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Joni Mitchell waves to the crowd during her 70th birthday tribute concert as part of the Luminato Festival at Massey Hall in Toronto on June 18, 2013.Aaron Vincent Elkaim/The Canadian Press

Joni Mitchell gave the Newport Folk Festival audience the surprise of a lifetime on Sunday when she played her first full live set in more than two decades.

The beloved Canadian folk singer-songwriter appeared as a guest of Grammy-winning musician Brandi Carlile, who was closing this year’s edition of the festival with a show billed as “Brandi Carlile & Friends.”

Instead, it was the 78-year-old Mitchell at centre stage, accompanied by Carlile and other guests, including Wynonna Judd, Marcus Mumford of Mumford & Sons and Montreal native Allison Russell, who played clarinet.

The set began with the group singing Carey before Mitchell sang Both Sides Now, Big Yellow Taxi and Summertime.

At one point, she strapped on an electric guitar to play Just Like This Train, before closing the show with a performance of The Circle Game.

Mitchell has been gradually returning to public life after she suffered a brain aneurysm in 2015.

Last December, she was a Kennedy Center honouree in recognition of a lifetime achievement for artistic excellence, while in April, she was toasted as MusiCares’ Person of the Year at the Grammys.

The Newport, Rhode Island music festival has long embraced Mitchell’s presence in folk music. When she was still an unknown singer, the festival invited her to appear at their 1967 edition as part of a lineup of up-and-coming musicians that also included Leonard Cohen.

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