Articles about Mack

Mack Bailey: How John Denver Changed My Life 

Opinion: Mack Bailey, special to the Aspen Times 

The Aspen Times 

October 5, 2019 

The 22nd annual John Denver Celebration will return to Aspen with concerts, sing-alongs and events running Wednesday, Oct. 9 through Monday, Oct. 14. The centerpiece of the festival is the Musical Tribute to John Denver at the Wheeler Opera House on Saturday, Oct. 12. It will feature performers including Aspen’s own Mack Bailey alongside Gary Mule Deer, Chris Nole, Mollie Weaver, Alan Deremo and Jim Curry. 

When I was growing up, music was always a major part of my life. I started playing guitar at the age of 8 and it soon became my voice and self-expression of good days and bad. 

The first John Denver album I had access to was “Poems, Prayers, & Promises.” Living in a very small town in North Carolina in 1971 didn’t provide me the ability to buy albums or listen to them, even on the radio. But this album introduced me to what was out there. Looking back, the aspect of John’s music that I appreciated most was the authenticity of the writing as well as the delivery. The lyrics, melody and chordal structure opened a whole new world for me. I could play these songs and they always seemed to convey the feelings I had about people and being outside. 

When “John Denver’s Greatest Hits” came out, I couldn’t play that album enough. As I sat in my room with my guitar, learning his songs and feeling a true connection to him, I dreamed of watching him play in concert and even of joining him on stage. 

I attended a concert in 1975 while they were recording “An Evening With John Denver.” It was mesmerizing the way the videos on the screens were in sync with the music. I remember during “Eagle and the Hawk,” an eagle would fly around on the huge left screen and the hawk would appear in the right screen. My young memory seems to picture the two coming together in the middle screen for the finale. It was amazing. 

On Sept. 20, 1997 my life changed. I was playing in a band, The Hard Travelers, and through the vision and leadership of Kenn Roberts, we held concerts to raise money for The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. In 19 years, we raised over $11 million for CF research. We worked with Alabama, Brooks and Dunn, Kenny Rogers, Reba McEntire and so many others. 

For the 10th anniversary concert, we booked John Denver as the headliner. There was a home game for the Baltimore Orioles that day. For many years, thanks to John Sommers and Dee Belanger and the late Mark Belanger, “Thank God I’m A Country Boy” always played during the 7th inning stretch. So this day, John came to the game. At the 7th inning stretch, John went down and stood on the Orioles dugout and lip-synched while the song played. The crowd went berserk. John was smiling and the people loved it. 

When we arrived at the Baltimore Arena for sound check, John asked if The Hard Travelers would join him for the finale and play “Thank God I’m A Country Boy.” What an offer! John wanted to save his voice, so he asked Kenn to sing the verses for sound check. Kenn said he didn’t know the words but that I did. I sang my ass off for that sound check. John walked up to me after and said we would trade verses during the concert. This was about as full-circle as it gets. 

During the performance, I admit that I flubbed the words and John bailed me out, but what an opportunity and thrill! 

That night at the concert, I stayed backstage so that I could feel the interaction between John and the audience. It was a powerful experience for me. I remained on cloud nine for weeks. I stayed there until the morning of Oct. 13, 1997 when “Good Morning America” announced that John had died in a small plane crash in California the evening before. It took every ounce of breath out of me. I was stunned and numb. 

Thanks to Bill Danoff and Kenn Roberts, the John Denver Tributes in Aspen were born. Working with John’s band members and family gave me an even greater appreciation for the love of the man and the music by his peers. 

The folks I have met, the musicians I have shared the stage with, the places that I have seen because of sharing John’s music still at times seems surreal. I am grateful for each opportunity but there is no doubt that I would love to see John walk in and take the stage again. 

For me, these tributes are performed with respect for the man, his music, and his legacy. If it weren’t for those beginnings in my room learning his songs, I would not be who I am today. Nor would I understand the healing power of music. I’m still grateful. 


Mack Bailey & Rachel Levy's new album a labor of love 
Stewart Oksenhorn 

The Aspen Times 
Aspen, CO Colorado 

Thursday, October 8, 2009 

Photo caption:  Rachel Levy and Mack Bailey, Wednesday afternoon on Aspen's Hyman Avenue Mall. The married musical partners released their debut CD as a duo, “White,” last week. Bailey is among the musicians featured in this weekend's Tribute to John Denver concerts at the Wheeler Opera House. 

