John Denver Tribute with the Colorado Symphony

Article Contributed by Philip Emma | Published on Wednesday, November 2, 2016

On a paradisiacal Denver day for a special concert celebration, John Denver’s former band mates and his friends gathered along with the versatile Colorado Symphony to pay tribute to the Poet Laureate of the state at Boettcher Concert Hall in Denver. There was a large screen visible with John Denver often singing to an enduring older crowd often singing along.

The Colorado Symphony was conducted by Andres Lopera, and they added a momentous touch to John Denver’s music. I noticed it as soon as I got ushered to my seat. When I got there, guitar player/singer Jim Salestrom was telling stories about being a gofer for Denver when he was younger. He also took lessons from him and taught him about drop D tuning, and they band slipped into “Everyday” by Buddy Holly.

Towards the middle of the first set, they played favorites “Sunshine on My Shoulders,” “Annie’s Song,” “Poems, Prayers, and Promises,” and “Calypso,” which was written for Jacques-Yves Cousteau and the ship that he did research on of the same name. There was a short interview with Denver on the screen where he explained falling in love with guitars because of his grandma’s 1910 guitar. Of course, he then played “This Old Guitar” virtually with his old mates.

Right before the first set ended, the multi-instrumentalist, critically acclaimed, horn player, Jim Horn told stories of about flying in a two seater plane with John scared to death. Horn has played on dozens of famous albums and he teased a little of one of his most famous songs, “Going Up the Country” by Canned Heat. They did a segment on the screen of all of the albums and other groups that Horn has appeared on. It was shocking to see how many prodigious albums that he has played on. The first set ended with “Thank God I’m a Country Boy,” which got the audience’s juices flowing before a small break.

The second set started with a piano intro song by an original member of John Denver’s band, Chris Nole. It was graceful, yet resplendent. This lead into “Rhyme and Reasons,” which featured another of Denver’s band members, bassist Alan Deremo.

The newest member of this group dazzled me tremendously. It was co-worker and studio drummer and member of Rose Hill Drive, Nate Barnes. I work with Barnes at Coupe Studios in Boulder, and I have seen him perform several times. He particularly grabbed my attention on the final tunes of the evening “Grandma’s Feather Bed,” “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” and “Country Roads.” These were three of the night’s highlights, and this band in combination with the power and finesse of the symphony left us captivated. The Colorado Symphony is one of the most ambidextrous in the country. They can play with any band, with any genre of music, and add a great element of force and spice. They are playing with Elephant Revival on November 26th, and that show will not be one to miss. John Denver’s legacy lives on, especially at home, exactly how he makes all of his listeners feel.