Folksy, folk-writing folk hero John Denver — born Henry John Deutschendorf Jr. — died on October 12, 1997, when the experimental plane he was flying crashed into Monterey Bay off the coast of California. This week, fans both casual and rabid will commemorate the tenth anniversary of Denver's death at a slew of events, including the "Remember John Denver — Ten Years On!" concert in Coventry, England, and the John Denver Memorial Golf Tournament in Pacific Grove, California. Aspen, the Colorado town that Denver adopted after he co-opted the name of Colorado's capital city, is hosting five days' worth of activities that only a true, shmaltz-loving country boy could stomach. There's even a new John Denver album set for release on October 25, featuring rare concert recordings from the singer's 1985 tour of the former Soviet Union.
But the most stunning tribute to Denver is already under way in West Virginia, where citizens are embroiled in a heated debate over the new state slogan, "Open for Business." When West Virginia governor Joe Manchin announced that slogan in early 2006, the response was immediate, and decidedly negative. ("Open for Business," though icky, is technically not totally incorrect: Wal-Mart, with 12,500 employees in West Virginia, has been the state's largest employer since 1999.) So last summer, Manchin decided to sponsor a contest for another new state slogan.
And in August, one in every thirty West Virginians (for a total of six) voted. Just kidding. Actually, 60,000 people weighed in, most of them online. The three finalists were announced just last week: "Wild, Wonderful," "The Mountain State" and, of course, "Almost Heaven," which comes from the lyrics to Denver's syrupy 1971 song "Take Me Home, Country Roads."
Although Vegas hasn't laid odds on a winner, "Wild, Wonderful" would be a good bet. But "Almost Heaven" has numerous supporters, including West Virginia first lady Gayle Manchin, state lottery official Nancy Bulla and state Supreme Court Justice Spike Maynard, who also thinks that "Take Me Home, Country Roads" should be the official state song.
And if West Virginians can carry his tune, Denver could become the first writer to create two state songs, since Colorado anointed "Rocky Mountain High" as its second official state song earlier this year, after the smoke cleared over why, exactly, everyone around the campfire was so high.
Scene and herd: Between the surprising win of the Colorado Rockies and the disappointing loss of the Denver Broncos, the arts couldn't catch a break — or a lead-off story — in this sports-crazed town. Still, Off Limits operatives reported in from various Denver Arts Week events — and the most enthusiastic activities may have been the unsanctioned ones. Arty T-shirts covering the homeless, for example. "And a huge sculpture party, because there was supposed to be a sculpture at the City and County Building, and five days before hanging, the facilities manager said no," reports arts empresario Rodney Wallace.
Other stymied spectacles inspired further art attacks, including magnets saying "Hickenlooper Hates Artists" and others imploring "Tourists, Go Home" — mocking the official DAW slogan of "Be a Tourist in Your Own Town." For more graphic comments, go to our blogs.