Timeless messages: John Denver tribute brings music legend’s songs to Altoona

When singer Chris Collins decided to play a John Denver tribute concert at a friend’s prompting, 300 people showed up to pack a small bar after reading an article in a local newspaper.

“It’s just a matter of reaching people, but if you can let John Denver fans know the music’s in town, they show up,” Collins said. “Like I said, there’s nothing like it, so they still love it and connect to it. And the messages of his music are kind of timeless.”

Boulder Canyon Band, featuring Collins on lead vocals, will hit the stage to play a tribute concert next week at the Mishler to the popular singer, songwriter and environmentalist who died in a plane crash in 1997.

The audience can expect to hear popular tunes such as “Rocky Mountain High” and “Annie’s Song,” Collins said.

“It never ceases to amaze me the adoration that the fans still have for John’s music,” he said, recalling a show in Morgantown, W.V., where they saved the popular “Take Me Home, Country Roads” song for the encore. It took only seconds for the audience to begin chanting for the West Virginia University theme song, he said.

The music of John Denver has “such amazing appeal. You can go anywhere in the country and play his music, and people still just love it to death,” Collins said. “Of all the music that I knew growing up, you could pretty much categorize anything into pop music, folk music, Americana. John Denver’s music kind of bridged a lot of different genres of music, and in a weird sort of way, it’s almost a genre unto itself because it’s so unique, not only in its message, but also its musical style.”

Collins, 55, who lives in Texas, said he and the band members met about 10 years ago.

Collins also plays guitar and banjo in the band. Kevin Delmolino plays bass guitar and sings. Mark Nelson plays percussion, synthesizer and sings. Paul Swanton plays guitar and sings. Alex Mitchell plays fiddle, mandolin and sings. Bill Powell plays piano and keyboard. Lindsey Burda, a singer/ songwriter from Central Pennsylvania and a Penn State University graduate, sings background vocals.

Delmolino, 46, of Maryland said they are looking forward to coming to Altoona. They’ve played in the Raystown Lake area before.

He said keeping Denver’s music alive is important because, “John stood for the beauty and the better things in this world.

“If you listen to the lyrics of a lot of his music, it was simple things that gave him great pleasure, and in today’s busy, crazy world, sometimes we need to remind ourselves to go back to the simpler times. And I really believe that that message probably plays out more today than it even probably did when he wrote them.”

The audience can expect a “family-friendly show,” Delmolino said. “It’s entertaining. It’s going to be some great music, some good laughs. It’s just an enjoyable fun night out for everybody, for all ages. …we hope to introduce some new people to his music, and certainly the people who are familiar with his music and familiar with what any shows that John did will feel right at home at what we do.”

Mirror Staff Writer Amanda Gabeletto is at 949-7030.