Concerts keep alive the spirit of John Denver | AspenTimes.com

Concerts keep alive the spirit of John Denver

Stewart Oksenhorn

Industrialist Walter Paepcke, it is conceded, is the founder of modern Aspen. His vision for a place where the natural beauty would foster explorations of the mind, body and spirit set into motion the cultural base that, along with the sport of skiing, would form the twin pillars upon which Aspen has grown.

But if Paepcke got the ball rolling, it was late singer John Denver who gave the ball an extra push in the mid-’70s. Drawn by the promise held in such songs as “Rocky Mountain High,” “Dancing With the Mountains,” and “Starwood in Aspen,” seekers of a different kind of existence flocked to Colorado and the Roaring Fork Valley. Among those was Kenn Roberts, a part-time Snowmass Village resident for several decades.

“For me and a lot of people, all the great songs are so woven into my memory, and coincide with my falling in love with Colorado,” said Roberts.

When the first anniversary of Denver’s death came around last October, it was a natural that some of his fans would congregate in Aspen to remember the singer. Roberts, along with Denver’s longtime road manager and former Aspenite Kris O’Connor, made sure that those planning to come to Aspen would have a musical experience to go along with the spiritual one. Roberts, a singer himself and founder of the M.U.S.E. Foundation, an organization that produced concerts for charitable causes, and O’Connor pulled together a dozen Denver collaborators to create the concert, A Musical Tribute to John Denver, at the Wheeler Opera House.

If there were any doubts about Denver’s widespread appeal, they were quickly dissolved. Tickets for the two concerts sold out two months in advance. Aspen was crowded with Denver fans looking to connect with one another, hear his music, and attend a variety of events designed to honor the memory of the musician.

“John had an incredible ability to make people feel good and touch people,” said Roberts, who had worked with Denver on several benefit concerts. “It was certainly more than his music. Of all the major entertainers we’ve dealt with, John touched more people at the soul level. He had that ability, and he could portray it on the stage and off the stage.”

Last year’s Musical Tribute to John Denver concerts were successful enough that the idea has been expanded for this year. This year’s tour kicked off last week with a gig in Fairfax, Va., and continues with three concerts at the Wheeler, tonight, Friday, Oct. 8, through Sunday, Oct. 10. The tour concludes next week with one performance in Los Angeles. The concert includes most of the Denver cohorts that performed last year – local fiddler John Sommers, who wrote “Thank God I’m a Country Boy”; Bill Danoff of the Starland Vocal Band; longtime Denver percussionist Michito Sanchez; and saxophonist Jim Horn. Added to the bill are Denny Brooks, who sang and played guitar in Denver’s band for more than a decade, and Jim Connor, who wrote the Denver hit “Grandma’s Featherbed.”

According to Roberts, Brooks will serve as narrator for the show, sharing stories of his travels with Denver. “But it’s mostly a musical tribute to John,” added Roberts, who sings with the country-folk band, The Hard Travelers, based in Annapolis, Md. “It’s mostly music, not a lot of talking. And it’s a lot of new songs, that weren’t played last year.”

Among those new tunes, said Roberts, will be the relatively obscure “In a Grand Way,” written by Sommers and recorded by Denver 20 years ago.

Proceeds from the Aspen concerts will go, as last year, to Challenge Aspen, a local nonprofit organization that brings physically handicapped persons to Aspen for challenging outdoor experiences. Last year’s concerts raised some $50,000 for Challenge Aspen.

A Musical Tribute to John Denver When: Friday, Saturday, Sunday Showtime: 7 p.m. Where: Wheeler Opera House Tickets: $35, $100 (Only a few tickets remained as of Friday afternoon)

Remembering John Articles and photos about John Denver from 1997 and 1998


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