From the moment he steps on stage, clad in a classic cowboy’s white floral button down with an acoustic in hand, it’s clear that Rick Worrall is a John Denver fan.
And, if the get up didn’t solidify that fact, Worrall was the brain child behind Rocky Mountain High — An Evening of John Denver, which overtook the Kelowna Community Theatre March 29 and 30 before rocking to a near-full crowd at the Vernon and District Performing Arts Centre March 31.
With a hand-full of local talent and the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra, the night was filled with the famous ditties of the acclaimed American singer/songwriter led by Worrall at the helm.
Worrall fell in love with Denver’s sound in the early ’70s when he first heard the track Sunshine on My Shoulders off Denver’s fourth studio album Poems, Prayers & Promises.
“I put it (Sunshine on My Shoulders) on, and this song, I wore it out,” Worrall said, recalling the time he first heard it on vinyl. “There was something about this song.”
Despite playing the track often in his early years, Worrall’s love for the dittie was apparent when he offered the smooth and thoughtful vocals to Vernon audiences.
Enter Mia Harris, whose petite stature does nothing to hide her soprano powerhouse vocals, from which Rocky Mountain High, an already electric performance, was enlightened.
Harris — a voice teacher at the Penticton Academy of Music and singer boasting performances with the OSO, Bumbershoot Theatre, Opera Kelowna and more — delivered the lines with an educated and sophisticated panache.
Vernon-born Delphine Litke — an astute performer in the Okanagan theatre circuit — also took the stage, singing alongside Worrall for the majority of the show.
The roughly two-hour performance wound quickly through two-sets, the first of which ended on the high of Denver’s fisherman’s dream in the form of Calypso, where the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra showed its truest colours.
“When you’ve got this (OSO) behind you, this song, it’s just far out,” Worrall said.
And, under the baton of the internationally-renowned composer and Denver’s own arranger Lee Holdridge, the OSO shone and added a palpable body to the track.
Holdridge, who has worked with the likes of Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond, was invited over the phone by Worrall to lead the “folk symphony” after Worrall heard that the music charts were no longer.
“I scared him because I said, ‘I’m your biggest fan.’ I had no idea Lee had seen Misery too many times,” Worrall laughed.
The tracks ebbed and flowed, winding through Denver’s expansive discography, before the final guest singer took the stage: Vernon’s own Justin Moore.
“Vernon should be very proud. He’s an amazing up-and-comer,” Worrall said after Moore dropped his operatic vocals that far exceed his years.
Moore, the son of two Juilliard alumni, appeared as comfortable on stage for Rocky Mountain High as he is fronting Vernon rock group Armonia.
And, as Rocky Mountain High gears up for the finally, Harris, Litke and Moore return to the stage to rock Denver’s quintessential track, Take Me Home, Country Roads, to a standing ovation.
“This whole show has been a pleasure,” Worrall said as the curtains closed. “This has been an incredible labour of love.”