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Everlasting Footprint

BY Shannon Asher | July 18, 2017 | Feature Features

Zak Deutschendorf, John Denver's only son, reflects on the 20th anniversary of his father's death.
Zak Deutschendorf stands in John Denver Sanctuary, an Aspen park dedicated to his father's legacy.

“I still get the chills when ‘Rocky Mountain High’ comes on the radio. Who doesn’t?” says John Denver’s only son, Zak Deutschendorf. He grew up in Aspen with his father and mother, Annie, and still lives outside of town. Now 43, he was just 23 when his father’s plane crashed into Monterey Bay near Pacific Grove, Calif. “I was in Durango when I got the call,” says Deutschendorf. “My mother called, and 10 minutes later, it was already on the news.” Every year since his death, John’s life is celebrated in his longtime home of Aspen during John Denver Week, Oct. 9 to 16, when his spirit resurfaces as tribute bands, friends and fans gather to reflect and reminisce.

John’s familiar, warm voice is a soothing sound that many recognize instantly. “Rocky Mountain High” touches on love, beauty and nature, and the household tune was brilliantly crafted during one of the musician’s many camping trips in the Elk Mountains at Williams Lake. Aspen’s profound, natural beauty begs attention. Denver captures the essence of the mountains in his music, and it’s relatable for both Aspenites and the rest of the world. “It still gets me, every time,” Deutschendorf says. The iconic singer-songwriter’s legacy as a pop and country superstar has not been forgotten. This October marks the 20th anniversary of the year he died. He was just 53 years old. As one of the most prominent pop voices of the 1970s, John’s death was felt worldwide. Today, fans travel from as far away as Japan and Australia to honor him, this year at the Wheeler Opera House with the marquee 20th Anniversary Musical Tribute to John Denver (Oct. 13 & 14, 7:30pm, tickets $50-$130).

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