In 1987, guitarist Jennifer Batten found herself in a unique and enviable position — on stage with Michael Jackson during his worldwide “Bad” tour. Chosen from more than 100 other musicians, Batten played lead guitar for the King of Pop in front of audiences of more than 50,000 in multiple countries. She joined Jackson for his “Dangerous” tour in 1992 and the “HIStory” tour in 1997, as well as his Super Bowl performance in 1993.
“The energy on that was pretty magnificent,” Batten said of the halftime show, which was watched by more than a billion people worldwide — the largest audience in television history at the time.
Now, 26 years later, Batten is collaborating with Chris Fischer, of the Colorado-based band Funkiphino, to produce Forever Dangerous, a tribute performance celebrating Jackson’s music, with the goal of bringing Batten’s perspective of the Jackson experience to the audience.
On Saturday, Batten, Fischer and 10 other performers will take the stage at the Lake Dillon Amphitheater to perform the first rendition of Forever Dangerous as part of the Sunset at the Summit concert series.
Getting it right
Forever Dangerous did not come together lightly, or quickly. Although Batten has received numerous requests to do Michael Jackson tributes over the years, she turned them down, willing to wait until just the right opportunity came along.
Batten met Fischer in 2006, when the two worked together on a project. They became friends, performing together several times a year.
“We started kicking this idea around of doing this and doing it right,” Fischer said of the tribute.
It’s taken a year and a half to bring all of the elements together. One of the most difficult aspects, Fischer said, was finding the right Michael Jackson impersonator. He scouted for people from all over the world before stumbling across Carlo Riley, who happens to live in Denver. He has performed as Michael Jackson in multiple countries and appeared in various publications, including a photo in Star magazine of him and Jackson standing together with the caption “Twins!”
“Oh my god, he looks exactly like Michael Jackson,” Fischer recalled thinking, upon meeting Riley for the first time.
The Forever Dangerous performance will feature Batten on guitar, Fischer on keyboard, a bass player and drummer, four dancers from Los Angeles, four singers and Riley as Michael Jackson.
“It’s been a real labor of love, and it’s been a real ambitious project,” Fischer said. About his fellow performers, he added, “Everybody’s really involved with it for the right reasons.”
Batten and Fischer are quick to point out that there is more to Forever Dangerous than the usual music tribute.
“As opposed to just presenting this as ‘here’s a tribute’ and here’s a guy trying to be Michael and we’re going to go through a normal set list of exactly what Michael would have done on any particular show he did, we’re doing this more where we’re breaking it up into a few different sections and we’re visiting some of the different eras and we’re really bringing this so the audience can see what Michael was like … from the perspective of a guitarist who played with him for a decade and was on the road with him,” Fischer said.
The performance, which will feature plenty of classic Jackson songs, is designed to appeal both to die-hard Michael Jackson fans and people who weren’t as familiar with his music, including younger listeners who never had the chance to listen to Jackson live.
“We’ve got somebody who was actually there and did it,” Fischer said. “The music is going to be spot on, of that you can be sure.”
Working on the project has also had an impact on Fischer’s perception of Jackson’s legacy, he said, giving him a deeper understanding of the complexity and influence of his performances.
“It just gave me a greater appreciation for Michael, starting this project,” he said.
Debuting in Dillon
When it came time to decide where to premiere the performance, Fischer knew he wanted it to be in Colorado. The performers are scattered throughout the country, with the dancers in Los Angeles, for example, and Batten in Oregon. Nevertheless, Fischer decided that Dillon would be the best location.
“Summit County really is like a home away from home to us,” he said, referring to Funkiphino. “We could think of no place else. … This is a great place where we can put this on. It will be fun, and it will be totally different from the usual stuff up there.”
Batten said she’s looking forward to getting all the performers together for the first time.
“It’s a fun time,” she said of working on Forever Dangerous. “(Jackson’s) music is very uplifting, high spirited. It’s just an attempt to keep his music and his legend alive.”
Fischer added that the plan is to catch the audience’s interest from the beginning and entertain them throughout.
“We want people to get up and dance,” he said.
After Dillon, Forever Dangerous will start booking performances across the U.S., starting on the west coast and moving on from there. The performance will likely make its way overseas, Fischer said, to countries such as Japan, with large Michael Jackson fan bases.