 ASPEN — “Friend for Life,” a song from Mack Bailey & Rachel Levy's new album “White,” puts music up on a mighty high pedestal. Music — or more specifically in “Friend for Life,” songs — can provide comfort, spark warm memories, and tie people together. 
“When you're down and out on a two-lane road/Your friend the song will be there to ease your load,” the two sing to the spare accompaniment of acoustic guitar. 

Bailey and Levy can't claim credit for the song; it was written by Bill Danoff & Bryan Bowers. But the twosome stand as validation of the song's theme, that music can be something beyond a pleasant, momentary distraction, that diving into music and playing it can be life-altering. Making music is at the core of their social circle. It has provided Bailey with some of the peak experiences of his life; it has steered Levy on a road to happiness. And it has been a key bond for the married couple. 

Bailey and Levy were part of Friday night's Wheeler Opera House concert, Doin' Their Own Thing, which had musicians associated with the late Aspen icon John Denver performing their own material. Bailey is featured Friday and Saturday in the Tribute to John Denver concerts, which have the same cast of players covering Denver's songs. Last week saw the release of “White,” Bailey & Levy's debut recording together, which includes original compositions, and several covers, including the Denver hit “Annie's Song.” 
Levy was raised in Aspen; her mother, Denison, still lives in the house off Cemetery Lane where Rachel grew up. Levy was a four-sport jock as a kid, and was named all-state in soccer. Her artistic high point came when, as an 11-year-old, she played the title role in Aspen Community Theatre's production of “Annie.” She liked music, but relegated it to a far-off place in her life. 

“Being in ‘Annie' in Aspen when you're 11 doesn't propel you into that world,” Levy said of the notion of making music her livelihood. “It was always in the dream category. I always sang, was never shy about it. I just never took action about it to make it a career. But music was always in the back of my mind. I'd be lying if I said I didn't accept 400 Grammy Awards in my head.” 

In the physical world, Levy accepted a Juris Doctorate from Portland, Oregon's Lewis & Clark Law School, got married and moved to Maryland to practice law. None of it lasted; after six months of being a dissatisfied lawyer, Levy quit and became a housewife looking for a way to occupy her time. She bought a guitar. 

“I started taking lessons and thought, This is much more interesting to me,” she said. “In my head I figured I'd keep playing till ... something.” Still, Levy didn't know how to make that something happen. 

Bailey put music in the forefront early on. Growing up in Troy, a small town in the dead center of North Carolina, Bailey started with piano lessons. The piano was lost on him. But the guitar, which his brother had similarly abandoned, looked intriguing. A big part of the attraction was the style of music that could be played on the acoustic six-string: folk songs by the Limeliters and the Kingston Trio. And above all, John Denver. 
“So I took his guitar and had all the John Denver songbooks laid out around me,” said Bailey, who graduated from the North Carolina School of the Arts with a degree in music performance and then joined20the Hard Travelers, a folk group whose roots went back to the '50s. 
Bailey said his interest in Denver's music waned some in the '80s. But clearly it didn't take much to restoke that interest. In the mid-'80s, Bailey was the in-house entertainer at a New Hampshire hotel when his childhood idol came to perform. Bailey put together a packet of his songs and threw it in Denver's limo, yelling that the materials should get to Barney Wyckoff — an Aspenite, and Denver's road manager at the time. Several weeks later, Bailey received a polite but disappointing note: “There's nothing we can use on here.” 

In 1997, Bailey finally had his John Denver moment, a seminal experience in his life. The Hard Travelers — which includes part-time Snowmass resident Kenn Roberts — were presenting their annual benefit concert for cystic fibrosis, in the band's home base of Maryland. Denver was booked to headline, and asked Bailey to stand in for him at the sound check. Denver listened as Bailey sang “Thank God I'm a Country Boy” — written by Roaring Fork Valley musician John Sommers — and was impressed enough to suggest that the two of them trade verses on the song at that night's performance. 

