We played New York and Los Angeles and so many small college towns in between. We had a joke at the time -- "that town's so small John Denver's never played there." - Bill Danoff, friend and part of Denver's opening act Fat City
John Denver performed at Edina High School in the 1969-1970 school year.
Before you think that's so stereotypical Edina to book one of the top-selling artists in history, keep in mind that in 1969, John Denver was barely known. He most likely performed for free or for the opportunity to sell his albums. And based on yearbook coverage, Edina kids apparently didn't think it was a big deal at the time. The concert merited one photo (below) with no caption or further explanation.
By 1971, Denver was a household name -- in part because he played in so many small towns to build an audience in 1969 and 1970. Edina High School was hardly unique in hosting John Denver, according to this source:
"Although RCA did not actively promote Rhymes & Reasons with a tour, Denver himself embarked on an impromptu supporting tour throughout the Midwest, stopping at towns and cities as the fashion took him, offering to play free concerts at local venues. When he was successful in persuading a school, college, American Legion Hall, or local coffee-house to let him play, he would spend a day or so distributing posters in the town and could usually be counted upon to show up at the local radio station, guitar in hand, offering himself for an interview."
Edina does have one small role in Denver's career. On his way to stardom, Denver lived in Edina and wrote much of the material for his first three albums here, including his first No. 1 song, "Sunshine on My Shoulders," according to Denver's obituary written by StarTribune writer Jon Bream.
For those who weren't around in the 1974 when this song hit No. 1 on the charts, here it is. (From the John Denver Archives on YouTube) For those who were around in the 1970s, this song is no doubt burned in your memories because of its constant play.
Minnesota weather inspired the song, Denver told Bream. "It was one of those late-winter early-spring days. It was one of those cold, dreary days where everything is gray," he said. "Spring is in fact happening. That's why the song is slow and melancholy."
Several sources say that Denver and his wife Ann Martell Denver made an Edina apartment their home base while Denver was on the road from 1968 to 1971. Our phone directories from that period don't list Denver, Martell or Denver's birth name Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr., so I'm guessing that he had an unlisted phone number even though he hadn't hit super stardom yet. Anyone know where he lived? (I've heard several theories.)
How did Denver, who is most associated with his adopted state of Colorado, happen to live in Minnesota?
He married a St. Peter girl Ann Martell, whom he met while on tour in 1966. "After a concert at Gustavus Adolphus College, he spotted a pretty sophomore in the student union. 'I wore blue jeans, lumberjack shirt and penny loafers. John later told me he fell in love on the spot,' recounts Annie. But it wasn't until a year later, when John was giving a concert 10 miles away, that they had their first date," People magazine reported in 1979.
The interview with the couple revealed that their years in Minnesota were not easy because of John's long absences while he toured. On top of that, John went from "obscure folkie" when they first met to an artist with gold albums, TV specials and even a part in a movie.
The change was not without benefits - the couple built their dream house in Colorado and started a family. While Annie kept the home fires burning, Denver returned to Minnesota several times for concerts. This time, instead of high school gymnasiums or college student unions, he filled the St. Paul Civic Center five times in one year, the Minneapolis Tribune reported on May 11, 1975.
Do you know where John and Annie Denver lived in Edina? Were you in the audience when Denver performed at Edina High School? Was it a bigger deal than the yearbook coverage suggests? If you can fill in the gaps of John Denver's Edina history, please email me or comment here.
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