SNOWMASS VILLAGE - There was a time when John Denver, Jimmy Buffett, members of the Eagles and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band all gathered right here in Snowmass to perform for thousands of people - and all for a good cause.
The Deaf Camp Picnic, which Denver helped put on the map, ended after the popular singer's death in 1997. Now, after a 15-year hiatus, the event that supports the work of the Aspen Camp for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing is coming back.
"It was a great, big community event," said Mike Adler, a camp executive committee member. "There's been a lull. We're going to pick it up where it left off."
The picnic started in the 1970s, in large part because longtime resident Twirp Anderson got Denver to lead the first one. At first the picnic was held on the Aspen Camp grounds in Old Snowmass, but eventually it moved to Campground at Snowmass ski area, where there was more room for the thousands of people who showed up every year.
"The whole idea was to kind of bring back that sense of the music, the history of the music in the valley, and how everyone came together for the cause," said Mack Bailey, who is booking the music for this summer's event.
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band will return to headline the picnic. There will be two days of the picnic, starting with a free performance of cover songs by Bailey and former Denver bandmates Chris Nole and Pete Huttlinger, who play together in the John Denver Tribute Band, on July 19 in Base Village. Rich Ganson will also perform some songs for kids on July 19.
The ticketed event on July 20 starts in the early afternoon with Bobby Mason and Starwood, followed by Anderson and his band, Timbermill. Bailey, Nole and Huttlinger will play a different set, with Billy Dean and Nitty Gritty after. The musicians will all join together to close out the night with a tribute to Denver.
"It's an opportunity to raise money for the camp, raise awareness and everyone just have an incredible, fun, positive day," Bailey said.
Some young Aspen Camp attendees will join the festivities in the early part of the day. All proceeds of the picnic benefit the camp, which has been providing services to the deaf and hard of hearing since 1967. Funds raised will not only help camp operations but also provide scholarships and aid to many participants. About two-thirds of campers ask for full scholarships to cover their tuition.
"John Denver's music and the Deaf Camp Picnic is what kept the camp going for all those years," said Executive Director Lesa Thomas.
Adler said he hopes the return of the event will raise awareness and support of the Aspen Camp once more.
"The deaf camp was always a community project," he said.