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John Denver tribute concert to benefit scholarship fund

Ted Vigil not only looks like John Denver, he also is dedicated to capturing the sound and spirit of the folk legend. He plays a benefit for the Wayne Kakela Scholarship Fund at 7 p.m. Saturday at Bud Werner Memorial Library.
Courtesy Photo

— Two years ago in an Aspen hotel lobby, about 50 members of Steamboat’s Team Lightning swim team and their parents sat around eating pizza.

And then, a ghost appeared.

Or so it seemed to Betsy Birkinbine, who turned to swim coach Sara Barry and proclaimed, “John Denver lives.”



What she saw, in fact, was Denver tribute artist Ted Vigil, who was in town for a festival.

The pair begged the blond folk singer to play for them, and for two hours he played an intimate, impromptu show right there in the lobby.



In an interview Thursday with Explore Steamboat, Washington native Vigil recalled that “wonderful” night.

“That’s what my life revolves around. Those are the moments I live for,” he said. “A lot of times I’m on the stage, and there’s a spotlight on me, and I can’t really see the crowd. But it was just something spur of the moment. They were all there, relaxed and having a good time.”

Barry vowed to bring Vigil to Steamboat, and two years later she’s finally succeeded. Vigil will play a fundraiser at 7 p.m. Saturday at Bud Werner Memorial Library. Tickets are $20, and proceeds will go to the Wayne Kakela Scholarship Fund, which helps provide free swim lessons for needy families.

Having played many fundraisers, Vigil is no stranger to philanthropic work. He’s performed for ailing fans in hospitals and helped a young disabled girl realize her dream of singing.

“Those are the things I really love to do,” he said. “Music has a healing property in it. People come to life.”

He said he supports the Wayne Kakela Scholarship Fund because of the spirit it represents.

“I think it’s really cool,” Vigil said. “I learned how to swim when I was a little kid, and they had free swim lessons at the city park. A lot of that stuff’s gone away. Kids go to school, and then they’re sitting behind the Xbox controller. It’s wonderful to get kids out, swimming and connecting with other kids.”

The fund was set up after Kakela’s death in January 2009 to recognize his dedication to Old Town Hot Springs and the Routt County community.

The fund operates under the nonprofit status of Old Town Hot Springs and provided about $1,000 in memberships and swim lessons for needy families this summer, Hot Springs Executive Director Pat Carney said.

“I think it’s a great event to put in Wayne’s name and get his name out there,” she said about Saturday’s fundraiser. Kakela “was always about local people being able to access this facility. He was here all the time and felt really strongly about it. He would be all for helping people take advantage of it.”

Kakela was an avid swimmer, reader, motorcyclist, sculptor and filmmaker known for his reach in the community and his good-natured, hardworking manner.

In that sense, his legacy fits well with Vigil’s tribute.

“I enjoy the music because it talks about home life, family, real stories,” Vigil said. “It’s stories about people growing up in America and working hard.”

— To reach Nicole Inglis, call 970-871-4204 or email ninglis@SteamboatToday.com


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