‘Spirit’ headed to Red Rocks
Ryan Summerlin November 11, 2013
The “Spirit” statue of Colorado icon John Denver is moving to a place of honor at Red Rocks Amphitheater along with the Colorado Music Hall of Fame next summer.
The hall announced Friday that it reached a deal with the city of Denver to relocate to a permanent home at the Red Rocks Trading Post. The towering bronze statue featuring Denver with an eagle landing on his outstretched arm and a guitar on his back will be erected at one of the main entrances to Red Rocks.
“There’s a perfect spot in front of the Trading Post for ‘Spirit’ to live,” said hall director G. Brown. “He’ll be our ‘greeter’ for the hundreds of thousands of visitors to Red Rocks every year.”
The bronze statue has a commanding presence. It is 15 feet high and weighs 1,500 pounds. It was a fixture at the Windstar property in Old Snowmass from October 2002 until it was removed and given to the Colorado Music Hall of Fame in September. A committee formed to handle the assets of the Denver’s Windstar Foundation decided in July to donate the statue.
“It’s so appropriate — millions of people will get to see the statue and remember John,” said Karmen Dopslaff, a member of the committee and former member of Windstar Foundation’s board of directors.
Denver, who died in October 1997 while flying an experimental aircraft, was associated with Colorado in general and Aspen in particular after he became a star with “Take Me Home, Country Roads” in 1971. His smash hit “Rocky Mountain High” is the state song. He was the first performer inducted into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame in April 2011.
His former wife, Annie Denver, said placing the “Spirit” statue at Red Rocks is exciting and appropriate.
“It was John’s favorite place to play,” she said. He loved to soak in the sights of the famed red rocks, the intense blue of the sky right before sunset and the lights of downtown Denver, she said.
He first played there in July 1972 and used the occasion to make the first performance of “Rocky Mountain High,” according to an exhibit at the hall. In 1974, as his popularity soared, he was the first performer to play four consecutive nights at Red Rocks. He performed there 17 times, the last being in 1989, the exhibit says.
Annie Denver said some of the performances featured an orchestra. “To see John on stage with the orchestra, people would go crazy,” she said.
Denver still has legions of fans, some of which are upset that the environmental organization that he founded, Windstar Foundation, was dissolved and the assets sold. All but 30 of Windstar’s 957 acres have a conservation easement, which prohibits development and preserves public access. Some fans wanted the statue left on that portion of the Old Snowmass property. Others wanted it relocated to the John Denver Sanctuary in Aspen, according to discussion on Facebook sites. But others viewed moving it to Red Rocks as a great resolution.
“It’s a wonderful end to the drama and the saga,” Annie Denver said.
She didn’t feel the statue would fit in at the sanctuary, a natural setting where there are inscriptions with lyrics from Denver’s songs. “It’s a sanctuary, a place for people to pause and reflect,” she said.
Dopslaff said she put a great deal of thought into where the statue should go and conferred with others that were close to the performer.
“I actually prayed that I’d find the right place for ‘Spirit,’” she said with a laugh.
“He was lost at Windstar,” Dopslaff continued. “Nobody came to Windstar for years.”
The only time the statue was visited by any great number of people, 50 or so, was during gatherings in Aspen on the anniversary of his death, she said.
“It was so lonely out there,” Dopslaff said. “I think his real spirit would like being at Red Rocks. That’s just me — I can’t imagine why anybody wouldn’t like him there.”
The Colorado Music Hall of Fame has a considerable number of John Denver artifacts among its collection. There’s everything from a studio promotional picture of him with George Burns in the “Oh, God” movie to Denver’s signature denim jacket and one of his guitars. Brown said previously that the hall’s acquisition and display of “Spirit” fits well with stature Denver has in the nonprofit organization.
The hall and “Spirit” will open at their new digs before the 2014 summer concert season. The nonprofit organization made the announcement about its relocation Friday to coincide with a concert by Judy Collins to mark her induction in to the hall along with Bob Lind, the Serendipity Singers and Chris Daniels.