Country Roads: The Music of John Denver is currently being staged at Plymouth Playhouse. Conceived and created by Dennis Curley, this show is not about revisiting Denver’s life, but instead focuses on how John Denver’s music has touched our lives. Denver wrote and sang about things that everyone can relate to — home and family, love and yearning and the world we live in. I think that is why his music invokes such strong memories for many of us.
In the show, Curley sings lead vocals and also plays the piano. He intersperses his own memories with those of family and friends between songs. His introduction to the music of John Denver, he says, came as a young child when he would sit and listen to his family play the music of Denver along with many other folksingers from the ’60s. Performing with Curley are Dorian Chalmers on vocals, Amy LeGrand on fiddle, Kellie Nitz on bass, Mark Lenander on guitar, Tony Wirth on guitar and banjo, and Matthew Zimmerman on drums. Plymouth Playhuse regulars will recognize Chalmers from the Church Basement Ladies series and LeGrand from Ring of Fire: The Life and Music of Johnny Cash. Familiar faces, familiar stories, and always the music of John Denver.
Plymouth Playhouse is the perfect venue for this show, creating that feeling of intimacy that Curley talks about — sitting with family and friends sharing memories and song. The audience is encouraged to sing along, and it feels easy to do. Lighting designer Jim Eischen created a stage background that almost magically changes colors to reflect the mood of the music.
Denver had strong ties to Minnesota: living in Edina for four years with his wife Annie, who he met while performing at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter. In 1971 Denver moved to Aspen, Colorado, where he maintained a home until he died. Audience members are asked to submit their own John Denver stories, and Curley shares many of these during the second act. For me it seems that John Denver’s music is able to match whatever mood I am in — from joy to sadness to reflection.
The night I was there, it was clear that the audience was drawn to this show because of their love of John Denver. However, if you are not as familiar this is a perfect way for you to discover music that talks to your soul. Once John Denver’s music is in your heart it will be there forever, like an old friend.