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Chris Collins gives new life to John Denver's music

Posted: 06/23/2015 04:20:34 PM MDT

Grammy Award-winning singer and songwrtiter John Denver died when an experimental aircraft he was flying crashed into Monterey Bay on Oct. 12, 1997.

The music business lost one of its best-selling singers and songwriters, as well as an actor, producer and political and environmental activist.

When Chris Collins takes the Egyptian Theatre stage this weekend, he will bring Denver's music back to life with members of the band Boulder Canyon.

While Collins looks and sounds like Denver, the show is more than just an impersonation, he said during a telephone interview from the road with The Park Record.

"I think what folks like most about the show we do is that we're not an imitation act," Collins said. "While I do bear enough resemblance physically and vocally that the show takes people there, I think the audiences like the musical integrity that we play everything with."

The band members who will accompany Collins are bassist Kevin Delmolino, lead guitarist Paul Swanton, fiddle player and mandolinist Alexander Mitchell and dobro player Dave Howard.

"All the guys in the band are great musicians so we bring this real sense of life to the music," Collins said. "It's not just note-for-note replication. It's not a dry show. It's filled with humor and laughs and sentimentality."

On an average night, the band will play 24 songs, but the group as a whole knows upwards of 250 John Denver tunes, which some consider country, others consider folk and some think of as pop.

"It's amazing to me after all of these years, there is still a demand for his music, because I think it was a genre unto itself," Collins said. "John was always considered a Western artist, and in his time and still today, almost doesn't exist, except in rare places like cowboy poetry gatherings or on old black and white Roy Rogers shows with Dale Evans and Gene Autry. But it was something more."

Collins' favorite John Denver song is "Rocky Mountain High," as it is for most people.

"I do have a couple of sentimental favorites like 'Poems, Prayers and Promises' and 'This Old Guitar,'" he said.

The idea for Collins to perform John Denver tribute concerts emerged from his own budding music career.

"Popular opinion, it turns out, was the cause," Collins said laughing. "I played my original music and entered a lot of songwriting contests and festivals and was doing quite well, but everywhere I played, people wanted me to play John Denver songs because my voice and my appearance reminded them of him. So, after about 10 years of being told that I should do this, I met up with a group of guys who were phenomenal musicians and loved John's music. It seemed like a natural fit."

After years of studying and performing Denver's music, Collins has met some of the songwriter's family members and close friends.

He's also found many things about Denver as well.

"The truth is John was just a guy," Collins said. "He wasn't a god, but many people put him on such a high pedestal, which made many people take pleasure in throwing rocks at him and tried to knock him off.

"The fact is, he did that just fine by himself, because he wasn't immune to human frailties and everything else we're all subject to," he said. "I think it's incredibly difficult to be the kind of star at the level he was at and live anything that resembled a normal life."

There is another significant realization Collins has come to as well.

"I think the one thing I learned most was to separate the frailties from the genius and some of the amazing things John had to say in his music and his ability he had to communicate with people," he said. "He was just a cool human being."

Surprisingly, Collins discovered Denver's music later than expected.

"I wasn't until I was out of high school," he confessed. "I heard 'Back Home Again' and worked my way back. The farther back I went, the more I liked."

That doesn't mean Collins' musical education was lacking.

"My parents liked Glen Campbell and Frank Sinatra, so they were the first singers that I was exposed to," he said. "The first album I bought was by Jim Croce, and that's sort of what turned me onto playing guitar. And from there, I got into Seals & Crofts and James Taylor."

Collins takes his role performing John Denver's music to new audiences and old fans seriously.

"Of course, I love the adoration by proxy and just being on stage in front of people and have them go nuts is great," he said. "Of course, I understand it's not totally me that they are enthralled with. It's the music, but getting to be the messenger is pretty cool."

The Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main St., will present a Tribute to John Denver with Chris Collins and Boulder Canyon on Friday, June 26, and Saturday, June 27, at 8 p.m. Tickets range from $29 to $50 and can be purchased by visiting The group will also perform on Thursday, June 25, at the Zermatt Resort in Heber. For more information, visit www.zermatt




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