DEC 13, 2019 | By KATHY CICHON | AURORA BEACON-NEWS for Chicago Tribune
Chris Collins and Boulder Canyon will perform a John Denver Tribute Christmas Show Dec. 21 at 210 Live in Highwood and Dec. 22 at The Arcada Theatre in St. Charles. (Arcada Theatre)
Music can inspire many emotions, including ones that lead to acts of great generosity.
After a show in Norwood, Massachusetts, Chris Collins met an audience member who surprised him with a gift.
“Last year there was a fella there … he heard our show and heard me tell the story of how John Denver got his start by his grandmother giving him her 1910 Gibson F-hole jazz guitar,” Collins said. “Well, he heard the story and this year he showed up at our show and he met me in the lobby after the show and said ‘I have something at my house I want to give you.’ And what he wanted to give me was a Gibson F-hole jazz guitar very much like the one John played from his grandmother.
“So I just got that this weekend. So we’ve been tuning it up and cleaning it up and getting it worked on a little bit so we can start playing it in the show,” he said. “(It’s) Incredibly generous. It’s a beautiful old instrument.”
Collins and the band, Boulder Canyon, tour internationally performing a John Denver tribute show. They will perform a holiday concert at 5 p.m. Dec. 21 at 210 Live in Highwood and at 3 p.m. Dec. 22 at The Arcada Theatre in St. Charles.
“We’ll be doing some of the Christmas standards that people love, along with John Denver music,” he said. “We do about five or six Christmas songs. Some of them are John Denver Christmas songs.”
They also perform “Snowing in Colorado,” an original Christmas song written by Collins’ friend, DianaJo Burleson. The approximately two-hour show is loosely based on the style of show that Denver used to produce, Collins said.
“All of the humor, the banter and everything is original,” he said. “So the audience will get something that feels very much like a John Denver concert, except it will be completely contemporary in terms of its banter and content.”
Collins began playing guitar when he was 17, primarily listening to Jim Croce and James Taylor. It was about the time that Denver’s “Back Home Again” album was out.
“I liked that album so much I went backwards in John Denver’s catalogue of albums,” he said. “And the more researched backwards, the more I liked his music. And really became a huge fan.”
While performing his own music, Collins would hear from audience members about his resemblance to the late singer.
“Every place I would go, people would say ‘Hey, you look like John Denver. Play some John Denver,'” he said. “So I would for them. Eventually, someone from Aspen heard me and invited me to the … annual John Denver Celebration that takes place in Aspen every second weekend of October to celebrate his life and the anniversary of his passing.
That’s where I met most of the band members. We started sort of reluctantly doing tribute concerts,” he said. “One every here and there. And the last five or six years we really decided that we would like to put a little more effort into producing the show.”
The band includes Kevin Delmolino on bass, Paul Swanton on lead guitar, Alexander Mitchell on mandolin/fiddle and Bill Powell on keyboards. Guest band members include Mark Nelson on percussion, Joel Tolley on bass and Nigel Newton on keyboards.
“Everybody in the band really loves John Denver and plays everything with such heart,” Collins said.
Collins, who grew up in Wisconsin but now lives in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, said the concerts draw all ages because Denver’s music is so universal.
“The thing that makes John’s music so enduring is he writes about the human experience. And despite all the changes — the wars, political changes and all the changes in technology — the one thing that remains consistent is our human experience of life,” Collins said.
“Our longing for love, our longing for freedom, our longing to understanding our place in society. Our longing to feel useful and important. That’s something everybody shares. And whether John did it consciously or subconsciously, most of his music reflects that message.”
Collins said he is glad people still want to experience Denver’s music live.
“It’s very different than listening to it on the stereo,” he said. “To be amongst people who also love his music and loved John Denver the way they did, I think there’s a certain magic that occurs.”