Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A Tribute to Branson, John Denver ... and Art.

James Garrett as John Denver
Jim Glaspy,  Texas State Bluegrass Champion and National Dobro Champion

Last week we visited Branson, MO, America’s Fort Knox of music – the place where our national musical treasury resides. From the moment we drove down the winding main street, nestled comfortably in the dense Ozark forest, we began to hear echoes from our past. The marquees displayed over 100 venues of our musical heritage. We knew immediately that we had arrived at a very special place.

As a native Coloradoan, and a contemporary of John Denver, I had always regretted that I had never seen him perform his music while he was alive. So the John Denver tribute performed by James Garrett at Branson’s IMAX Theater was the first show on my list. And as an artist, who admires the artistic creativity of others wherever I find it, the performance stirred up old philosophical questions within me. What had I just seen? Was this mere entertainment? A simple reproduction of the original work? Or did the performance have its own artistic merit, apart from its creator?

Let’s do a little thought experiment here. Would the John Denver tribute have been a more memorable experience if I had seen John Denver perform his own work – even if James Garrett might have improved, or even perfected, some of the original songs? (This is a thought experiment, remember!) Or if I had been from Outer Mongolia, and known nothing of John Denver’s legacy, would I have appreciated this music as the iconic American folk music that it has become? Could I have separated the singer from the songwriter; detached the product from the producer, and recognized the performance as the artistic masterpiece that it was?

These are questions that I ask myself with each piece of art jewelry that I produce. Does this work stand on its own merits, apart from my own sensibilities? Does the value of art, like the intensity of love, reside solely, and entirely in the eyes of the beholder?

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