John Denver Remembered

Picture of John Denver

By "The Old Cellar Door Gang"

Friday, January 16, 1998

writer of many songs recorded by and Kenn Roberts of the produced the Friday night tribute which featured "the old Cellar Door Gang,"- performers and friends from the Washington area, plus musicians who have worked with John over the years.

The World Folk Music Association would like to thank Mary Ledford, the Editor/Publisher of John Denver's Rhymes & Reasons for providing the following review of the concert:
The celebration of John's life and music took place at the new Birchmere Music Hall in Alexandria, Virginia. The new hall holds 500 people and was filled to capacity! con98f00.jpg - 9.5 K
The WFMA tribute began with an introduction by Dick Cerri - John's long time friend. Dick told us that this evening would cover the entire span of John's musical career. He then assured us it would be "One hell of a show!", and he was right! con98F01.jpg - 4.9 K
CON98F02.jpg - 2.8 K con98f03.jpg - 7.3 K The evening's musical tribute began with the remarkable musicianship of (on keyboard) and (on guitar) - two of John's current band members. Together they offered beautiful instrumentals of some of John's best: the story of "Eagle & The Hawk"; if I had my "Druthers" I'd be fishin'; sang of "Poems, Prayers & Promises"; said "I'm Sorry" for the way things are in China; expressing "For You" all the rest of my life; and concluding with the powerful "Eagles & Horses".
The next two performers, brought together by John's music, were Doris Justis and Sean McGhee - They were joined by Paul Prestopino on guitar (far left) and Philip Cary Bloch on fiddle (far right) as they offered a beautiful rendition of "That's The Way It's Gonna Be" - the trademark song used to open the Mitchell Trio shows when they introduced John as Chad Mitchell's replacement. They continued with "For Baby (For Bobbie)" a song written for Bobbie Wargo - the original title changed by Peter, Paul & Mary.

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con98f05.jpg - 4.5 K Next to grace the stage was the beauiful daughter of Bill and Taffy - Emma Danoff. She gave us a beautiful rendition of John's "Leaving On A Jet Plane" as originally titled "Oh, Babe I Hate To Go" - Peter, Paul & Mary's only number one hit.

was next, joined by Dick Kniss (on bass) and local DC area husband and wife - Tom sang the three songs of his that John recorded. He began with the classic "Forest Lawn" followed by "Whose Garden Is This" - written for the first Earth Day and one which John sang around the world. He finished with "Jimmy Newman", explaining that he learned how to sing his own song by listening to John sing it. con98f06.jpg - 8.7 K
con98f07.jpg - 10.3 K The next performer, began, accompanied by and Dick Kniss, with a bluesy version of "Sunshine". He then remembered John coming up to his apartment, above the Cellar Door, and bringing an album that he was very excited about. They both sat down and listened to "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band"! Donal continued with the beautiful "For You" and concluded with the powerful Pete Seeger song "Bells Of Rhymney" telling the story of miners in Wales. Each bell is a different color and as each one is mentioned, a mining disaster occurred. Donal said John learned how to play the song right, he learned to play it the best he could. Dick then told us when John sang the song in New York at the Town Hall he got a 5 minute standing ovation!
Joined by Paul Prestopinio and Ira Gitlan, Doris and Sean ( ) took the stage to sing some of John's songs that were real winners! They began with one of John's best (and Doris' favorite) "Fly Away" where Doris envisioned singing a duet with John. They continued with the always beautiful "Annie's Song" where Sean marvelled that John wrote the song in 10 minutes while riding up a ski lift.
Next, this time joined by the incredible Steve Weissberg (center), was "Goodbye Again" and included the wonderful (formerly of now with Mary Chapin Carpenter). con98f09.jpg - 12.8 K
(Fat City) were next, singing the first of their songs John recorded - "I Guess He'd Rather Be In Colorado". con98f10.jpg - 12.1 K
con98f11.jpg - 11.1 K Bill and Taffy's Godson, Ben Carroll (left), took the stage accompanied by to sing of John's beautiful home "Starwood In Aspen".
con98f12.jpg - 10.8 K Ben's father, and Chris Nole (not pictured) continued with a beautiful rendition of "Dearest Esmeralda" - the first song John played on in a real studio which was recorded on Bill and Taffy's "Aces" album. This song was written on one of Bill's trips to Paris, France.
Bill took the stage once again to sing his wonderful song "Potter's Wheel" which was the last song of Bill's that John recorded (Different Directions 1991). Lucy Danoff, Bill's younger daughter, came on stage to join Bill and Jon for this beautiful song.

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Taffy and Mike Taylor (seated) came out to join them to do John's powerful "Eagle & The Hawk". Dick Kniss (bass) and (guitar) are also show in the photo at left. con98f14.jpg - 13.0 K
con98f15.jpg - 8.1 K Margot Kunkel (one fourth of the ) sang beautifully about "Looking For Space" accompanied by on keyboards (not shown) and
con98f16.jpg - 10.0 K Singing John's anthem, "Rocky Mountain High" was the beautiful tenor voice of When I heard Mack sing, I could close my eyes and see John - he's truly awesome!
During the brief intermission some of the performers, including mingled with the concert goers. con98/con98f17.jpg - 10.1 K
Photo of Starland Vocal Band Photo of Starland Vocal Band Photo of Starland Vocal Band
After the intermission, the Bill, Taffy, Jon and Margot took the stage, or as Bill explained, "well, here we are the Starving Local Band!" They began with the story of "Late Nite Radio" - their harmonies just as beautiful as on their album of the same name. They proceeded with "Baby, You Look Good To Me Tonight" and concluded with the first song off the first album they recorded on John's Windsong Label - the mega hit "Afternoon Delight". This song won a Grammy for the for best new group and song of the year.

