On Good Friday Eve 2018, there was nothing like a little musical sunshine on my shoulder to make me happy and glad to be at Kelowna Community Theatre.
This was a Rocky Mountain High kind of gathering, an evening celebrating the music of John Denver in such an artistic way that a packed playbill was needed to keep track of all the tooters, fiddlers, bassists, vocalists, and players. Since this was also opening day for Major League Baseball (Toronto lost to the damn Yankees), here’s how the lineup card filled out the KCT stage.
Grammy and Emmy award winning Conductor/Arranger/Composer Lee Holdridge was the starting pitcher and maestro. He went all nine innings as the leader of the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra; the OSO being on loan this Thursday night to add a formidable power surge to Denver’s folksy tunes. Holdridge brought his best fastball, having been on past road trips and in studio sessions with Whitney Houston, Barbra Streisand, Diana Ross, Neil Diamond, and Placido Domingo.
The leadoff hitter was lead vocals and storyteller captain Rick Worrall. His coed teammates, not always on the field at the same time, were Steve Worrall (guitars and vocals), Gary Smyth (guitar and vocals), Scott Grant (drums), Brian McMahon (string bass), Chris Stevens (banjo and mandolin), Susan Aylard (violin and fiddle) Mia Harris, (soprano), Delphine Litke (vocals), Justin Moore (tenor), and Neville Bowman (piano).
“John Denver was a genuine guy known for his folk Americana music,” said Rick Worrall after the show. “Our playlist was all songs that he wrote. This was not a tribute show, but more about us creating a memorable audience experience. Having the full sound of the symphony behind us was a treat that took our presentation to new heights.”
Set One started off with a heater right down the middle, the first number was Rocky Mountain High. You could hear some of the 750 or so in attendance quietly singing along to the chorus. Midway through the set Harris wowed the crowd with her stunning soprano voice singing Fly Away and Rhymes and Reasons. Before intermission, Worrall and company finished with a classic triple play – Leaving on a Jet Plane, Sunshine on my Shoulders, and Calypso.
The second set commenced with I’d Rather be a Cowboy and Back Home Again. A few songs later the Vernon-based Moore, very young and still building his résumé, showed off his chops singing Perhaps Love and Per Te/For You. The crowd ate it up and a few gave him an earnest standing ovation. Well done, young man.
The final three outs of the night were monster-big hits – Thank God I’m a Country Boy, Take Me Home Country Roads, and Annie’s Song. As Worrall eagerly stirred the pot, the audience was clapping and singing along with youthful enthusiasm. Down came the proverbial curtain and let’s assume that this final at-bat sent everyone home and into the long Easter weekend in a highly entertained folksy mood.
Big Finish – my overall favorite moment came in the Second set during a song called Pickin’ the Sun Down. I was not familiar with this ditty, but it was a lively jig that featured the fiddle (Aylard) and banjo (Stevens). These skilled artisans energized the building and even gave way for a bouncy double-bass solo (McMahon). It’s not often you see a fiddle and banjo rockin’ any house at full throttle. Kudos all around for this home-run arrangement served up by captain Worrall and his team.