“That was as full circle as it comes — me singing with the guy who inspired me to learn guitar. I sang my butt off,” Bailey said. Three weeks later, Denver died when the plane he was flying crashed into California's Monterey Bay. “I have no regrets, but I wish I could have seen, if he had survived, if we could have sung together again, and where that would have went.” 

A more enduring relationship was kicked off in 2004, in Woody Creek. Levy, divorced and spending a year back in Aspen, was bridesmaid at the wedding of her Aspen High friend, Anna Patterson, who was about to become Anna Thomson (and, eventually, the graphic designer for the “White” album). The entertainment was a burly, buoyant singer whose services had been auctioned off at the previous year's John Denver tribute concerts. Over the course of seven months, Levy and Bailey became romantically involved. 

Levy was still playing around with the guitar, and one of the first topics of conversation between her and her husband-to-be was music. “She told me she played Annie,” Bailey said. “I remember asking her, ‘Did you get the bug?' She brushed it off. But a week later she said, ‘You know that question you asked me? Well, yes.' That told me she wanted to pursue it.” 

Levy's entrance into the music business was on the business side. The Limeliters — the folk group that was founded in Aspen in the 1950s, and named after the Limelite Lodge, and which Bailey joined in 2003 — needed a manager. 

Levy, figuring she could read and write a contract, took the job. Soon she was also overseeing Bailey's solo career, which eventually meant becoming part of the act. (They also got married, two years ago, near Reudi Reservoir.) 

“We started singing together, wrote a couple songs. Then it became a show. Then we made a CD,” Levy said, giving the condensed version of her path to becoming a musician. Levy, 34, and Bailey, 49, spend more than half their time on the road, performing in coffeehouses, churches and at house concerts. (Bailey remains a member of both the Limeliters and the Hard Travelers.) 

Perhaps as something of a payback to Bailey for giving her a start as a musician, Levy has helped bring her husband back to his musical essence. Bailey had made a series of solo albums, produced by Chris Nole (a former John Denver bandmate who is music director for this weekend's concerts) that veered toward a country sound. “White” finds him in the folk mode, a more comfortable fit. 

“I loved the sound he gave me,” Bailey said of Nole. “But I was like a folk singer with a country sound, and it wasn't meshing.” “White,” he added, is a closer representation of what he does in performance. 

Marrying Levy has also brought Bailey closer to where he wants to be geographically. The couple live in Denver, and say they'd love to find a way to settle closer to Aspen. 

“I feel like I was destined to be here,” Bailey said of Colorado. “All those ties. I finally feel I am where I should be. And that's a good feeling. I definitely didn't have that feeling on20the Washington Beltway.” 

If Bailey was less than content during his Maryland years, he didn't let it seep into his songs. Music, he says, should lift people up. 
“I love to feel positive and that's what I focus on,” he said. “I don't play heartbreak songs, drinking songs, cheating songs. Even if it is a tougher theme, I like to put a positive spin on it.” 

A fine example on “White” is “As the First Snows Fell in Colorado,” co-written by the late Buddy Renfro, a member of the Hard Travelers. The song is about John Denver and his death, but is emotionally upbeat, addressing the lasting impact a song can have on a listener: “He left us ... music treasured for all time.” 

“I would much rather have John here singing, and listening to him. But what's happened in my life since his death is unbelievable — the musicians I've worked with, the places I've gone. So I want to pay all the due respect to John's music that I can,” said Bailey, who is featured on the songs “Calypso,” “Eagles and Horses,” “The Garden Song” and “My Sweet Lady” at the tribute concerts. 

The main place Bailey had been led — thanks to picking up the guitar to play Denver's songs, thanks to becoming associated with Aspen through his appearances at the Denver tribute concerts — is to a partnership with Levy. It's a promising duo. 

0The best thing I've seen in our growth together is how many people come up to us and tell us how well our voices go together,” Levy said. “He's got an amazing voice. I don't have that voice yet; I have a sweet, pure, innocent. But our voices really go well together. 


Bailey and Levy Put On A Great Show 

Finger Lake Times, Clifton Springs, NY, by Chuck Agonito, Good Times 

July 2, 2009 

Meeting Mack Bailey and Rachel Levy was very enjoyable; hearing them sing was even better.  About 100 of us attended the Spa Apartments in Clifton Springs.  Fine acoustics in the chapel and its Tiffany stained-glass window enhanced the experience. 

