John Denver Tribute Concert and Colorado Hall of Fame induction at 1STBANK Center, 4/21/11
Olivia Newton-John, Michael Martin Murphey and more
04.21.11 | 1STBANK Center
John Denver fans -- and let's be clear, that accounted for pretty much everyone in the building, save for perhaps the odd service employee -- got their money's worth last night at 1STBANK Center, even if the best performance of the evening came from Denver himself from nearly two decades ago.
The night began with the Boulder Philharmonic orchestra offering up a stirring John Denver overture, setting the ideal tone for the entire evening, which was imbued with a stately elegance and deliberately paced with the measured precision of a televised event, like something you might see on PBS. To that end, there were certain production cues, that, while they might lend themselves to making great television, became wearisome after a while.
At various points during the performance or during designated speaking parts, the front of the house was dimly illuminated while several camera men roamed the edges of the crowd, presumably looking for money shots of collective and individual reactions of the audience members. So rather than being able to sit back and bask in the overall reverie of the evening, you were periodically distracted by the intermittent blinding flashes of light.
If the production had any shortcomings, that was it. Aside from a few missed cues on host Olivia Newton-John's part, everything else about the entire affair was meticulously executed. And with the exception of John Oates, who turned in an inexplicably neutered, diet-jazz worthy version of "Leaving On a Jet Plane," all of the performers did their best to deliver renditions that maintained the essence of the originals, which despite the undeniable earnestness of those paying tribute, proved vastly superior.
Jim Narcy Mayor Guillermo Vidal (from left), Chuck Morris, Congressman Jared Polis and Governor John Hickenlooper
The reason that the singer's songs were so resonant in the first place, clearly had as much to do with Denver's voice and delivery as the relatability of the compositions themselves. Of all the night's performers, Lee Ann Womack offered up the most noteworthy performance during the second half of the show with a stirring version of "Sunshine On My Shoulders." Other highlights included Trace Bundy's instrumental take on "Late Winter Early Spring (When Everybody Goes to Mexico)," Nathaniel Rateliff and Eric Johnson of the Fruit Bats trading vocals on "Poems, Prayers, Promises," Michael Martin Murphey and Steve Weisberg on "Boy from the Country," and pretty much any song the Boulder Philharmonic performed on.
Jim Narcy Eric Johnson (left) and Nathaniel Rateliff singing "Poems, Prayers, Promises"
There's no question that John Denver touched a great many lives. You could see it in the smiling faces of the people in the crowd and hear it in the voices of everyone who spoke about him. From the luminaries who gave speeches at the beginning of the show to the parade of folks who followed, friends, fellow activists and admirers, it was clear that the one thing everyone had in common was that they were all fans, including host Olivia Newton-John, a close friend of Denver and his family. And they all gave heartfelt testimonials, some nodding to his exceptional songwriting prowess, others pointing to his groundbreaking environmentalism efforts,noting how ahead of his time Denver was and how fitting it was that his life was being celebrated on Earth Day.
Jim Narcy Michael Martin Murphey paying tribute with "Boy from the Country"
At the beginning of the show, as Denver became the first official inductee into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame, Congressman Jared Polis reflected about growing up in a household where Denver's music flowed freely and then joked about how hard it was to be a Denver fan in high school. He was followed by newly elected Governor John Hickenlooper, who after offering up his now customary "politics is Hollywood for ugly people" quip, presented a plaque to the late singer's three surviving children. (Denver Mayor Guillermo Vidal accepted a plaque on behalf of the city of Denver for Red Rocks, the night's other inductee.)
Jim Narcy Governor Hickenlooper presenting plaque to Denver's children