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The Joni Project: Margo Price

The Joni Project's Margo Price (photo by Bobbi Rich)

The Joni Project's Margo Price (photo by Bobbi Rich)

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Just in time for Joni Mitchell's 77th birthday on November 7, WFUV premiered "The Joni Project" on her birthday eve, a brand new hour of exclusive covers of Mitchell's songs by Sarah Jarosz, Courtney Marie Andrews, Son Little, Madison Cunningham, Margo Price, Bailen, The Mountain Goats, Nada Surf's Matthew Caws, Flock of Dimes, and Dawes' Taylor Goldsmith. The special is archived and available on demand.

FUV also spoke with some of the artists involved in "The Joni Project," either in person or via email, about the effect of Joni Mitchell's music in their lives. Margo Price, whose third album, That's How Rumors Get Started, came out earlier this year, told us via email the reason behind her choice to cover "River" from 1971's Blue as her cover (listen in the player above), and why Mitchell is one of her "holy trinity" of songwriters:

What Joni Mitchell song did you select and why?

I chose "River" because it’s always been one of my favorite Joni songs. I sat down at the piano about three weeks ago and just figured out the chords randomly. I played it over and over and then a week later, the cosmos answered and WFUV asked me for a Joni cover.

Shifting from listener to performer, how did "River" change for you? How did it challenge you?

It was so fun to learn this one on the keys. I am way more comfortable on the guitar, but this song is so quintessentially a piano tune. I put my own twist on it and added a few passing chords and a walk down on the line, “I made my baby cry.” That line hits me hard. Yes, Joni could have been talking about Graham Nash, but it could have been about losing her baby. I feel it more in that sense.

What’s another favorite lyric in the song?

“But it don't snow here/It stays pretty green/ I'm going to make a lot of money/Then I'm going to quit this crazy scene." I connect to this one these days...

What makes "River" judicially great?

I love that she pulls from a classic Christmas song like "Jingle Bells" and makes such a sad, original song out of it. I’m not a fan of many of the Christmas songs or music I hear, but songs like this one and John Prine’s “Christmas In Prison” make me feel right in the holiday spirit. 

Do you recall the first time you ever heard a Joni Mitchell song?

I remember hearing “Big Yellow Taxi” on the radio in the back of my dad’s truck when I was really young, probably seven or eight years old. I always liked that song. But I fell in love with Joni when I procured a vinyl copy of Blue at the age of 17 — it was everything to me.

How has Joni influenced you as an artist?

Joni has had a massive affect on me as an artist and a writer. Her writing is so refined and well thought out. She doesn’t just throw out lazy cliches; she works at her art and it shows. She is part of the holy trinity of songwriters for me: her, Bob [Dylan] and Neil [Young] are my top three of all time. Also, in the visual sense, I got a copy of her book of paintings and drawings last year and it inspired me to begin drawing and painting again.

Essential artists have a lasting effect on the world. What is Joni’s impact?

Joni is a pioneer, an original, and a virtuoso. Her tuning and style have been, and will be, imitated for years to come, but there is only one Joni.

Did you ever see Joni perform live?

No, I have not, but I would give anything to meet her, see her perform, or write with her. I hope she has a couple more albums in her. I would love to collaborate with Joni. Joni Mitchell is a genre-less genius who cannot be classified or put into a box. Joni Mitchell is a national treasure.

- Margo Price
October 2020

Read more from Son Little and Madison Cunningham on their "The Joni Project" experience.