The Denver-based couple met in Aspen, Colo.  That’s where John Denver called home, and Mack Bailey is often compared to him.  They were friends. 

The couple performed several of their own songs from an upcoming recording, so we could call this a CD pre-release party.  Backed only by his own guitar and Rachel’s harmonies, Bailey’s tenor voice was clear and seemingly effortless – music writers have used words like ‘soaring’ and ‘wondrous’ to describe it, and that works for me. 

He is a fine songwriter.  His North Carolina roots come through in the lyrics.  You can easily picture John Denver singing Mack Bailey songs.  Bailey’s renditions of Denver’s hits are incredibly accurate.  Rachel Levy tightly wrapped her harmonies around Mack’s lead, and did some fine solos as well. 

She told me they were heading to Pennsylvania for a show the next day, and then on to Annapolis before heading for Maine.  The couple and their RV “tour bus” will be back in Colorado by the end of July.  They spend many months on the road living their dream, sharing their lives and their music. 

Most of us did not know Mack Bailey before this concert at the spa.  He would like to be, and clearly deserves to be, more known for his own singer-songwriter work.  For now, he is probably more associated with the John Denver tributes and one other thing. 

Remember the Limeliters?  They were an excellent and extremely popular folk trio during the early 1960s.  Glenn Yarbrough was the tenor and later had a solo career (“Baby the Rain Must Fall”).  For the past six years, Mack Bailey has played banjo and guitar and sang tenor with the current members of this trio. 

 A quick reflection.  During our high school years, the guy who became a lawyer, the guy who became a nuclear scientist and I performed Limeliter’s songs like “Gunslinger” and “Mama Don’t ‘Low” at various talent shows.  Had they stuck with me, they would have had respectable jobs and make something of themselves. 

 Our evening in Clifton Springs was a definite good time and a Rocky Mountain high.  We hope Mack and Rachel come back this way soon.  It has been a long time since an American folk music show was staged around here – maybe we could put one together with the Limeliters.  We could have a hootenanny! 


I Wouldn't Want to Do Anything Else 
Daily Messenger 
By L. David Wheeler, staff writer 
June 11, 2009 
By L. David Wheeler, staff writer 
June 11, 2009 

 Mack Bailey and his wife, Rachel Levy, are longtime friends of Jim Clare. So when Clare and other musician friends started up a series of regular folk concerts in Clifton Springs, booking the folksinger couple was a natural choice. 

“We’ve been getting notices — he tells me there’s an incredible musical presence especially there and ‘you gotta come up and check it out,’” Bailey said during a phone interview last week. “Unfortunately, we aren’t able to stay long — we have to turn around and go back the next day.” 
But he’s hoping that next Wednesday’s concert — the “Tunes by the Tracks” show, moving from its regular library venue to the bigger room of the Spa Apartments — will be the first of many visits to the Finger Lakes. 

Bailey and Levy play what’s best described as “Americana” music, infused with elements of folk, country, bluegrass and more. Lyrically, there’s an emphasis on the positive, the impetus to seize the day and move ahead on what’s right — for oneself, one’s loved ones, one’s planet.  As on “It’s Time,” a featured track on the couple’s MySpace and other Web presences, a song encouraging listeners to a greater environmental consciousness: 
    “We talk of how the Earth, it is our only home 
    And it’s running out of ways it can sustain its own 
    But the way our lives are changin’ every day 
    We ought to be more mindful in the smallest ways 
...       It’s time to stop thinking in red or black 
         It’s time to stop taking and give it back 
         It’s time to change the plan of attack 
         It’s time, it’s time, it’s time ..." 

“I always feel like I want to have a message in every song,” Bailey said. “My mind always wants to find a message to put in every song — ‘this is the way it is, and this is the way it could be,’ or ‘this is the way it was, and this is the way it could be again.’ 

“The bottom line for me is, when I play a concert, the songs I want to play, I want the audience to feel empowered and I want me to feel empowered. I want to feel so empowered that I’m ready to take off, and I want the audience to feel that way too.” 

