John Denver was a hard musician to classify. He was a singer-songwriter who existed outside of the folk crowd, and a country musician void of the Nashville scene. Best known for penning “Rocky Mountain High,” he remains one of Colorado’s most celebrated musicians.
It was quite a career. He wrote a lot of great songs, had a minute or two in Hollywood, starred in a few TV specials, and as believer of right verses wrong and free speech, stood alongside Frank Zappa and Dee Snider taking on Tipper Gore and the Parents Music Resource Center record labeling fiasco of 1985. Outspoken and smart, his career was cut short by his death in a plane crash in 1997.
The music of John Denver will be honored Saturday at the Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College with a concert performed by Chris Collins and Boulder Canyon. This is no cover band, but a tribute to the legacy of songs Denver left behind, many of which are ingrained into your psyche if you are a 40-, 50- or 60-something who grew up in America. Like it or not, you’re familiar with the work.
Collins was a singer-songwriter navigating an on-and-off music career. When a friend brought up a likeness both visually and audibly to Denver and inquired about a tribute, he scoffed at the idea. His is a remarkable likeness to Denver’s, from the blond hair and round glasses, right down to the voice. He was talked into the tribute, which was met with great results. Friends of Denver’s from Aspen were in attendance and he was booked around Aspen for more shows.
“I was immediately accepted into this huge family of John Denver fans, and I’ve been doing this now for 12 or 13 years, and it just keeps growing,” said Collins in a recent interview. “The fandom is amazing and it’s really incredible to stand on stage and present John’s music by proxy, as a messenger, and receive the adoration of the fans. It’s incredible. They still really love his music”
It was Americana before the term existed. Denver was a human’s musician, capturing the common themes everyone deals with on a daily basis and putting them to song. While the bulk of his hits came in the 1970’s, his music was and is celebrated decades later.
“Zeitgeist means ‘the spirit of the times,’ and John Denver represents that zeitgeist of the 1970s so perfectly,” Collins said. “His music is timeless because it’s about the human experience. Regardless of the current conditions, political or physical, the human experience remains the same. We all have the same emotions, we all still fall in love, long for friendship, those kinds of things. All of that is expressed in his music.”
firstname.lastname@example.org. Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager.