John Denver Live

First published in Country Music People, May 1979 

Wembley Arena, London, April 2, 1979

It was a nasty wet evening, the audience were late arriving due to heavy traffic, and with the show a good twenty minutes late in starting, the early arrivals were clearly becoming impatient when the lights finally dimmed and the strains of a pre-recorded Music Is You set the show off. 

Finally the star himself emerges, a man-child whose familiar round-rimmed glasses, broad grin and little boy haircut contrasted with the tight-fitting western shirt and pants that clung to his muscular frame. 

John Denver ‘live’ is more impressive than one might expect. He has a special knack for changing a vastly impersonal situation into an intimate occasion, as if he may have overcome an original fear of huge audiences by regarding the mass as a single person. It was almost a personal invitation when he began by singing Welcome To My Morning, and for the next two hours or so he entertained and held the audience spellbound. 

His act was full of everything: a little rock‘n’roll, soft, sweet sentimental ballads, bluegrass, folk, pop, and dramatic tunes about eagles, rocky mountains and living free. Denver generally sang with more intensity than is evident on his albums, and the nasal twang stayed out of the way most of the time. During Calypso, the evening’s biggest success, both musically and graphically, his vocal prowess was positively stunning. 

Denver’s backing group was the finest I’ve seen since Emmylou Harris brought over the original Hot Band some four years ago. James Burton, Glen D. Hardin and Emory Gordy were from that band, plus you had Hal Blaine, Herb Pedersen, Danny Wheetman, Denny Brooks and Jim Horn, laying down some masterful instrumental tapestries. Renee Armand-Horn added vocal sweetness to the proceedings and proved a far better vocalist than Olivia Newton-John on Fly Away, with Denver dropping his only bum note, vocally, of the evening. 

It was enlightening, to say the least, to see a basically suburban audience lapping up the country music that flavoured so much of the evening’s entertainment. In fact, they put Mervyn Conn’s annual Easter binge to shame as they clapped, stomped and sang through Grandma’s Feather Bed, Thank God I’m A Country Boy and Sunshine On My Shoulder. An evening’s entertainment which I cannot see being bettered this year, or any other, for that matter.