It’s an attitude toward performing reminiscent of Bailey’s biggest musical hero, the late John Denver, a major influence on his music — the reason he learned to play guitar, in fact. Bailey actually eventually got to play with Denver, trading verses with him on “Thank God I’m a Country Boy.” 
In addition to his work solo and with his wife — “we get to travel together, we get to perform together, we share ideas together — we really love all our time on the road” — Bailey performs with the folk group The Limeliters (more early heroes of his) and with the band The Hard Travelers. He’s shared stages with artists from Tom Paxton to Chet Atkins to Brooks & Dunn. 

Bailey’s musical journey began when he was around 8, performing for his mother’s church group and the like. When he played the part of a courier in a production of “1776” while in high school, the director, from the North Carolina School for the Arts, urged him to enroll. He earned his degree there and later attended the University of North Carolina for awhile. Academically it didn’t work out that well, but it’s where he got some of his first tastes of playing in club settings with the Blue Moon Saloon Band. 

“I had a lot of other jobs to help pay the bills, but music was always a given for me; I would look for every opportunity,” Bailey said. “Finally, I took the leap of faith and said, ‘that’s it, let’s go.’ There are times I would love to have a steady paycheck, but at the end of the day I wouldn’t want to do anything else.” 

It’s fitting, then, that he’s got a song called “Lucky Man.” 

“What makes me truly lucky is that I know it,” he said. “What I try to get people to do is dwell on the good stuff." 

Review of Mack and the John Denver Band in Oregon 

From the Siuslaw News, Jan 25, 2006 
 "The FEC theater filled Sunday afternoon in anticipation of Mack Bailey and the John Denver Band.  For Mack it was old home week; he had enjoyed Florence hospitality as one of the Limeliters last year and couldn't wait to introduce his accomplished friends to our town.  His friends had all performed with or known John Denver - pianist Chris Nole, guitarist Pete Huttlinger, and petite young vocalist Mollie Weaver. 
The quartet covered many of John Denver's songs including Rocky Mountain High, Sunshine On My Shoulders, Grandma's Feather Bed, and Country Roads, and each member performed their own pieces, as an expression of John's inspiration and legacy, Mack said. 
Mollie's classically trained voice was impressive, especially the Italian aria.  The FEC grand piano was tickled by Chris' expertise in solo and in competition with Pete.  Their duet was a race to the finish line - Pete's fingers never left his hand! - a tour de force, even though Pete suffered sleep deprivation having performed the night before in Los Angeles. 
Mack was magic; his personal warmth, gorgeous tenor, harmony singing with Mollie, and guitar playing flew with horses and eagles.  For sure, Mack will be back, in one configuration or another."


Review of Mack's New Christmas CD 

By Carol Swanson,  October, 2005 

My, oh my, oh my!  This Mack Bailey can sing! Seriously, this guy has a fabulous tenor voice in so many respects--color, control, texture, emotion, tone, the whole deal!  He even articulates each lyric with polished precision so that nothing is lost in translation.  Before listening to Star Light, I was unfamiliar with this fine artist. I saw his warm and welcoming smile on the album cover and thought of Bailey as just a "regular guy" having big fun putting together a holiday album.  Then he opened his mouth, and I realized that I had solid gold on my audio system.  So cool! 
Star Light is gentle folk music of the finest sort.  The CD features 11 songs that center on the night of Jesus' birth.  Although Bailey is an acclaimed songwriter, he has only one original on this album--the title track.  "Star Light" is a beautiful number, one that could easily become a holiday favorite.  The melody is memorable and easy-going, and the smart lyrics bring real meaning without being trite.  Best of all, Bailey closes the track with the loveliest a cappella final verse.  Although "Star Light" is a special piece, every track truly shines. Bailey's tender phrasing on "Sweet Little Jesus Boy" can provoke tears.  His "Silent Night" is simply presented (with just an acoustic guitar accompaniment) and similarly expressive.  It is rare and wonderful to encounter a voice with such emotional power.  The album ends appropriately with Bailey's winning "Stille Nacht."  In addition to Bailey's sensational voice, the impressive band (these folks used to play with John Denver) provides excellent support that enhances the musical endeavor and never crowds the vocals; in fact, the ensemble really takes off on the instrumental portions of the "Christmas Medley."  Superb musicianship! 
Mack Bailey's Star Light would be a bright addition to anyone's holiday music collection.  This is one outstanding seasonal package! 

--Carol Swanson 


ROCK ON: Simple Pleasures  

By Kathryn Preston 

Aspen Daily News Correspondent 

February 12, 2005 

Promoting his new inspirational CD, "Why am I Here?," Mack Bailey said he chose to play a solo gig at Steve's Guitar's at the behest of fellow acoustic musician, Pete Huttlinger, who told him what a great room it was to play in. Both musicians are linked to John Denver. Mack Bailey's soaring tenor is stylistically very much like John Denver's, so it's fitting that he sings at many of the John Denver tribute events. (He has the perfect musical-theater voice if he were ever looking for experience in a different genre.) Bailey also sings with the legendary Limeliters, a Kingston Trio-type, folk-pop group. Mack will appear again in Aspen this fall with Chris Nole and other surprise guests at the Mountain Chalet Ballroom. 

Bailey says he is more of a singer than a songwriter, and playing solo is rare for him these days. This particular solo gig revealed his knack for choosing songs that cut straight to the heart of Americana. Spending an evening with Bailey evokes a warm Garrison Keillor/Lake Wobegon feeling: one of being removed from the hustle and bustle of modern life, and being reminded of simple pleasures. The tune, "Rock Me, Grandpa," (from his days with the Blue Moon Saloon Band) written by Kevin Brown, is like a musical Norman Rockwell painting whose lyrics create a vivid portrait of a safe-haven in the arms of a kindly old father-figure: a theme that is oft repeated throughout Bailey's musical lexicon. 

Bailey wrote another tune about simple pleasures, "Through Your Eyes." As he was trying to hustle his daughter into their car, in a hurry to get going, she had stopped to look at a bug. His first thought was to do something "unfatherly" and squash the bug, but he didn't. He stopped and got down on his knees with her, creating a moment, a song, and strengthening a bond that will last forever. This song also delivers another simple pleasure: Bailey's soft, gentle tones are as powerful as the strength of his tenor, and he would do well to utilize this aspect of his voice more in songs like "For One Night," and "I Didn't Come This Far." 

On the CD, "Through Your Eyes," Bailey credits John Denver with teaching him how to sing a song, and Buddy Renfro for teaching him how to share one. Sharing a powerful story of the last few days spent with Renfro before his death, Bailey said that a lot of things became unimportant. For Renfro, sight and sound didn't matter much anymore, but human "touch" was most comforting. Bailey said, "in the end, we held hands for hours without saying a word." Bailey sang "how would I ever know the goodness of my soul without your loving hand?" for his friend. 

An uplifting tune, "Travel light," is the musical equivalent of the phrase "don't let the turkeys get you down." For those who know about traveling light materially, this song reminds us to travel light spiritually as well. "Leave the weight of the world behind. Travel light." Traveling without physical, material weight, makes good horse sense to those who travel frequently across the country or around the world, but the message of traveling through life with a guiding "light," is often a much more elusive concept. 

Tom Paxton helped Bailey write the song, "Just Because." Each listener seems to get something different out of this song depending on what he or she needs to hear, or what they are going through in life when they hear it. While Bailey says it was originally written with his daughter in mind, once again, there is a more universal "Father" theme intended as well. One concert-goer revealed to him that she had just lost her son a couple of months prior to hearing the song, and knew that her son was speaking to her through the lyrics, "Just because you can't see me, doesn't mean I'm not there. Just because you don't hear me, doesn't mean I don't care. Just because you can't make me appear out of thin air, just because you can't hold me, doesn't mean I'm not there." 

A song called, "Daniel Lee," from the "Through Your Eyes" CD is a moving Pete Seeger-type tune about a homeless man. There is much truth to the lyric; "the world doesn't forgive you when you lose your way." However, a fitting follow-up to this song is, "I will Bring You Home," from the "Why Am I Here" CD. 'Though you are homeless, though you are alone, I will bring you home. Whatever's the matter, whatever's been done, I will bring you home. I will bring you home from this fearful place, I will bring you home." Words we all need to hear from time to time, and no singer croons them more compassionately than Bailey. 

