Lee Holdridge, conductor and arranger for American singer-songwriter John Denver (from left) is paying tribute to his friend at Rocky Mountain High: An Evening of John Denver at the Port Theatre on May 17. (Photo courtesy Lee Holdridge)

John Denver tribute Rocky Mountain High will make Nanaimo debut

Concert features Island musicians and Denver’s original composer and arranger

Rick Worrall was a young boy the first time he saw American singer-songwriter John Denver performing at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto in 1975. Denver was joined by a symphony led by his conductor and arranger, Lee Holdridge.

“Hearing these songs with full symphony, it just stuck in my head,” Worrall said.

More than 40 years later, Worrall, now a Kelowna-based musician, reached out to Holdridge to help revive the experience he felt that summer in Toronto. Last March the duo premiered Rocky Mountain High: An Evening of John Denver in Kelowna and on May 17 the show makes its Nanaimo debut at the Port Theatre.

“At first I was worried about this. I said, ‘Wow, I don’t know how this will go,’” Holdridge said. “But then when I discovered the [audience] reaction … we got more than we bargained for. So it’s kind of a pleasant surprise to discover that they really enjoy it.”

The program includes Denver’s traditional folk songs, as well as his foray into symphonic and operatic music. The show makes use of the original scores Holdridge wrote for Denver. Holdridge was insistent that the musicians get every detail right, including learning the original guitar parts.

“I’ve been to concerts where people are doing John Denver tributes and they’re playing the wrong chords and the wrong changes and it just doesn’t sound right. You sit there and say, ‘What? That’s not the way that song goes,’” he said. “So I insisted on that and Rick and his [band] were amazing in recreating those things and being absolutely fanatical about it.”

When the production tours, Worrall seeks out local performers to join the ensemble. When the show comes to the Island it will feature the Victoria Symphony and taking on operatic duties will be University of Victoria tenor Nolan Kehler and Nanaimo soprano Nadya Blanchette.

Worrall said “engaging the local communities” was an important part of the plan from the beginning and Rocky Mountain High does that by not only featuring local artists, but by contributing to local charities. At the Nanaimo show, money will be raised for the Loaves and Fishes Community Food Bank and non-perishable food donations will be welcome in the Port Theatre lobby.

“Bottom line is John was an incredible philanthropist and he really got behind a lot of wonderful organizations and it was part of my vision … to keep that going,” Worrall said. “I think it’s really important that we include organizations that can use the support, that need the support, so it’s part of our mantra that everywhere we go we team up with a local charity.”

Holdridge said he used to tell Denver that many of his songs would soon become timeless folk classics. It was an apt prediction, as over the years he’s heard Denver’s music played around the world. As someone who knew and worked with Denver, Holdridge said it means a lot to be involved with Rocky Mountain High.

“I’m very thrilled to be a part of that and I think it’s a wonderful thing to be able to do this, keeping certain classic songs alive,” he said. “People seem to be really enjoying it and I think there are some new generations coming along that are discovering it. There are a lot of young people at the concerts, which I’m delighted about.”

WHAT’S ON … Rocky Mountain High: An Evening of John Denver at the Port Theatre on Friday, May 17 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets range from $54 to $74.


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

Fired senior manager’s human rights complaint against City of Nanaimo can proceed to hearing

B.C. Human Rights Tribunal will hear Brad McRae’s case against the city

Syrian family in Nanaimo rebuilding following house fire

Family displaced by fire on Strickland Street had been planning to move later this summer

Police ask for tips about suspects who allegedly stole from Nanaimo furniture store

RCMP release images from surveillance footage following theft from The Brick

V.I. Raiders build ‘team environment’ at main camp

Nanaimo-based junior football team held camp this past weekend in Parksville

B.C. Ferries crew member’s medical emergency causes cancellations

One sailing from Horseshoe Bay and one sailing from Departure Bay cancelled Monday

VIDEO: Young couple found dead in northern B.C. had been shot, police say

Chynna Noelle Deese of the U.S. and Lucas Robertson Fowler of Australia were found along Highway 97

Nanaimo tubber sets all-time record at bathtub race

Justin Lofstrom completes course in fastest-ever time

VIDEO: Man found dead near B.C. teens’ truck could be linked to a double homicide

RCMP said they are looking for Kam McLeod, 19, and Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, of Port Alberni

Latest plan is to fly trapped fish by helicopter over Big Bar slide

Multi-pronged plan set in motion to freesalmon blocked by landslide in the Fraser River

Family of missing B.C. senior with dementia frustrated with situation, heartened by community support

Nine days since Grace was last seen the question remains: ‘How can an 86-year-old just disappear?’

Police ask for help locating missing men last seen in South Surrey

Jeep that Richard Scurr and Ryan Provencher were in has been located unoccupied in Logan Lake: RCMP

Islanders have new cancer screening option with $6.5 M diagnostic suite in Victoria

The Gordon Heys Family PET/CT Suite was unveiled at the BC Cancer Centre-Victoria

Unsealed record suggests U.S. man convicted of murdering Vancouver Island couple left DNA on zip tie in 1987

William Talbott is set to be sentenced Wednesday in the murders of Jay Cook and Tanya Van Cuylenborg

Okanagan Air Cadet challenges gender-exclusive haircut policy

Haircut regulation inspires challenge around gender identity

Most Read