Sunday's Colorado Music Hall of Fame Presented by Comfort Dental induction and concert event was a poignant, well-produced evening honoring Colorado music creators and cultivators. This year's class included famed — but long gone — studio Caribou Ranch, the late Dan Fogelberg and Joe Walsh & Barnstorm. Legendary producer Bill Szymczyk was also honored with a Colorado Music Hall of Fame Award of Excellence. Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald, veterinarian, television personality and frequent face at Comedy Works, emceed. The date, August 13, 2017, would have been Fogelberg's 66th birthday.
There were several tribute videos interspersed between musical guests. The Beach Boys, Train and Robert Lamm of Chicago all paid their respects through the video lens. A short documentary on Caribou Ranch highlighted the studio and owner James William Guercio's impact on popular music.
Several recognizable stars took the stage throughout the night, including Garth Brooks, Amy Grant, Vince Gill, the Lumineers, Joe Walsh & Barnstorm, John Oates, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Richie Furay, Big Head Todd and the Monsters and more. For the most part, the influx of famous faces worked well. Fans were appreciative, and most of the performances were stellar. Each artist — with a couple of exceptions — performed a song or two during the event.
Chris Daniels and the Kings, the backing band for many of the artists, kept everything running. Daniels's decades-long professional history in music, along with the acumen of his band, shined. It was a mountain of work for his outfit to learn all the songs and perform them without any hiccups, and it had to be daunting handling backup duties for Amy Grant, John Oates and other legends.
Amy Grant performed early on in the evening and proved that her ’80s hit "Find a Way" has staying power. She walked out on stage with a white paper cup in hand as if returning from a coffee break with friends, received a nice welcome and captured the audience with her performance. Grant recalled recording at Caribou Ranch back in the day – even though two weeks there cost her whole album budget. While Grant is best known for her hit "Baby Baby," she had a long, established career beforehand and was one of the pillars of the Christian-music industry in its heyday. One could say that "Baby Baby" was a creative low point based on the offerings in her sizable catalogue.
Later, Grant's husband, Vince Gill, came out and sang the tender Fogelberg tune "Longer" with her. The harmonizing between the two evoked an intimate Swallow Hill show. It was simple and touching.
Richie Furay of Buffalo Springfield and Poco fame proved that he has a voice of gold. Why his career didn't go the same way as that of his bandmates and country-rock superstar friends is something that remains a mystery. Furay's two performances throughout the night, including a cover of Fogelberg's "Don't Lose Heart," showcased a singer-songwriter comfortable in his skin and with the audience. His kind words about Fogelberg's work were heartfelt and moving.
John Oates — once a full-time Coloradan — came out with a Broncos T-shirt visible underneath his button-up, shouting out a "Hello to all the rockers in the Rockies!" greeting. His rendition of "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me," from Elton John's Caribou album — recorded at Caribou, no less — was expansive and powerful. There was no trace of the ’80s pop he's known for alongside Daryl Hall in Hall & Oates.
Later, and shortly before the Joe Walsh & Barnstorm performance, Walsh presented producer Bill Szymczyk with a Colorado Music Hall of Fame Award of Excellence. "I'd be working in a gas station if it wasn't for him," Walsh said of the revered producer, responsible for the Eagles' Hotel California and Walsh's solo debut, among countless other albums.
Barnstorm hadn't played together since the ’70s, but there was no sense of that gap in time with the tightness of the outfit. It was guitar riffs galore as onetime Boulder-area resident Walsh executed tunes with drummer Joe Vitale, bassist Kenny Passarelli, an additional guitar player and an organist. His guitar leads were what you'd expect: unique, skillful and spot-on. While his best days vocally may be behind him, Walsh's musicianship and performance more than made up for it. Passarelli added in some nice bass fills that complemented the sound. "Are you ready, gentlemen?," Walsh asked during his brief performance, "The national anthem of Colorado!" With that question and announcement, the ensemble ripped through a stellar performance of radio-staple "Rocky Mountain Way," a song released 44 years ago and recorded by the trio at Caribou Ranch.
Garth Brooks took the stage last and proved himself to be a consummate showman. Country fan or not, you cannot deny his power over an audience. His presence there was a huge deal – quite possibly the reason the venue sold out. He enjoys what he does on stage, and it rubs off. Fogelberg's widow, Jean, was vocal about her admiration and appreciation for Brooks, a huge fan of her husband's work.
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Brooks ended his short time on stage with a rendition of Fogelberg's "There's a Place in the World for a Gambler" that involved most of the musical guests singing backup, including some stunning high notes from local favorite Hazel Miller. It was a fitting ending for the gathering, and wrapped it up well.
All was not perfect, however. There was a small ripple among some Garth Brooks fans once his performance ended. They had expected a full-length Brooks show, or at least a sizable cache of songs. Not only did he perform just three songs, but he didn't play any of his own. He was there was to honor Dan Fogelberg, not to unleash his greatest hits. Rather than ruin the show for everyone else, however, the disillusioned fans simply expressed their displeasure to each other while leaving the venue at the end. It was an adult move, and one that is certainly appreciated over the inane, childish antics that have invaded many a concert. It certainly wasn't a repeat of the Heart/Cheap Trick/Journey show I attended at Fiddler's several years back, where men well over their prime pounded each other in the lawn area; it was almost as if they were reliving their high school glory years when "Barracuda" was a radio staple and Coors Light was introduced.
It will be hard to top this year's cast of performers, but leave it to the Colorado Music Hall of Fame to work out the details. They've set the bar high, and that's a good thing.