Finally, on Denver's song, "Eagles and Horses," Bailey whips up a fury with his tempestuous tenor, creating the perfect crescendo to a most heart-felt evening. 

Kathryn Preston is a local actor, vocalist, poet and freelance writer. 

Mack Bailey speaks to the power of music 
By Stewart Oksenhorn 

Aspen Times 
February 6, 2005 

At times, Aspen can seem like the crossroads of the world. No doubt it seems that way to singer-songwriter Mack Bailey. The first music to make the native North Carolinian's ears stand up and take notice was the folk songs of Aspenite John Denver.  It was Denver's early hits, like "Leavin' on a Jet Plane" and "Sunshine on My Shoulders" that made Bailey, as a 10-year-old, pick up the guitar. 

Some 15 years later, in 1985, Bailey was first brought to Aspen by his friend and fellow East Coast musician, Kenn Roberts, for a ski trip. Roberts was a member of the Hard Travelers, a band that had just reunited after several years on the sidelines.  On the Snowmass Village mall, Roberts asked Bailey if he liked the band.  Sure, answered Bailey, a bit suspicious of the question.  Roberts stuck out his thumb, which had been injured in a skiing accident. Bailey took over as the guitarist for the Hard Travelers, and remains a part of the group today. 

Last January, Bailey was drafted to become the tenor in the long-running, internationally recognized folk trio the Limeliters.  The Limeliters trace their roots to the Aspen of the late '50s, where original tenor Glenn Yarbrough and founding and current member Alex Hassilev owned the Limelite lodge and sang in the lodge's club. 

"I guess all roads do at least go through Aspen," said the 44-year-old Bailey. 

Bailey has been a frequent musical presence here.  Last fall, he appeared with the Fabulous Limeliters at the Wheeler Opera House. Each year since John Denver's 1997 death, Bailey has been among the friends and bandmates of the late singer who gather at the Wheeler to pay tribute to Denver in performances that raise money for Challenge Aspen.  Bailey has also performed locally with the Hard Travelers and with his own band, in an opening gig for Yarbrough on Snowmass' Fanny Hill. 

This week, local audiences will get a different side of Bailey.  He appears as a solo act on Wednesday, Feb. 9, at Main Street Bakery, and Friday, Feb. 11, at Steve's Guitars in Carbondale. 

While his career is split between the Hard Travelers, the Limeliters, solo recordings and performances, as well as his day job as a music therapist for ailing children and Alzheimer's patients, Bailey says his primary inspiration comes from one source: John Denver.  Bailey recalls hearing Denver in 1969, and being inspired to learn every song on every new album. 

"It was something about his sound that was so pure, so honest," said Bailey.  "The thing that really drove me to him was how he did a whole lot, but didn't do anything fancy.  Just adding a note, a different chord.  He made the guitar sound like the instrument I wanted to play.  Every new song back in those years had something new." 

Bailey has accomplished much since those days of driving his mother crazy, repeatedly playing the same songs ad nauseam.  He's got five solo CDs to his credit and a duo CD with singer Mollie Weaver.  Bailey has sung the national anthem multiple times at both Baltimore Orioles and Washington Capitals games.  And just a few weeks before Denver's death, Bailey traded verses with his hero on "Thank God, I'm a Country Boy" (a song written, of course, by Aspenite John Sommers).  But the original influence hasn't faded. 

"I've definitely built on what I learned from him," said Bailey, who has also recorded three tributes CD of Denver's music and has toured with the Musical Tribute to John Denver show.  "I've learned more and more that the music speaks for itself; you don't have to be afraid to let the music bring out emotions. And to write words that mean something. Don't put words together just for a catchy phrase." 

Bailey seems to have also been influenced by Denver's ideal of using music to do good in the world. Bailey is involved with a variety of medical and environmental causes.  But he says he doesn't need to focus his attention on making music for good ends.  The music takes care of that on its own. 

"I realize the power music has," he said.  "If I'm feeling as low as I can get, and I play music and it lifts me 6 feet off the ground, other people have got to feel that way too.  If I'm giving back, that's fine.  But music is a powerful thing, and I feel blessed to have it in my life."