John Denver celebration returns after pandemic hiatus

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John Denver onstage at the Deaf Camp Picnic in 1977 (Aspen Historical Society / Aspen Times Collection)

As our Starwood bard wrote, “hey, it’s good to be back home”.

After no official John Denver week in 2020 due to the pandemic and public health restrictions, the event is back for 2021.

The festivities started on Wednesday and continued through the weekend. The crowd is slightly smaller – and considerably less international – than what the Aspenites and John Denver devotees have come to expect over the past 23 years, and the schedule is thinner in this return year.



But the John Denver community and the annual celebration artist devotees are back with the flagship events of this local tradition. There are nightly carols at Mountain Chalet, from legendary local singer-songwriters including Ellen Stapenhorse (playing Friday afternoon), Jan Garret and DD Martin (performing Sunday morning).

The program also includes a handful of notable special events. The Windstar Foundation will be giving a multimedia presentation on the history of the nonprofit and its pristine Old Snowmass surroundings – from its time as a home of the Utes to its time under the ownership of John Denver until today. hui. It will include speakers Tom and Cathy Crum, who have been with Windstar since its founding, as well as other Windstar hands from years past.



The rarely seen 1978 film “Alaska: The American Child” will be screened for free at the Wheeler Opera House on Friday night. The 1978 documentary was produced and directed by John Wilcox of Aspen and follows Denver – a dedicated environmental activist and environmentalist – as he travels the state by plane, boat and on foot to share his wonders with viewers.

Chris Collins and Boulder Canyon will perform their annual tribute to John Denver at the Wheeler Opera House on Saturday night. (Courtesy photo)

The main event of the week, as it had been for several years before the pandemic, is the John Denver tribute concert on Saturday night at the Wheeler Opera House by Chris Collins and his band Boulder Canyon. The big show normally sells out early, but sales have been slower this year as the crowds out of town for the week are smaller. This will be the first concert on the Wheeler’s main stage since before the pandemic struck in March 2020.

“We’re going to pay a great tribute to John Denver with new music that we’ve never played before,” Collins said. “I find it an honor to present John’s music to his old and new fans.”

Like most touring musicians, Collins was forced to take a long road break as the concert industry shut down during the pandemic. He resumed doing gigs this summer, including private shows in and around Aspen, and found the positive message of Denver music and the familiar songs a balm for humanity as Americans stumble to through the ravages of the pandemic and our tumultuous and divided moment in history.

“If I can deliver his songs and his message with integrity to an audience, then I feel like I did a good job using his influence to make the world a little better,” Collins said. “I think he would look at politics today and be saddened by the divisions. I’m sure he would bring his wisdom to songs that reflect that.

Almost a quarter of a century after John Denver’s death, his songs – the iconic “Take Me Home, Country Roads”, “Annie’s Song” and “Rocky Mountain High”, yes, but also deeper cuts – are have remained a staple in popular culture with loyal audiences and new fans tuning in.

John Denver’s posthumous releases include the 2014 box set “All My Memories” and the Wheeler Opera House concert album “Lime Creek Christmas” released in 2019.

“It still amazes me that people aged 3 to 103 still know his songs and are touched by his lyrics,” Collins said. “He was truly a part of Americana, I think his music affected musicians and listeners from all walks of life.”

Sharing live music, for Collins, is continuing a John Denver that has expanded beyond entertainment and action.

“I think if he was alive he would still lend his voice to make the world the best place he envisioned,” Collins said. “I think all we have to do is listen to the songs carefully and we might find a way to mend the divisions that seem to keep us from creating a world that heals instead of hurting.”

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