John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High” turns 50: Love, censorship and constant tributes define song’s history

“When he first came to the mountains his life was far away,” he wrote in the gentle, melodically intoxicating song. “On the road and hanging by a song / But the string’s already broken and he doesn’t really care / It keeps changing fast and it don’t last for long.”

Denver had just debuted at Red Rocks Amphitheatre on June 21, 1972, about four months before “Rocky Mountain High” began climbing the charts, according to the Castle Pines Connection. That kicked off a run of 16 concerts that would position Denver as the first-ever artist to play four consecutive nights at the venue. His final show there was in the summer of 1989.

Even when he was alive, “Rocky Mountain High” had come to symbolize Colorado’s musical identity for many in the state, and was approved by legislators as the state’s second official song in 2007 (the first is “Where the Columbines Grow” by Dr. Arthur John Flynn).

It’s also become shorthand for Colorado culture to many people outside of our state, its name borne on craft beers, art exhibitions, theater productions and other public culture. Denver’s pioneering eco-activism is now often synonymous with Colorado.

“Denver used his popularity to promote his favorite cause: the environment,” Colorado Music Hall of Fame officials wrote upon his induction. “He founded the Windstar Foundation in 1976 in Snowmass as an education and demonstration center dedicated to a sustainable future.”

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