Joni Mitchell, then 26, was the consummate folk star and James Taylor, 22, the cool new kid on the block when the two toured together in the fall of 1970. There’s a great bootleg and some amazing YouTube videos of their late-October Royal Albert Hall show floating around. A couple of weeks earlier, however, the pair played a benefit concert in Vancouver, British Columbia, for what was then known as the Don’t Make a Wave Committee. The group’s plan was to hire a boat (dubbed Greenpeace), sail to Amchitka in the Aleutian Islands, and simply park there to prevent the United States from testing a nuclear bomb.
Read writer-activist Bob Hunter’s moving account of the Greenpeace’s 1971 maiden voyage – which led to the end of these tests and, many believe, marked the beginning of the end of the Cold War – here. Mitchell, Taylor, and the late, great protest singer Phil Ochs raised $18,000 for the voyage at the benefit captured on Amchitka: The 1970 Concert That Launched Greenpeace.
The concert itself, which I suppose you could say helped end the Cold War indirectly, is a gem. Between the relatively strident “Rhythms of Revolution” and “I Ain’t Marching Anymore,” Ochs slips in “Chords of Fame” (“God help the troubadour who tries to be a star”), a zinger possibly aimed at the two younger singers. Taylor, riding high on the success of the recently released Sweet Baby James and sounding gorgeous, eventually joins Mitchell for a rare version of “Mr. Tambourine Man.” Mitchell moves from guitar to piano to dulcimer over the course of her disk-length set, which begins with playful mashup of “Big Yellow Taxi” and “Bony Maroni.” The disk fades out during Mitchell, Taylor, and the audience all singing “The Circle Game.” Mission accomplished.