For 15 years, friends, family and anyone touched by John Denver’s music has been gathering in Aspen every October to celebrate the musician.
It’s become an iconic week, during which people travel from all over the world — Japan, Brazil, Argentina and England — to share Denver stories and sing his songs.
But, this year will be the last.
“All good things must come to an end,” says event producer Mark Johnson, of Strut Productions. “We thought we do one last week, as good as we can possibly do it.”
The spirit and conglomeration of people may continue, but John Denver Week, including the tribute shows at the Wheeler Opera House, will cease.
When Denver’s plane crashed into Monterey Bay in 1997, his tragic death triggered worldwide mourning as he was one of the most popular acoustic artists of the 1970s. And, it was also the catalyst for this annual celebratory week, which started in Snowmass around a campfire with a few friends.
“It’s all about John, and John’s music,” says Johnson.
He remembers the first time he heard John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads.”
“I was driving from Gainesville, Florida to Chicago, Illinois and it came on, and I thought, ‘This song sucks,’” he says. “But by the time I got to Chicago, I had heard it six times and I loved it.”
This story is familiar to those in the John Denver family. Repeatedly, fans recount their first experience with his music, or the many ways his lyrics have impacted their life. The program for the tribute concerts at the Wheeler Opera House this weekend includes a 16-page booklet sharing stories from past band members and dedicated fans.
Over the years, the week had morphed into a multi-day event with a philanthropic cause. Besides the main concerts, hundreds of attendees participate in sing-alongs, story hours and parties. This year, there’s even a chairlift ride on Little Nell to honor Denver’s inspiration for “Annie’s Song.” But, after 15 years, the tribute has runs its course, says Johnson.
“All things must pass,” he says.
Denver lived in Aspen much of his life, and spent a significant amount of time in Colorado. “Rocky Mountain High” was named the state’s second official song in 2007. The region affected him, and it was reflected in his work.
John Sommers wrote “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” on a drive from Aspen to Los Angeles, for Denver. “Rocky Mountain High” was rumored to have been written while sitting next to an Elk Mountain lake.
The connections to Colorado are endless, just like the ties to Denver never dead-end.
In the past, John Denver Week has explored the many sideroads in his life, showcasing friends-turned-musicians and causes for which he was passionate.
But in 2012, it’s all about John.
“We’re going to make it John-heavy, hit-heavy and people will play the songs that people want to hear because it strikes a chord with them,” says Johnson.
This weekend, it’s about remembering Denver on a high note.
15th Annual John Denver Concerts
Friday, Oct. 12 and Sat. Oct. 14 7:30 p.m.
Wheeler Opera House
$45 and up • aspenshowtix.com
Tribute to John Denver
Sunday, Oct. 15 7 p.m.
Wheeler Opera House
$35 • aspenshowtix.com
Check “Aspen in October” on Facebook
for a calendar of additional events