Gary Mule Deer: 30 Years with John Denver

Gary Mule Deer
Special to the Aspen Times

What: 22nd Anniversary Musical Tribute to John Denver

When: Saturday, Oct. 12, 7:30 p.m.

Where: Wheeler Opera House

Tickets: Wheeler box office;

More info: Find the full slate of events online at

The 22nd annual John Denver Celebration will return to Aspen with concerts, sing-alongs and events running Wednesday, Oct. 9 through Monday, Oct. 14. The centerpiece of the festival is the Musical Tribute to John Denver at the Wheeler Opera House on Saturday, Oct. 12. It will feature performers including Denver collaborator Gary Mule Deer alongside Mack Bailey, Chris Nole, Mollie Weaver, Alan Deremo and Jim Curry.

I knew John from 1967 up until his unfortunate death in 1997.

My first great memory of John was at Ledbetter’s Club in Westwood, Calif. It was built and started by Randy Sparks and The New Christy Minstrels. A great club where careers started for from The Back Porch Majority to The Carpenters and John Denver to Steve Martin , Mike Nesmith and The First Edition to name a few. It was located next door to Westwood Music Store and a stairway dividing the two led to a rehearsal room above the store.

I was in a group on RCA called The New Society and we were rehearsing there one night when John came running in, all excited because Peter, Paul and Mary were recording John’s “Leaving On A Jet Plane.” We all congratulated John, he left and I don’t see him for another 10 years.

So in 1977, I’m opening for John in Pennsylvania and after the show John and I decide to go to a party. As soon as we get there we realize this is not a great situation – way too many drugs and it’s getting a little too rowdy for even us (and by that time, we’d both been around). So we sneak out and luckily some guy is just pulling up to park. I rush over ,have him roll down his window and I hold out twenty bucks and say “Hey man, can you take us back to our hotel?”

I point and say, “That’s John Denver!”

The guy goes “Wow, John Denver! Get in,” and all the way back all he kept saying was, “Man…John Denver!“ We get to the hotel and just as John is getting out the guy grabs Johns arm and says, “Tell Tina Louise she is my favorite ever!” (Apparently he’d mixed up John with Bob Denver of “Gilligan’s Island” fame.)

More years go by and it’s Orlando, Florida in February. John and I had performed the night before at Bryant Gumbel’s Golf and Charity Gala. So after golf the next afternoon, John ,myself and my wife Nita and South Dakota Sen. Larry Pressler and his wife all sat at a table together during the awards ceremony. As we were leaving I asked John what he was going to do later and he said “ Ah I’m just gonna go call my mom and just stay in tonight.” We hugged and I never saw him again.



10 a.m. Meet and Greet, John Denver Sanctuary

4 p.m. Aspen Meadow Band in Concert, Mountain Chalet

Nightly Sing-a-Long, Mountain Chalet Lobby


1 p.m. Dave Stratford in Concert, Mountain Chalet

4 p.m. Aspen Meadow Band in Concert, Mountain Chalet

Nightly Sing-a-Long, Mountain Chalet Lobby


11:30 a.m. Jim Horn’s Adventures with John Denver, Mountain Chalet

4 p.m. Chris Bannister in Concert, Aspen Community Church

7 p.m. Ron Matthews in Concert, Mountain Chalet

Nightly Sing-a-Long, Mountain Chalet Lobby


Noon. 4th Annual Singer/Songwriter Event, Mountain Chalet

4 p.m. Aspen Meadow Band in Concert, Limelight Lodge

7:30 p.m. 22nd Anniversary Musical Tribute to John Denver, Wheeler Opera House

Nightly Sing-a-Long, Mountain Chalet Lobby


11 a.m. Chris Collins and Friends Concert, Pine Creek Cookhouse

4 p.m.  Jam at the Chapel with Chris Nole, Mack Bailey, Chris Bannister, Aspen Chapel

Nightly Sing-a-Long, Mountain Chalet Lobby


10 a.m. Good-Bye Again, Wagner Park