they understand and acknowledge the importance of the music created by such pioneering creative artists as Joni Mitchell.
As such, continuing on with such compositions as “Chelsea Morning” from 1969’s Clouds and “California” from Blue, Grove and her stagemates pay homage to Mitchell’s accomplishment with love — the unique sound of these Jersey musicians channeling the music of Mitchell with artful interpretation, spirit, and a massive hunk of talent.
Deftly alternating from duo to large group and everything in between, Grove’s gorgeous vocals are well-supported by her talented friends. For example, Joni’s music vividly springs to life via the sound of a six-piece band complete with gutsy horns and spirited background singers as Emily performs “Free Man in Paris” from Mitchell’s 1974 classic Court and Spark.
Over the course of the evening, the performers continue to evolve and change personnel, instruments, and musical styles and genres, effortlessly switching gears to honor Joni’s artistry with their own creative musical interpretations.
For instance, everyone in the house is riveted to the sounds coming from the intimate stage when Emily performs a duet with guitarist James McCaffrey on “You Can Close Your Eyes,” a song written by James Taylor in 1971 for — as some believe — his then-girlfriend, Joni Mitchell.
Another highlight of the evening is 1971’s “Blue,” expertly accompanied on keyboard by David Ross Lawn. In this piece, Emily effortlessly glides from her chest voice to the lightest head voice while performing Joni’s vocal gymnastics as required by this emotionally-charged and vocally-challenging melody.
Always changing things up, Emily and crew rock the standing-room-only crowd on songs like Mitchell’s 1972 single, “You Turn Me On, I’m a Radio.” As they do, large windows — overlooking the boardwalk and ocean on the room’s east side and the street and cityscape on its west side — reflect images of the talented musicians as they perform.
Blurred visions of a ferris wheel on the street below also reflect and turn with flashing lights to the swirling sounds of Joni’s music as Grove’s light and airy melodies float above the strum of the guitar on Mitchell’s “Urge for Going,” featured on Joni’s 1996 album, Hits.
Additional highlights of this evening’s tribute include Joseph Alton Miller’s dynamic and creative vocal and guitar interpretation of 1971’s “A Case of You,” in addition to Grove’s version of the title song from 1975’s outstanding The Hissing of Summer Lawns.
On these numbers and more, the audience can be seen listening with eyes closed, involved as the music touches their souls and memories regarding such bejeweled works of art.
As the music fills the room — as well as the hearts and minds of the sold-out crowd at McLoone’s — there are many more Joni Mitchell songs to be enjoyed.
A solo piano version of “River” earns extraordinarily talented musician David Ross Lawn a well-deserved standing ovation.
Less familiar pieces like The Hissing of Summer Lawns’ chilling “Edith and the Kingpin” and 1970’s “Conversation” from Ladies of the Canyon are presented alongside such certified hits as “Both Sides Now,” a Top Ten hit for Judy Collins in 1968, and “Big Yellow Taxi,” a worldwide 1970 hit for Mitchell and a gold record-winner for Counting Crows in 2002.
Grove and company also perform an outstanding version of “Coyote” from 1976’s brilliant Hejira featuring James McCaffrey on guitar and Cody McCory skillfully handling the bass part originally created by virtuoso fusion bassist Jaco Pastorius.
According to Grove, her reason for doing a show featuring Joni Mitchell’s music?
“Joni inspires me,” she explains. “Through all of the changes in her personal life and in her musical style, she has remained true to herself. Her lyrics can be brutally personal and uncomfortable, and yet so many of us can relate to them. She’s totally natural, and she’s never followed a set formula.”
And as if that isn’t enough, declares Grove, “She’s a total badass.”
As Joni sang in “Woodstock,” there was “a song and a celebration” at McLoone’s on this sparkling summer’s eve, thanks to Emily and her talented band of Asbury Park musicians. Hearts were filled with admiration for this dedicated crew of young people who came to bring this amazing music to life, leaving everyone in the room — musicians and audience members alike — with the same feeling:
“We are stardust. We are golden.”