Chris Collins and Boulder Canyon bring the songs of John Denver back to the stage, their tribute act bringing favorites like Country Roads to the stage. The singer will be in Yorkton with Boulder Canyon on May 3 at the Anne Portnuff Theatre, presented by the Yorkton Arts Council as part of the Stars for Saskatchewan Series.
Collins didn’t set out to do a Denver tribute. While he looks like him, he says that’s an accident of genetics. While he tried doing his own music, audiences noticed the similarities right away.
“Every time I went out to play my own music people were like ‘hey, you look like John Denver, play some John Denver!’”
The similarity in style goes down to how they sing, Collins believes, and while he wasn’t originally setting out to sound like Denver, the comparison was inevitable.
“People perceive a pure way that I sing. I don’t try to do anything with my voice, I sing very straightforward, which is also the way John Denver sings. There’s a style similarity that people respond to.”
As with any tribute act, one has to ask what it is about that artist that makes people still respond. Denver’s songs are still resonate with audiences today, and Collins believes it’s because of what Denver was searching for in his songs.
“He really understood the human condition and human longing. Underlying most songs is that longing to be loved, longing to be home, longing to be important in the world. He understood that completely and was able to articulate that in his songs. John’s music was popular right after the Vietnam War, and I think that message of wanting to be home and wanting to be loved, looking for something kinder and gentler in the world, his music resonated back in the ‘60s and ‘70s. I think today, because of our political circumstances, people are still feeling that longing for something kinder and gentler.”
He jokes that there are people who think they’re too cool for Denver, especially when they’re in their 20s and 30s, but they come around.
“I think that the thing that surprises most people about themselves, is that those who didn’t care for his music in their 20s and 30s now hear it again and they get the message much clearer and much better now that they have some life experiences... I think that’s the surprising part, and the surprising part for themselves, that they love it.”
The funny thing about Denver is that he wrote many songs that have been tied to specific places. Collins has played in those places, so he’s got evidence they’re doing it right. He points to the time he was in Prince Edward Island, playing The Ballad of St. Anne’s Reel.
“When we played up there, the sound man said, ‘don’t do that song. If you don’t do that song perfect they’re going to throw lobsters at you.’ We just had to do it, because we were there, and the audience went crazy for it, because our fiddle player is a hot player. He just tore it up, so they just loved it.”
While you could play John Denver with just a guitar, Collins said, that’s not what you’re getting with his show. This is a full band performance, and everyone is great at their instrument of choice.
“We’re bringing the A-Team up there. We hope that there’s a great crowd because there’s going to be a great show.”
But what is the top song for someone who lives and breathes John Denver? While there are plenty of hits to choose from, Collins picks a deeper cut.
“For me Poems, Prayers and Promises is the song that says it all. It’s pretty simple, pretty straightforward, just about being with friends and people you care about, talking about poems and prayers and promises and things you believe in. That’s it, that’s all you can ask for out of life, to be with people you care about, talking about things that you care about. For me that’s the perfect song.”