A Rocky Mountain High Tribute
John Denver, the country-folk star from the last century, lives on in a traveling show that blends archival footage and live performance.
The Pabst Theater, with its gilded carvings and red velvet seats, seemed an unlikely venue for a John Denver tribute concert. Between the cold weather and the fact that this was, after all, Milwaukee, nowhere near the Rocky Mountains so close to his heart, the audience filing in wearing jeans, plaid shirts and boots (cowboy and otherwise) seemed unlikely denizens for the theater.
But there we were. Then the music began, and almost at once, it was “Good To Be Back Home Again.”
There were John Denver voice-overs and performances, recorded for television specials or from his tours. The songs were mostly performed by Denver on the large screen at the back of the stage, sometimes with videos of him on cross country skis or snowshoes. During “The Eagle and the Hawk,” there were also shots of Denver’s plane, and, in his own voice, statements of how much he loved to fly. We saw Denver’s tombstone twice.
The playlist included many of his familiar songs, from “Sunshine on My Shoulders,” “Follow Me,” and “Annie’s Song” through the toe-tapping “Grandma’s Feather Bed” and “Thank God I’m a Country Boy.” When he played “This Old Guitar” on the guitar that had been his grandmother’s, Salestrom held up the very same instrument at the front of the stage. By the time Denver played “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” the venue didn’t matter anymore. Neither did the age of the audience.
“Country Roads” took everybody home, and of course, the final piece was “Rocky Mountain High.” In between, there were shots of Denver out in the wilderness, on (and in) the ocean with Jacques Costeau (during “Calypso”) and reminding everyone that when the environmental battles are over, “it is we who must measure the loss.”
The enthusiastic but respectful audience is still feeling the loss of Denver (had he lived, he would turn 70 at the end of this year). Denver transcended folk and country to become a pop star and a crusader for environmental causes. His music still gives you a Rocky mountain high, and his untimely death merely leaves him forever young.
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