John Denver managed to connect with fans on Friday night at the H. Ric Luhrs Performance Arts Center, two decades after his death.
The John Denver Celebration Concert, presented by Denver’s estate, brought together the famous folksong singer and songwriter’s bassist and pianist, as well as a few new faces, to perform in front of an audience.
The band performed in tribute of Denver, who experienced great success since his career’s takeoff from the 1960s to 1970s. Denver died in an airplane crash at the age of 53 in 1997.
Chris Nole and Alan Deremo, the respective piano and bass players who toured with Denver, were joined by Jim Curry, an accomplished vocalist who filled in for Denver’s singing at times.
Curry, whose voice bears a strong resemblance to Denver’s, has been performing tributes to Denver for years. He did a voiceover for Denver in CBS’s “Take Me Home, the John Denver Story.” He even dressed to look like Denver for the concert. When Denver was not singing on the projector on stage, Curry took over lead vocals and delivered an experience similar Denver’s own voice.
The group was also accompanied by a small string quartet: SU professor and orchestra conductor, Mark Hartman Petr Skopek of the Maryland Symphony, Alice Bish of the Harrisburg Symphony, and Andrew Rammon of the Williamsport Symphony.
The concert began with “On the Wings of an Eagle,” and progressed with “Follow Me,” “Sweet Surrender” and “Sunshine on My Shoulders.” They finished the concert with Denver’s iconic numbers such as “Calypso,” “Take Me Home, Country Roads” and “Rocky Mountain High”
Curry talked about Denver between songs and described him to the audience. He said Denver had a way of connecting with people through song. Even though he often wrote about time back on the farm, or experiences out in nature, people everywhere could relate to the ideas of love, peace and home that Denver expressed.
Nole and Deremo described their experiences with Denver as a part of his band.
“John took us all over the world. We played internationally, from Vietnam to Europe to Australia. It was quite a ride,” Nole said. “And we, of course, got to record a lot with him, too.”
Younger versions of Nole and Deremo occasionally flashed on the projector screen during the concert. The clips, now over 20 years old, eerily reflected the past onto the present — except in the present, Denver was missing.
“It really opened my musical world up,” Deremo said. “He was very giving to all of musicians and other people who worked with him.”
Deremo said he learned a lot from Denver.
“He was very giving to all of musicians and other people who worked with him.” He also said that Denver was among the first wave of pop star philanthropists, and he did not often take credit for what he did.
“I think he’d be happy that someone’s keeping the music alive,” Deremo said.
“So many times we’d be standing with him right here getting ready to do a show, and I’d remember those memories pretty vividly,” Nole said before the concert. “Here we are without him, but we’re getting ready to go on stage.”