Side by Side (the D.C. area folk duo Doris Justis and Sean McGhee) are one of our favorite groups. They've been performing for 28 years now and have shared the stage with The Chad Mitchell Trio, The Limelighters, Nanci Griffith, Mary Chappin Carpenter, Tom Paxton, Christine Lavin, and just about anyone you can think of on the folk music scene. Doris is currently Co-President (with Scott Morgan)of the World Folk Music Association, replacing the retiring (although it's hard to use that adjective with him) Dick Cerri.
Doris and Sean were first brought together by a love of John Denver's music and have recorded a number of his songs. About five years ago, they performed a John Denver tribute at The Gilman School of Baltimore. In preparation, the students prepared slide shows to accompany each song Side by Side would sing. Over the past few years, Doris has been talking about expanding that show for a larger audience; plans began to gel and and came to fruition as Doris produced yesterday's "Celebrate John Denver," once again with the assistance of The Gilman School. In addition to using the original slide show for the first half of the concert, three very talented student artists (Jake Matthi, Yambi Lamb, and Bob Weisbecker) each painted a 4' by 4' tribute portrait of John Denver, two of which were auctioned at the concert. Dan Christian of the Gilman School brought in a ship's bell from Baltimore to use in "Calypso," the Jacque Cousteau-inspired song.
The concert was held at the beautiful Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church in Bethesda, Maryland, as a benefit for the Montgomery County Humane Society's Rockville shelter and the Cedar Lane Church. Backing up Doris and Sean were the legendary Paul Presterpino and Ron Greenstein. Paul, who seems to be everybody's back-up musician and is known for his collection of brightly colored overalls, wore his lime-green overalls and played guitar, banjo, mandolin, and harmonica. Paul's weight and Sean's hairline have both been reduced over the past few years. Ron is currently the bass player for the Philly Rhythm Kings, country artist Travis Wetzel, and folk icons Tom Paxton and The Chad Mitchell Trio.
In my faux John Denver tribute today, I thought I would repeat the performance using various artists, including John himself. There are only a few clips of Side by Side on the web but I have embedded them where ever possible. I've also included a few clips by other artists and, of course, clips from John Denver for each song. Thus, we shall muddle through. All of the songs below were written by and/or sung by and/or were associated with John Denver during his all too short life.
1. "Tradewinds" was the very first song that Doris and Sean sang together. Here's John Denver singing it:
2. "Looking for Space" as a mashup with Olivia Newton-John and John Denver:
And by John alone:
3. "Dreamland Express" by John Denver:
4. "The Boy from the Country" with Doris and Sean, backed up by Paul, Steve Weisberg, Mack Bailey, and others:
And from John's final performance:
5. John Denver and Emmylou Harris performing "Wild Montana Sky":
6. Side by Side with a 1988 performance of "Fly Away":
Here's John's performance:
7. "Calypso," John's homage to Jacques Cousteau, done by Doris and Sean.
And John's vision of a "crystal clear ocean:"
8. Here's Mack Bailey singing "This Old Guitar":
And John with the old guitar he was given when he was ten:
9. Following intermission, which included sharing a cake made for Sean by one of Doris' friends from the Northern Virginia Ethical Society, Doris and Sean sang their mashup of "Dreamland Express" and "All I have to Do Is Dream." We've already heard John doing "Dreamland Express," so here's the Everly Brothers doing "All I Have to Do Is Dream." You will have to use your imagination to create the mashup of the two songs, I'm afraid:
10. "I'm Sorry," first done by a young singer, Julian Hertz, at Denverdag (a John Denver tribute day) last year in Holland:
And then by John:
11. From John Denver's Mitchell Trio days, John Lennon's "She Loves You" done by Side by Side:
And by The Mitchell Trio. (there's just a slight blip at the beginning):
[Personal aside: Speaking of Mitchell Trio, original (and still current) member Joe Frazier is facing a serious health challenge and your thoughts and prayers will be appreciated. I've seen Joe perform several and have met him several times and his basic kindness and optimism always shined through. He's one of the good guys.]
12. "Sweet Surrender" covered by Rod Stewart:
And by Side by Side:
And by John Denver:
13. This is from a 2010 John Denver tribute with Charlie Zahm and Band doing "Ponies" ("Follow Me" is also in the clip) :
And John Denver's take:
14. The haunting "Trail of Tears," first done by Chris Westfall:
And then by John Denver:
15. "Colorado Rocky Mountain High," one of Denver's signature songs done by Side by Side:
And by you know who:
16. The classic Eric Anderson song "Thirsty Boots," one of Doris' favorite songs:
And the original artist, Eric Anderson, once did a show with Side by Side during which he was
not-quite mildly stoned. It was decided that the best description of his condition was "pebbled." I don't think he's pebbled here:
What the hell, here's a bootleg of the song by The Kingston Trio:
And, of course, John Denver's take:
17. One of Side by Side's most requested songs, "Potter's Wheel" was written by Bill Danoff, who had about a dozen songs recorded by John Denver, including this one. Here's John:
18. As their encore yesterday, Side by Side sang "Country Roads." Here it is sung by a bunch of people, including Doris and Sean. The sound quality is not great, but the enthusiasm is.
Lately Sean has added a verse about naked ladies and a dog named Poncho. Here's Doris and Sean doing it:
And that's it. It was a great concert and a great time was had by a---
Hold on! Since this is my very own faux concert, let me add one of my favorite John Denver songs. Here's the late, great Mary Travers singing "For Baby" to her granddaughter.