Just a few blocks west of the 100th Meridian in Dodge City, a large crowd gathered last night to hear John Denver … Actually, it wasn’t John Denver, who died in an experimental airplane crash in 1997, but was a tribute concert, Take Me Home, that was about as close as you’ll get to a live performance these days. Jim Curry and his wife Ann, backed up by piano, percussion, and bass band, recreated the magic of a John Denver concert in a two hour show that was the season finale for the Dodge City Community Concert Association.
As Pratt Community Concert Association patrons know, a local season ticket entitles the bearer not only to admission to the local concert series but also to any of the community concerts in Dodge, Great Bend, and Liberal.
Jim Curry has been performing John Denver Tribute concerts for the past 15 years. His style is not one of impersonating but, rather, his natural singing voice sounds hauntingly like that of the deceased singer and he and his band were definitely deserving of the accolades they have received over the years for their tribute to the folk singer.
I proudly call myself a John Denver fan yet today. I was more or less a John Denver baby, having grown up listening to his music in the late 60s and 70s, played by my mother, a huge fan, and later by my own choice. I attended my first concert with my family of origin when I was 11 or 12 and witnessed my last John Denver performance in 1989, when he was a headliner with several others as part of the Paha Sapa Music Festival and fundraiser in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
Today, Jim Curry keeps John’s legacy alive through regular tribute concert tours with his band. In Dodge City, the group was on Day 9 of a 52 Day Spring Tour. Accompanied by great storytelling about the man and his life and multimedia images and video of wildlife and nature projected on a screen behind the band, at points during the performance I recalled an old college term, suspension of disbelief. There were several flickering instances when Jim and his band performed on the civic center stage that it almost seemed as if John Denver himself were up on the stage. In fact, Curry used a video also used by John in his concert performances to accompany one popular song, “Matthew.” Matthew is the quintessential Kansas song about Denver’s uncle, who was actually named Dean and grew up south of Colby. The chorus goes like this. “Yes, and joy was just the thing that he was raised on / Love was just a way to live and die / Gold was just a windy Kansas wheatfield / Blue was just the Kansas summer sky.” “Matthew” has always been a favorite of mine.
For longtime John Denver fans like me, Curry did an excellent job of recreating the magic of spending an evening with John Denver. He and his wife, Ann (John Denver’s first wife’s name was Annie), did a great job of harmonizing together. I am thankful that he is keeping the sound alive.
I think the lasting appeal of John Denver and his music is that the lyrics and sound hearken back to a simpler time, pre-911, pre-Iraq, and pre-Afghanistan. John Denver sang before cell phones and other electronic devices were so prevalent—and distracting. His lyrics were usually uplifting and understandable. Also, his music helped us to reconnect with nature and the beauty of creation. John Denver had his share of problems—his well-publicized divorce from Annie and his drinking problems. I remember reading articles, when I lived in Wyoming, in the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News about his DUI problems. He was human, and had his share of problems, like everyone else. In any case, his music did not appeal to our baser instincts, but, rather, lifted us to “Higher Ground,” a song to which John Denver wrote the lyrics only and was the theme song of a pilot TV series of the same name that never made it. This was also the last Denver song performed at the community concert.
John Denver’s legacy lives on thanks to Jim Curry and his band. We still miss the man and his music, but at least we can enjoy what he left behind.