Doris and Sean ( ), accompanied by Paul Prestopinio (not shown) and Steve Weissberg (center), sang one of my favorite songs, "Boy From The Country". The harmonies on this song were so clear and rich. Upon hearing John's song "Dreamland Express" they immediately learned it. Then, a couple of years later, they discovered that the Everly Brothers' song "Dream, Dream, Dream" had the same chord progression and the two songs just sort of melded together. So they put the two together and called it the "Dreamland Melody". They concluded with the story of "Wild Montana Skies" - the beautiful duet John did with Emmy Lou Harris.
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con98f22.jpg - 7.2 K took the stage once more, not to sing, but to pay tribute to John. He read a letter from Milt Okun, John's long time friend, producer and publisher. Milt thanked the WFMA for their tribute and expressed that he cared passionately for John's music. He said that he found it a tragedy the views of some of the critics of John's music and stressed that it's up to us to shove these unfortunate views back into the critics' faces!! John's music has kept constant for some 30 years while other artists have floundered through many phases of music. John's songs will remain in the cultural stream of America - sung in schools, around campfires, etc. - how many songwriters can claim songs written for an entire region? John is known all over the world for his struggle for the environment, against world hunger and for the rights of children.
Accepting the WFMA Lifetime Achievement Award for John was Kris O'Connor. In accepting the award Kris said: "Thank you. They just told me about this backstage. Normally you don't see me out there. I know John would appreciate this greatly - he's up there watching us and laughing all night at us having a great time. We've got a lot more for you and I thank you very much - thank YOU John." con98f23.jpg - 10.5 K
con98f24.jpg - 7.6 K was next in the link. Mack stated how much he appreciated working with all the people that night but he'd much rather be out in the audience watching John sing - so would we all!!! He then sang John's beautiful story of "This Old Guitar" saying "I love to sing John's songs for you....I love to sing John's songs for you".
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Mack was joined on stage by the rest of the and explained that September 20, 1997 was one of his most memorable nights, the first time he'd met John Denver. At the Baltimore Orioles game that afternoon Mack introduced himself and told John that he just wanted to thank him for teaching him how to play the guitar and how to sing a song. John then asked him, "Didn't you record "Potter's Wheel" and "Tenderly Calling" before I did?" "Yeah!" was Mack's reply. The whole group, with on piano, then sang that beautiful Jan Garrett song followed by Buddy Renfro's "As The First Snows Fell In Colorado" - a beautiful tribute to John. Buddy shared that he met John some 21 years ago when he was a film producer. He wanted John to do a PSA (Public Service Announcement) for the wilderness. John remembered Buddy after all those years when Buddy saw John in Baltimore. The group then sang about how good it is to be "Back Home Again".

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They concluded their set, along with by doing the beautiful "River Of Love" from John's Farewell Andromeda album. talked about singing that song at the Blue Moose in Aspen as part of a goup called Liberty. When they finished the song John came up to them and said he loved the song and would like to record it. He said he'd like Liberty to come to New York and record it with him. Skeptical as they were, they dismissed it. Well, that's exactly what happened!!
con98f27.jpg - 6.9 K accompanied by Steve Weissberg and others, took the stage once more to sing Steve Gillette's sad story of "Darcy Farrow".
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con98f28.jpg - 8.6 K con98f29.jpg - 9.8 K Steve Weissberg then introduced Kenn Roberts and by explaining that they thought they had all the band together but had lost the lead singer. He didn't know who could fill John's shoes, but, when he heard he knew it would be ok. I agree!! Kenn and Mack, all decked out in tuxedos, sang "Perhaps Love" with and accompanying them. "My Sweet Lady" was followed by a powererful rendition of "Eagles & Horses". They finished up with a trip on a crystal clear ocean on the good ship "Calypso".

came on stage with his fiddle and joined in a wonderful rendition of "Thank God I'm A Country Boy" which is played during the 7th inning stretch at Camden Yards. After the game John attended with the John asked Kenn if the would like to do that song, at the end of their benefit show in Baltimore, as an encore. They went back to the arena, rehearsed for an hour, and the encore was phenomenal. con98f30.jpg - 18.3 K

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The entire group took us down the "Country Roads" of West Virginia and closed with "Friends I will remember you, think of you, pray for you; and when another day is through, I'll still be Friends With You". Bill closed with, "Goodnight and we love you John!" (Editor's note: This was one of the most incredible shows I have ever seen and I want to thank everyone who participated and for making this such a special tribute to a beautiful human being. It was so good to see members of John's band that I hadn't seen in more than 20 years. The love and affection for John that was expressed that evening was phenominal! -- Mary Ledford.
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The entire show was video taped under the supervision of the World Folk Music Association. The two volume VHS tape, John Denver Remembered by the Old Cellar Door Gang is now available (in very limited quantities) at the