Love, censorship and constant tributes define the song’s history – Loveland Reporter-Herald


This year marks five decades since the release of John Denver’s iconic, at times controversial, and decidedly pastoral folk anthem, “Rocky Mountain High,” and Coloradans can celebrate with a big concert — plus self-guided excursions.

Colorado Symphony last week announced a Sept. 8 performance at Boettcher Concert Hall honoring the song and Denver, a two-time Grammy Award winner and former Colorado Poet Laureate. He’ll be present, in a way, via archival footage of him performing songs from the 1972 album “Rocky Mountain High” and other hits.

While John Denver tribute shows have been common in Colorado since his death in 1997 at the age of 53, the show will also feature members of his band performing live and telling stories about the author- songwriter. Tickets, $15 to $98, are on sale now at

On June 8, Governor Jared Polis also marked the song’s 50th anniversary by renaming the Mountain Lion Trail in Golden Gate Canyon State Park to the Rocky Mountain High Trail.

“Here in Colorado, we’ve always known that our majestic mountains, bright blue skies, starry nights, and forest and streams were the stuff of legends – but John Denver made them the stuff of song lyrics, too. “Polis said. in a report. “And not just any lyrics, but world famous lyrics that span genres and generations.”

Released on October 30, 1972, “Rocky Mountain High” became a chart-topping hit in 1973 and a staple of Denver live sets. He had moved to Colorado three years prior, according to Red Rocks and the Colorado Music Hall of Fame (the latter of which inducted Denver in 2011), and his stay in the fast-moving mountain town of Aspen — now synonymous with glitz and unaffordability – inspired him to see Colorado through traveling eyes.

“When he first came to the mountains, his life was far away,” he wrote in the sweet, melodically intoxicating song. “On the road and hooked by a song / But the string is already broken and he doesn’t care at all / It changes fast and it doesn’t last long.”

Denver had just debuted at Red Rocks Amphitheater on June 21, 1972, about four months before “Rocky Mountain High” began to climb the charts, according to Castle Pines Connection. This kicked off a 16-gig series that would position Denver as the first-ever artist to play four consecutive nights at the venue. His last show there was in the summer of 1989.

Even during his lifetime, “Rocky Mountain High” had become the symbol of Colorado’s musical identity for many in the state, and was approved by lawmakers as the state’s second official song in 2007 (the first is ” Where the Columbines Grow” by Dr. Arthur John Flynn).

It has also become shorthand for Colorado culture for many people outside of our state, with its name carried over to craft beers, art exhibits, theater productions, and other public culture. Denver’s pioneering eco-activism is now often synonymous with Colorado.

“Denver has used his popularity to promote his favorite cause: the environment,” Colorado Music Hall of Fame officials wrote during his induction. “He founded the Windstar Foundation in 1976 in Snowmass as an education and demonstration center dedicated to a sustainable future.”

Singer John Denver, left, and Dick Lamm greet potential voters in the grounds of the Civic Center in downtown Denver on October 24, 1974.

The song, however, was not always universally loved. At the time of its release and upon its 2007 induction as a new state song, critics blamed the song’s “high” for reference to drug use. In the early 1970s, some radio stations even banned it. Denver probably would have been baffled in 2007, too, when its so-called sanctuary in Aspen removed “outrageous” lines from its songs in an episode of hasty censorship, according to The Aspen Times, including “Rocky Mountain High.”

“My brother didn’t write it that way, and he never sang it that way,” Denver’s brother told the newspaper. “He would be pissed off like I am pissed off. It’s just not fair.

Denver had already experienced and in many ways anticipated future reactions before his death.

“It was obviously done by people who had never seen or been in the Rocky Mountains…” Denver told Congress as part of the Parents Music Resource Center in 1985, according to the 2001 book by Eric D. Nuzum “Parental Advisory: Music Censorship in America”. ”

The fact that Colorado has managed to pioneer legal and recreational cannabis in Colorado since 2014 is something Denver might have found amusing, given its defense of lyrics and the fact that openly admitting to smoking weed in the 1970s was still problematic (at best) for a musician, even among the best.

Denver was no saint. Ex-wife Annie Martell said Denver smothered her and cut their bed in half with a chainsaw near the end of their marriage (they divorced in 1982). Denver acknowledged this — sort of — in his autobiography “Take Me Home,” confirming but mitigating the events. He racked up DUIs, including one after crashing his car into a tree in Aspen. Before dying in a plane crash in 1997, he had defied a court order preventing him from piloting his plane. (To be sure: There was no evidence of alcohol involvement in his death, according to NTSB town hall notes.)

Either way, fans of the song and Denver can mark the 50th anniversary in their own way by hiking his new, named trail, learning more about him via the Colorado Music Hall of Fame (, or checking out the exhibit about him at the Red Rocks Trading Post (free and open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily), where his majestic ‘Spirit’ statue now resides. He never stops looking forward.


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