A classical cowboy concert: Brad Fitch brings his John Denver tribute to Frisco
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include the correct date of the concert.
FRISCO — On Oct. 12, 1997, musician John Denver died in a plane crash. Now, 22 years later, Summit County residents and guests will have the chance to hear his music come to life once more.
Estes Park local Brad Fitch is bringing his signature stylings of John Denver’s work to Frisco for the first time Saturday, Oct. 12. Fitch has been playing Denver’s songs in tribute shows professionally for 16 years.
Though his parents weren’t musicians by trade, music was constantly played in the house either by them, the radio or the television.
“One of my earliest memories was lying down on the floor of our living room, listening to records my folks had put on the stereo and just imagining what kinds of instruments made those sounds I was hearing,” Fitch said.
While those particular records where geared toward children, when Fitch was older, he would watch reruns of “The Roy Rogers Show” and listen to country, pop and singer-songwriters such as James Taylor and Gordon Lightfoot, in addition to Denver.
What: Brad Fitch and the TropiCowboy Band
When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 12. Doors open at 6.
Where: 10 Mile Music Hall, 710 Main St., Frisco
Cost: $10 for general admission and $20 for reserved seating. Visit 10milemusic.com to purchase.
“That’s my kind of music,” he said. “Just a guy with a guitar singing the truth. It just was wonderful.”
Fitch’s first instrument was the piano, followed shortly thereafter by the trombone. Inspired by the song “76 Trombones” from the film “The Music Man,” he personally picked the trombone in fourth grade and learned the bass clef. When he was 13, he switched to taking classical guitar lessons and then taught himself other string instruments like the banjo and mandolin, allowing him to play the songs of those he admired.
Along with enjoying Denver’s music, Fitch bears a superficial resemblance to the artist. That led people to request Denver’s song when he and his band performed in restaurants and other venues throughout Estes as teenagers. Little by little, they incorporated more of his work into their repertoire.
“People just want to hear Rocky Mountain music, and they associate John Denver songs with it,” he said. “I bet you I play ‘Rocky Mountain High’ almost every night of the summer.”
Yet Fitch never finds it tiring. For one, performing tributes to John Denver makes up about 10% of his 200-300 annual shows, so he views them as a fun break from the norm. Fitch has 20 albums of original songs — sometimes crossing into the genres of Southern rock, Americana, traditional cowboy or tropical music — and has performed for former President George W. Bush and at Red Rocks Amphitheatre.
Secondly, he feels that the music of Denver still moves people.
“It’s just so much fun to see people’s reaction and memories when I play that music,” Fitch said. “That song, and Denver’s music in particular, is really joyful. It really speaks to me and speaks to people. I can look at the audience as I’m singing and see them lighten up. They leave their everyday cares behind and get absorbed in the music just because he was such a great writer.”
Joining Fitch on stage in the six-piece TropiCowboy band will be friends and relatives on fiddle, pedal steel guitar, banjo, drums and backup vocals. The current iteration has been together for about seven years, but this show will also see special guests. Jim Connor, the writer of the song “Grandma’s Featherbed” made popular by Denver, will play the tune on his banjo. The bigger songs will be played the way Denver performed them while the lesser-known ones might be rearranged to let soloists shine.
Playing bass will be Willie Hoevers, president of The Rocky Mountain Foundation for the Performing Arts, which focuses on continuing Denver’s legacy. Like Fitch, Hoevers has performed in Aspen at the annual John Denver Celebration and also hosts a Denver-centric show every other Saturday on American Veterans Radio.
Coincidentally, Fitch, Hoevers and two other band members are all veterans. Proceeds from the concert will benefit the Rocky Mountain Foundation for the Performing Arts and will be used for The Commander’s Call Banquet for Veterans on Nov. 9 at the Elks Lodge No. 2561 in Silverthorne.
“John Denver’s music, whether you consider yourself a fan of his music or not, is really iconic Colorado music,” Fitch said. “It’s hard to believe he’s been gone 22 years because his music is still such a part of our mass consciousness. The show is all about his music, his memory and his messages.”
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