On several occasions in this space, I've written about the abundance of musical talent that exists in the Peterborough region of Ontario. To be quite frank, it's not an understatemetn to call it an embarassment of riches, if you want the honest truth. Nights like this past Wednesday July 11 at the Little Lake Music Festival was a perfect example of how fertile the music scene is in this region.
This night was set aside to pay homage to an artist that I believe tends to get overlooked when people refer to influential singer/songwriters with respect to modern day country/folk/Americana music. John Denver was a singer, songwriter, poet, actor, environmentalist, activist and philanthropist who was one of the biggest stars of the 1970's and 1980's. His legacy is strong and resonates to this day, many years after his sudden death in a plane crash off the California coast.
It was a night for local musicians to take centre stage at Little Lake to pay remind all of us why John Denver was so important to the history of modern music. Opening with a wonderful rendition of "Sweet Surrender", the band seemlessly moved from one Denver classic to another with an amazing cast of homegrown talent. Mark Edwards was tasked with performing three of Denvers' biggest and most recognizable hits "Thank God I'm a Country Boy", "Rocky Mountain High", and "Back Home Again", and he did a fantastic job on all three. The first clap-along of the night came with Warren Chambers' rendition of the fun-favourite "Grandma's Feather Bed", while John Boyco kicked off his three song set with a beautiful version of "Some Days Are Diamonds."
As good as the guys were, perhaps the most beautiful and most telling story about the enduring legacy of John Denver and his music were the three young ladies that were invited to perform. Recent high school graduate, Cherise Billings, performed at the behest of her music teacher, who also happened to be the piano player in the band. Cherise opened up her set with "Leaving on a Jet Plane", with her voice bringing a real sense to the poetry that this song really is. Twelve year old Elizabeth did a fantastic job with her booming voice doing an excellent pseudo-reggae version of "Follow Me." The final performer of the evening was Mary Kate Bronson, daughter of the band leader, whose angelic voice soared through her set of "Sunshine on my Shoulder", "Annie's Song" and the seminal "Calypso." Hearing these three young ladies perform Denver's classics brought to mind the poetry and cross-generational appeal of his body of work. Denver was writing about issues that are still relevant to this day, such as the environment, nature and landscape. Having three singers ranging in age from pre-teen to early twenties and singing them with passion and conviction, shows the importance of Denver's writing and influence.
A John Denver tribute would not be complete without a grand finale, and what better finale than to have all the artists gather on stage for a stellar rendition of "Country Roads." Indeed, a fitting end to a wonderful night. There is no doubt in my mind that the spirit of John Denver is alive and well. His legacy was served well and served proud by all the artists participating in this show on Wednesday.