By Jeffrey V. Smith
In an ongoing effort to keep the music and spirit of John Denver alive, Estes Park’s “Cowboy” Brad Fitch and The TropiCowboy Band present their 11th annual John Denver Tribute Concert, Aug. 30, at the Stanley Park Fairgrounds. High energy bluegrass band Chain Station opens the show.
The concert, which always proves to be a memorable and popular event, features classic songs from the legendary Denver and benefits the Estes Park Lions Club charities. The majority of funds will go to organizations for the sight and hearing impaired, community social services and local scholarships.
Fitch believes Denver, one of the world’s best-known and best-loved performers, would have approved of the show’s charity aspect. “This is one of the most gratifying shows that I perform, and I’m proud to keep John Denver’s music, memory and message alive through this event,” he said.
“The Lions are always looking for ways to raise funds to support the many projects we donate to,” member Carol Daigre said. “This particular event raises as much money in the one evening as running the concession for most of the summer months. Alas, less volunteer hours for the club and more money in one evening.”
Anyone familiar with Fitch’s music and performances will find this show a bit distinctive. “This concert is different because it is exclusively John Denver’s music. I often include a few of his songs in my other performances, but this one is all about John Denver,” Fitch said.
The popular Estes Park singer-songwriter has been doing the tribute concerts since 2004. “It started several years after [Denver’s] death when several friends encouraged me to put together a tribute to him,” he said. “I bear a superficial resemblance to Denver, and therefore have had folks asking me to play his songs for many years. The more songs I learned and the more I learned about Denver and his contributions to our popular culture, the more amazed I became.
“I have great respect for who he was and all that he did. He used the fame he earned through music to bring attention to vital world issues, such as protecting our environment, endangered species, world peace, feeding the hungry, and the list goes on and on. His music is also some of the best I have ever heard and I am honored to be one of the hundreds, if not thousands, of musicians worldwide who are still playing his songs.”
The show features Fitch’s full TropiCowboy Band, which specializes in Denver’s music. “I am proud to perform with a wonderful band that interprets John Denver’s songs with both reverence and a whole lot of fun. Each musician adds a unique flavor to these timeless songs,” Fitch said. “The entire evening is always lots of fun with folks of all ages in attendance. We open the floor for dancing and encourage singing along. It’s like a big, big party remembering John Denver’s music, and his love for Colorado.”
Each year the group plays Denver’s biggest hits and most loved songs, but members also add in some of the more obscure songs from Denver’s catalog. “It’s fun for me to see the reaction of the died-in-the-wool John Denver fans when we pull out some of these lesser known album cuts,” Fitch said. “Year to year, it’s never the same set list.”
Fitch will be joined at the concert by renowned fiddler Johnny Neill, star of stage and screen, who has performed with Willie Nelson among others. This is his ninth year performing this concert with the band. The drummer will be Estes Park resident and “percussionist extraordinaire” Ward Durrett, who’s been with Fitch since 2011. Melinda Morris, Fitch’s sister, will be singing harmonies and his nephew, Eamonn Morris of Boulder, who is 19 years of age and “a monster musician,” will also be part of the band. Fitch’s brother Doug, who lives in Hawaii, will be playing percussion and singing harmonies. About half-way through the set, the band takes a few songs off and Fitch plays solo, the way Denver often did in his concerts.
Money raised from the performance support Lions Club charities. “Our funds are spent locally, regional and international,” Daigre said. “All monies raised from our events support local organizations in our town, local schools, Cub Scouts, pay for exams and glasses for locals in need, hearing aids… eye and hearing screenings at schools and preschools, leader dogs, hearing dogs and canine companion dogs. We send funds for disasters overseas, global measles initiatives and sight programs.”
Fitch recently released a new CD, “Rocky,” an authorized Rocky Mountain National Park Centennial product. The album celebrates the park’s 100th birthday in 2015. He was also commissioned by the park’s centennial committee to write a centennial theme song, which will be introduced at the kick-off event in September.
He also has a new John Denver tribute album, which has the artist covering 14 songs. “I am proud of this album as I feel it is my way of helping to keep his music, memory and messages alive,” Fitch said. The musician also presents his fifth annual “Spirituality of John Denver” concert at Hyde Memorial Chapel, YMCA of the Rockies, Estes Park, Aug. 24 at 7 p.m.
The John Denver Tribute Concert takes place at the new Events Center at the Fairgrounds at Stanley Park, 1209 Manford Ave. Doors open and Chain Station takes the stage at 5 p.m. Fitch and the TropiCowboy Band perform at 7 p.m. Advance General Admission tickets are available for $20 online or in Estes Park at Macdonald Book Shop, Hobert Office Services and at the Estes Park Visitor Center. General Admission tickets may also be purchased at the fairgrounds gate beginning at 4 p.m. the day of the event for $25. General Admission seating is first-come, first-choice, so attendees are encouraged to arrive early.