John Denver's First Concert At The Red Rocks
A Full Moon - June 21st, 1972
I have been playing the guitar since I was seven and playing in bands since I was 12. My brother Chuck and I started a band called Timberline in August of 1971. We were scheduled to play in Salina, Kansas for four nights beginning June 18th, 1972.
We patterned ourselves after the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Our first set was dressed up nice (picture platform shoes and velvet spot coats of different colors) playing the songs of my hero John Denver. Also Elton John, Cat Stevens, Dave Loggins, Michael Johnson - this was the listening acoustic set. Then we changed clothes into jeans and vests and did a bluegrass/country rock set. Dirt Band, more John Denver, Ozark Mountain, Pure Prairie League. Then we did a costume change into letter sweaters and we did a total 60's rock set, all dance music. These sets were all 75 minutes long.
Humbly, I would say these shows were off the charts -- by the end of the evening we had the audience bouncing off the walls. Eventually, we would play 280 dates a year for eight years, sign with EPIC RECORDS and open for Dolly Parton. We had the harmonies and a band as tight as any drum. We played some legendary nights -- we set records -- the clubs had beer and sales were off the charts.
So we were booked for four nights at a huge Salina road house saloon (The Green Lantern). The young manager called us into his office after the first set and he said "You're fired." We couldn't believe it because we had never been fired in our lives for anything. My older brother Chuck said, "We've come this far. We'll play the rest of the evening if that's okay, and you pay us for one night." The manager reluctantly agreed.
The second set was really well-received, filling the dance floor, and the third set was off the charts with the place going wild. The manager took us back into the office and said, "Okay, you're not fired!" My brother said, "Nope, you fired us and we are going home." My brother said this because he knew I had a chance to do the monitors for my hero John Denver at John's first concert at Red Rocks. I have never been so proud of my brother for his conviction and for opening the door for me to spend an entire day with someone I had admired since I was 12.
It's the only time the band (and me) has ever been fired.
I was 16.
Stanal Sound from Kearney, Nebraska was started in Holdrege, Nebraska by Stan Miller.
My brother Chuck built two of the first A-7 cabinets with Stan's specs. Always Altec speakers and ground breaking results.
Stan built the company, quickly becoming the third largest sound company in the nation doing sound for Simon and Garfunkel, Presidential candidates, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Dolly Parton, Bob Dylan, Alice Cooper, Neil Diamond (46 years this year, still mixing Neil Diamond) and John Denver. Huge tours & huge amounts of equipment and talent to run this company.
We hung out with all the Stanal guys (growing up for me) and then touring with them when I joined Dolly Parton for 11 years.
They had the most beautiful sound systems and they were expensive, so they gravitated towards the higher end of the entertainment scale. But they over extended themselves just a bit, with commitments to do sound reinforcement for Alice Cooper at the Hollywood Bowl, Neil Diamond in Oregon, and a new artist John Denver at the Red Rocks. Stan and others knew how much I loved John Denver's music. I was the lead singer in a band that later signed to CBS and could sound like John when needed. I really wanted to see him in concert and his star was just about to launch him into the stratosphere.
So the people at Stanal Sound asked me if I'd like to go out and run the monitors (speakers on the stage) and help drive the truck out and back. My eyes could not have been larger. We drove all night; arrived Saturday morning at about 4:00 a.m. and tried to sleep a bit under the truck (I don't remember why it was under the truck). At about 9:00 am, we had union stage hands help us unload all the equipment. I remember releasing the latches on a flight case filled with mic stands when I heard a voice and a tap on my shoulder from behind.
"Can I help you?" the voice said. In my largest adult voice I said, "No... these are John Denver's mic stands. This is my job, and I'm on it." About this time I turned to see a laughing John Denver. He had come early to help in any way he could and wanted to help with the mic stands -- I wasn't too embarrassed.
All that day and night he treated me like a little brother.
He asked me that afternoon to listen to a song he was going to premier-
He asked me if I liked it-
I will always remember that afternoon as he sang "Rocky Mountain High"-
I told him I thought it was the best-
I remember taking the 3 tennis balls out that he used to juggle-
I remember taking his guitars out and carefully laying them down.
I remember Megan McDonell singing in a pretty white dress and Bill Danoff and Taffy Nivert (Fat City) opening the show and returning to sing background vocals on their co-written hit with John, "Take Me Home Country Roads." I remember lead guitarist Mike Taylor and string bassist extraordinaire Dick Kniss playing behind John. I remember criss-crossing under the stage about a million times that day through these hand-hewn tunnels!
And I will always remember the full moon coming up behind the stage (no stage roof or protection back then) as he sang "Darcy Farrow" and "Rocky Mountain High" for the very first time in Colorado at a Red Rocks concert.
It was Perfect!
There is no place like it on Earth to hear a concert.
To be there on stage, realizing that history was in the making, just made it an incredible experience. I remember how nice he was to me that entire day and after the show.
I will always remember meeting his manager Jerry Weintraub.
I will always remember Red Rocks and the concert that changed my life for that was the beginning of a life-long friendship with a man that I really admired. I remember meeting him again in Omaha four months later and how he broke away from a large circle of reporters to cross the room and give me a hug. And I learned so much from his friend and producer, Kris O'Connor.
I sang with John in concert and spent a week recording on his album Different Directions as a background singer and instrumentalist.
I was asked to sing "Rocky Mountain High" at the Colorado State Capitol when the State of Colorado adopted it as the co-official State Song. It was an honor to co-ordinate the family's gift of John's last and most-famous portrait, to be given to the State of Colorado where it hangs in the Press Room of the Capitol today. I loved John Denver's positive attitude and will always sing his songs with the same love I felt when I heard him sing them.
John Denver first performed at Red Rocks Amphitheatre on June 21, 1972 four months before "Rocky Mountain High" blew onto the charts. Throughout the years, he gave 16 more concerts at Red Rocks, the last show being in the summer of 1989. He was the first artist to play four consecutive nights at Red Rocks.
Jim Salestrom is an Emmy Award Winning Songwriter, a gifted guitarist and a seasoned performer who has been writing and recording music since he was 13. His music crosses generational boundaries and is enjoyed by fans of all ages. Engage online at www.jimsalestrom.com.