This year marks five decades since the release of John Denver’s iconic, sometimes controversial, and utterly pastoral folk anthem “Rocky Mountain High,” and the Coloradans featured a major concert tour as well as some self-guided excursions. can celebrate with
The Colorado Symphony this week announced a September 8 show at the Boecher Concert Hall, which honors the song and two-time Grammy Award winner and former Colorado Poet Laureate Denver. He would appear, in a way, through archival footage of him performing on the 1972 “Rocky Mountain High” album and other hit songs.
While John Denver tribute shows have been common in Colorado since his 1997 death at age 53, the show will see members of his band perform live and tell stories about the singer-songwriter. Tickets, $15-$98, are on sale now at coloradosymphony.org.
On June 8, Governor Jared Polis also marked the song’s 50th anniversary by renaming the Mountain Lion Trail at Golden Gate Canyon State Park to Rocky Mountain High Trail.
“Here in Colorado, we’ve always known that our majestic mountains, our bright blue skies, our starry nights and our forests and streams were the stuff of legends—but John Denver made them the stuff of song lyrics, too,” Polis said. Said in the testimony. “And not just any song, but world-famous songs that span genres and generations.”
Released on October 30, 1972, “Rocky Mountain High” became a chart-topping hit in 1973 and a staple of Denver’s live sets. According to the Red Rocks and the Colorado Music Hall of Fame (the latter of which inducted Denver in 2011), he had moved to Colorado three years earlier, and was spending his time living in the rapidly changing mountain town of Aspen—now the glitz. has become an alternative. Inaccessibility – inspired him to look at Colorado with traveling eyes.
“His life was far away when he first came to the mountains,” he wrote in a soft, sweetly intoxicating song. “On the road and hanging out with a song / But the string’s already broken and he doesn’t really care / It changes fast and it doesn’t last long.”
Denver debuted at the Red Rocks Amphitheater on June 21, 1972, about four months before “Rocky Mountain High” climbed the charts, according to the Castle Pines Connection monthly newspaper. This marked the beginning of 16 concerts that would place Denver as the first artist to play four consecutive nights at the venue. His last show was in the summer of 1989.
Even while he was alive, “Rocky Mountain High” became a symbol of Colorado’s musical identity for many in the state, and was approved by legislators as the state’s second official song in 2007. (the first is “Where the Columbins Grow” by Dr. Arthur John Flynn).
It has become shorthand for Colorado culture for many people outside of our state, taking its name from craft beer, art exhibitions, theater productions, and other public culture. Denver’s pioneering eco-activism is now often synonymous with Colorado.
“Denver used its popularity to promote its favorite cause: the environment,” wrote Colorado Music Hall of Fame officials upon their inductance. “He founded the Windstar Foundation in 1976 as an education and performance center dedicated to a sustainable future in Snowmass.”
However, the song was not always universally liked. At the time of its release and its inclusion as a new state song in 2007, critics accused the song of “high” in references to drug use. In the early 1970s, some radio stations banned it. Denver may also have erupted in 2007, including “Rocky Mountain High”, according to The Aspen Times, when their so-called Sanctuary in Aspen hastily removed “scandalous” lines from their songs in a bout of censorship.
“My brother didn’t write it that way, and he never sang it that way,” Denver’s brother told the newspaper. “He’ll be angry like I’m angry. That’s not okay.”
Denver had already experienced and in many ways anticipated future reactions before he died.
“It was apparently done by people who had never seen or been to the Rocky Mountains…” Denver told Congress in 1985 as part of the Parents Music Resource Center, Eric D. According to Nuzum’s 2001 book “Parental Advisory: Music Censorship in America.” ,
The fact that Colorado has successfully pioneered legal, recreational cannabis in Colorado since 2014 is something Denver might find amusing, given the song’s own defense and the fact that it was openly lit in the 1970s. Admitting smoking pot was still problematic (at best).
Denver was no saint. Ex-wife Annie Martel said Denver strangled her and cut their bed in half with a chainsaw at the end of their marriage (they divorced in 1982). Denver confirmed that kind of ownership in his autobiography “Take Me Home”, but downplayed the events. He racked up DUIs, including one after his car hit a tree in Aspen. Before dying in a plane crash in 1997, he defied a court order that barred him from flying his plane. (To be sure: there was no evidence of alcohol involvement in his death, according to NTSB public meeting notes.)
Regardless, fans of the song and Denver can mark their own way by hiking their new, so-called name, learn more about them via the Colorado Music Hall of Fame (cmhof.org) , or check out the display at the Red Rocks Trading Post (free and open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day), where his “Spirit” statue now resides.
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