A Rocky Mountain High Christmas made a successful return to its birthplace at Kelowna Community Theatre on Thursday night.

After its successful launch in March 2018, this concert tribute to legendary folk/country singer-songwriter John Denver went on tour across Canada with a winning formula.

Producer/songwriter/entertainer Rick Worrall lined up a symphony orchestra and musical artists from each city, brought his own band and performed Denver’s favourite songs such as Thank God I’m A Country Boy, Sunshine on My Shoulders, Country Roads and Annie’s Song as well as numbers from his Rocky Mountain Christmas album and Christmas with the Muppets TV special.

The piece de resistance is Lee Holdridge, Hollywood legend and Denver’s arranger/conductor, picking up the baton and directing the symphony orchestras in major centres like Victoria, Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg.

“We didn’t know how it was going to go,” Worrall admitted to more than 700 at Thursday’s performance, the first of three at the theatre. A Friday evening show will be followed by a 2 p.m. matinee today (Nov. 30). Those who already had tickets for Thursday and Friday could get a matinee ticket for half-price through Kelowna Tickets box office at 100-2600 Enterprise Way, Kelowna or by phone at 250-862-2867.

“This is where it all started and this is the best so far. We’re thrilled to be back here. You have one of the finest symphonies,” Worrall said, adding with a laugh: “As John used to say: ‘Feel free to sing along but please limit yourself to the choruses.”

As soon as the band began to play the introductory Rocky Mountain High by Denver - one of the two official state songs of Colorado, many in the audience admitted to a lump in the throat or a tear in the eye. It was a reminder of a simpler time in the 1970s, a sharp contrast to today’s fast-moving, complicated world.

The crescendo of applause and cheers only increased in volume as Worrall introduced Okanagan singer/actress Delphine Litke who was one of the Singin’ Sisters at last weekend’s Rock Me Baby concert at Creekside Theatre in Lake Country.

The two performed a duet on Wild Montana Skies and then Litke performed a solo of Leaving on a Jet Plane with just the symphony orchestra.

The best was yet to come with solos by Vernon soprano Melina Schein on Rhymes and Reasons and by her son, tenor Justin Moore, on For You. The highlight, though, was their duet in the second half on O Holy Night when Schein couldn’t help repeatedly smiling up at her tall son.

This classic variety night also had several humorous moments that had the audience roaring with laughter.

Worrall presented talented Kelowna pianist Neville Bowman with a present — a Rowlf the Dog hat since he heard Bowman could sing like the scruffy brown dog on the Muppets TV show. They sang Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas which was followed by presents for the band and orchestra members. Donning more Muppet character hats, they sang Twelve Days of Christmas from the Muppet Christmas special.

Kelowna lawyer Paul Hergott even got in the act by rhythmically pounding “the boot” - a long stick covered with small cymbals and a boot on the end - on the floor to Thank God I’m A Country Boy, audience clapping in unison.

The ongoing treat, though, was Holdridge and the symphony orchestra joining the Rocky Mountain Band on most numbers including a rollicking Calypso, Christmas for Cowboys and the finale of Silent Night, everyone joining in on the familiar lyrics.

Partway through the second half, the Rocky Mountain High Children’s Chorus — students from South Rutland Elementary School and Kelowna Youth Choir (Kelowna Community Music School) — walked down the two aisles singing Christmas Is Coming to an audience chorus of “Ohhh.” The house lights then regularly came on for unison clapping and audience singing to a series of Christmas numbers and Denver favourites.

“I want to take this show everywhere,” Worrall pronounced to a standing ovation after the encore. Denver would no doubt include the Okanagan birthplace of this musical tribute in that wish.

Of note, a portion of ticket sales went to the Boys and Girls Club of the Okanagan and the Central Okanagan Food Bank with non-perishable food items dropped off in a bin in the lobby.