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INTERVIEW: Chris Collins brings John Denver songbook to life


Chris Collins will play with Boulder Canyon at the State Theatre in Easton, Pennsylvania.

John Denver was an American musical icon. The singer-songwriter will always be remembered for his soothing, stirring songs about the country, the open road and the environment. He wasn’t afraid to add activism to his artistic output, and he seemed to embody a free spirit of the American West.


Denver’s songs live on, and there are numerous tunes that can get stuck in a listener’s head. From “Take Me Home, Country Roads” to “Leaving on a Jet Place” to “Rocky Mountain High,” Denver’s songbook is cherished by fans both old and new.


Chris Collins and Boulder Canyon have celebrated Denver’s tunes with a concert experience that has toured the United States for several years. They will bring their dynamic show to the State Theatre in Easton, Pennsylvania, Friday, March 3 at 7 p.m.



“Well, besides a whole of John memories, they’re going to get a great show,” Collins said recently in a phone interview. “We’ve got some really fabulous musicians that play in the band, and they’re going to get something that reminds them a lot of a John Denver show. But it’s not a duplicate, and it’s not an imitation. It’s pretty authentic the way we present the music, and we use a lot of original humor in the style of John Denver but not necessarily his jokes or his lines.”


No doubt, Collins sounds like Denver, and he has a vague resemblance to the singer as well, especially when donning those iconic circle glasses. The singer’s dedication to the Denver songbook began approximately 15 years ago. He was writing his own music and entered a songwriting competition. A friend at the competition thought Collins looked like Denver and asked him to play a tribute show at a club in the Dallas area.


“It took me about a year to finally say yes because I really didn’t want to do it, and when I went there, there happened to be some people from Aspen who go to this annual celebration that happens on the anniversary of John’s death,” Collins said. “It’s Oct. 12. Every year they go to this celebration, and they invited me up to do some John Denver songs. I thought, well, it can’t hurt anything. I’ll go up and have some fun with them. Well, I got up there, and I met some of the guys in the band. And it took about another five or six years after that for us to finally put something together. It wasn’t really a professional show. It was just a bunch of guys having fun together, but we sounded so good together that we decided after about 10 years that we would put it out there as a professional show. So we polished it up, and we’ve been doing it now for about five years.”


In the crowd for a Boulder Canyon show are a lot of folks who are old enough to remember Denver in the 1970s; however, these Baby Boomers are also bringing their children and grandchildren to hear the music as well. In many ways, Collins and company have allowed the Denver music to live on in a new, high-energy form.

In the crowd for a Boulder Canyon show are a lot of folks who are old enough to remember Denver in the 1970s; however, these Baby Boomers are also bringing their children and grandchildren to hear the music as well. In many ways, Collins and company have allowed the Denver music to live on in a new, high-energy form.


For Collins, music runs in the family. Although he didn’t find out until later in his life, Collins’ mother was a professional musician when she was younger. He found out because at a young age he started to play guitar, and his mother would help him with the instrument. “I just didn’t know anything about her music up until that point, so it was a real bonding experience,” he said. “I think that my mom having been a musician also kind of reinforced it for me.”


Collins has some early memories of hearing Denver’s songs on the radio. At the time, he didn’t even realize that they were written or sung by Denver. He heard Peter, Paul and Mary sing “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” which also served as the United Airlines theme song. Then, when Collins turned 13 or 14 years old, he and his father were driving and needed to stop in a grocery store.


“He threw the keys to me in the car and said, ‘Here, listen to the radio for a while. I’ve got to run in and grab some stuff,'” Collins said. “I turned on the radio. It was WOKY in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and ‘Rocky Mountain High’ came on. And it was the first music I ever remember hearing that I thought, man, I love that. That’s exactly how I feel about music, and it came across the radio. And I was electrified by it, but I still didn’t know who John Denver was until years later because I wasn’t playing guitar at that time. But another early memory was I had an old 1966 Dodge Polara that was always breaking down, and I was driving home from the junkyard getting some parts for it. And I had just turned 16, and I turned on the radio. And ‘Country Roads’ was playing. The same guy that sang ‘Rocky Mountain High,’ and from that point forward, I became pretty aware of his music and started to play guitar.”


Collins said the crowds for the Boulder Canyon shows keep growing in size, so there’s no end in sight. He said they understand that the core audience members are an aging fan base, but there’s still a lot of country roads to travel. “How long that will go, I have no idea,” he said. “I hope my voice lasts as long as the enthusiasm for John Denver’s music.”

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

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