Michael Franti makes surprise appearance at memorial for Jeff Brausch in Vail
Franti surprised guests at Friday’s private memorial for the late founder of Highline Sports and Entertainment
Friends, family members and colleagues of Jeff Brausch who gathered Friday afternoon for a private memorial at Vail’s Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater received a delightful surprise.
Michael Franti, the American musician set to play to a full crowd at the amphitheater later that night, suddenly took the stage to pay tribute to the late founder of Highline Sports and Entertainment.
Brausch, who died of cancer on Jan. 29, 2021, at the age of 52, was a friend of Franti’s and the musician agreed to perform a tribute at the request of Brausch’s wife, Kelli, and Brausch’s best friend, James Deighan.
“I know for a fact (Brausch) was looking down from heaven smiling bigger than he’s ever smiled before,” Deighan said after the performance.
“The love that this valley has for me and my family and (Brausch) is amazing and you literally can’t duplicate that,” Kelli said. “You can’t even wish for anything more.”
Brausch, an Eagle resident, was many things: father, friend, magician and local entrepreneur.
There were nine speakers at Friday’s memorial, all people whose lives were touched by Brausch in one form or another, Deighan said.
Arthur Atsma, a fellow professional magician and friend of Brausch’s, flew in to perform for guests, as well.
And then, finally, Deighan took the stage to reveal the big surprise of the day — an intimate performance from Franti.
As Franti began to play, friends, family and friends-turned-family all joined together to sway to the music in one last celebration of a life well lived, Kelli said.
“It was really, really just awe-inspiring,” she said. “(Franti) is a performer with a message and he has a huge heart, so it was really special.”
Deighan called Franti’s instrumental tribute “amazing,” saying that the entire ceremony was just perfect.
After moving to Vail with his wife, Kelli, in 1992, Brausch started Highline Sports and Entertainment with Kelli’s brother, Scott McCormick, in 1995.
His wife and three children were by his side when he died in January. Kamryn is a junior at Vail Christian High School, Kiana a freshman at the University of Georgia and Keaton is a sophomore at Gonzaga University.
Brausch and Kelli were married for 28 years.
Tom Boyd, the senior director of communications and Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater Operations for the Vail Valley Foundation, said Friday’s ceremony was “really, very special.”
“We’re spending the middle of the day remembering just a phenomenal member of the community,” Boyd said.
“It reminds us not only of everything (Brausch) went through with cancer and all that, but it also just reminds us that as celebratory as it feels to be moving out of the pandemic, it took tenacity and we suffered some heartbreak and some difficulty,” he said. “In the past year, we’ve lost some community members to COVID and we’ve lost community members like (Brausch) for other reasons.”
Tricia Swenson contributed reporting.
Email Kelli Duncan at email@example.com