John Denver’s message, music live on |

John Denver’s message, music live on

Leslie Brefeld
Vail, CO, Colorado
Special to the Daily

Henry John Deutschendorf Jr. began using the stage name of John Denver in the 1960s, adopting the designation of his favorite city.

In March of 2007, the city of Denver returned the sentiment by making “Rocky Mountain High” its second state song.

Ten years after his death, the spirit of the man who embraced nature in song and politics still reverberates in our culture.

Denver co-created the Windstar Foundation, which works for environmental awareness, in 1976. It formerly hosted an annual New Choices for Your Future Symposium. According to a story by the Aspen Times, the nonprofit went dormant after the singer’s death in 1997, but has begun to take steps toward being a visible entity again. Denver’s brother Ron Deutschendorf is raising funds through an early release to members of a recording of a song Denver sang in Russia. The foundation is also hosting tribute shows this weekend featuring members of Denver’s band.

The Vail Valley recently received a visit by Christopher Canyon, writer of a children’s book series based on the lyrics of John Denver.

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And as they have done every year since his death, John Denver’s former bandmates are performing a special set of shows at the Aspen Wheeler House this weekend, including three concerts and a storytelling session.

“He made a real impact on my life,” former Breckenridge resident singer and songwriter Jim Salestrom said. “He had a good message about loving each other and the environment, and taking care of each other.”

Salestrom played with Denver’s band and recorded an album with him in 1991.

Salestrom was just 16 when he first met the legendary singer, who was then 28. Salestrom had traveled from Nebraska to help work the sound system for Denver’s first-ever concert at Red Rocks, and ended up being the musician’s personal assistant for the day.

In 2007 he played “Rocky Mountain High” at the Capital as state senators and members of the House voted for the song.

“It’s been 10 years he’s been gone, and we just hope and want to make sure that his music doesn’t lose its spark,” said Salestrom, who will be at the 10th annual Tribute to John Denver concerts in Aspen. “I want my children to learn ‘Country Roads’ … I think it’s important for people to hear his music.”

John Adams, a John Denver tribute artist who recently moved to Silverthorne from the Aspen area, said he took as much away from his music as he did from his humanitarian work.

“The most wonderful thing about him was he was such a down-to-earth person,” Adams said.

The Dutch native will perform tribute shows this weekend in Aspen.

Adams first met Denver on a TV special in Holland. Adams was preparing to sing one of Denver’s songs, when the songwriter himself showed up as a surprise to Adams and sang “Whispering Jessie” along with him.

In the years that followed, Adams said he was always invited backstage when Denver performed in Holland.

He spoke about Denver’s political presence, citing his work with the government on fighting hunger, the Plant-It 2000 project and his work to conserve wild places.

He also remembered when he heard about Denver’s passing on the BBC.

“It was all over the radio ” he was a major popular artist in England. I made a promise to keep his music alive as long as I can, and that’s what I do.”

Leslie Brefeld can be reached at (970) 668-4626 or

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