By Rita J. Egan
On Feb. 13, music lovers will be traveling country roads, and not-so country roads, to Theatre Three in Port Jefferson when the venue presents Ted Vigil: A Tribute to John Denver.
For the last few years, Ted Vigil has been touring the country with the tribute show and providing the late singer’s fans a night of musical memories. When Douglas Quattrock, the theater’s group sales coordinator and director of development and marketing, and Vivian Koutrakos, managing director, found out the singer was interested in performing on Long Island, they watched a video of him and were extremely impressed.
Quattrock said that Vigil not only physically resembles the late singer but also perfectly captures how Denver would sing and perform right down to every intonation. “I was blown away because I grew up with his music,” he said.
Preferring rock music when he was younger, creating a John Denver tribute show wasn’t always the musical road Vigil was on. However, he couldn’t escape many noticing the resemblance to Denver, who died in a plane crash in 1997. He was only 53.
“I get it every day. I get it at the grocery store. I get it when I’m jogging with my ski hat on. It’s the first thing that my mother-in-law said when I met her 30 years ago: ‘You kind of look like John Denver’,” Vigil said in a recent phone interview.
When he began performing as a teenager in Olympia, Washington, Vigil would sing and play drums with local rock bands. The entertainer said the resemblance to Denver wasn’t as obvious when he was younger. He admitted he used to have big ’80s hair — “permed and ratted up. I definitely had a different look going on,” he said.
Vigil said that while his style of music was different from Denver’s, he was familiar with the singer’s songs because his mother would play the musician’s 8-tracks in her car.
While Vigil always enjoyed performing, after he got married and had children he took a break from the stage and worked as a truck driver. Through the years, his music style also changed. “As I got older I kind of started moving away from the harder rock and started listening to other stuff,” he said.
Once his children were older, Vigil started performing again, and the Denver look-alike found his musical style meshing with the legend’s more and more.
‘It’s the first thing that my mother-in-law said when I met her 30 years ago: You kind of look like John Denver.’ — Ted Vigil
In 2006 he, along with thousands of contestants from 28 states, New Zealand, Australia and Canada entered the Talent Quest 2006 contest in Laughlin, Nevada. He arrived at the contest prepared to participate in the rock/pop category where he sang the Led Zeppelin song,“Rock and Roll,” and the Guns N’ Roses hit, “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” When he arrived, someone suggested he also enter the country category.
While he didn’t win in rock/pop, he walked away with first place in the country category singing Denver’s “Annie’s Song” and “Rocky Mountain High.” While he was in Nevada, many commented on how he resembled the late singer, and after that he entered and won the KOMO TV 4’s Northwest Afternoon Celebrity Look-Alike Contest.
At his appearance at Talent Quest, he caught the attention of a pilot and sound engineer that both had worked with Denver, and they encouraged him to do a tribute show. His first one was in 2006, and by 2009, he was touring all over the states.
In 2010 Steve Weisberg, a former lead guitar player with Denver, began to perform on stage with Vigil. The singer said while touring for four years with Weisberg, who passed away in 2015, he learned a lot about Denver, and during downtime on the road, the guitar player would share with him how the late singer would approach songs.
“He was fun to play with and people loved him. He told stories and jokes on stage about his experience working with John. I really miss Steve,” the singer said.
Vigil admitted that even though he knew a few guitar chords, he needed to learn more for the tribute show, because Denver was an accomplished guitar player. Once he learned the songs on the instrument, he said he was blown away by the technicality.
“It was really a challenge for me to learn these songs on the guitar. I didn’t realize how great a guitar player John was. Also, how difficult it was to sing in a more quiet tone, and you have that voice control, you have the long extended notes, and with all the bravado and all that, it’s really beautiful. John used his voice like an instrument. He was just a really technical singer,” Vigil said.
The singer, who also is a songwriter, released an album in 2010 with his own and Denver’s songs. Currently, he is working on his next CD with all original tunes. He said performing Denver’s songs has affected his performances overall. “John has definitely influenced me a lot as far as style and just being a more rounded singer, instead of screaming rock ‘n roll stuff,” he said.
Vigil, who had the opportunity to play at Denver’s Windstar Foundation in Aspen before it dissolved, is looking forward to the intimate setting of Theatre Three. The singer, who has performed both solo and with a seven-piece band, said he’ll be bringing his solo show to the theater. While he enjoys performing with a band, he feels in some settings the audience can hear the lyrics better when there are less instruments, which he finds fitting for Denver’s music. “I think John’s music really was emotional, and it really hits the heart,” the singer said.
Vigil said he will perform at Theatre Three many of the songs that music lovers remember of Denver’s including “Rocky Mountain High,” “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” “Annie’s Song” and “Thank God I’m a Country Boy.” He also enjoys performing “Grandma’s Feather Bed,” “Like a Sad Song” and “Poems, Prayers and Promises,” which weren’t played on the radio as much as the legend’s other songs.
“My favorite songs are some of the side B record songs where they didn’t get a lot of airplay but they are just beautiful songs,” he said.
The singer will also perform a couple of his own pieces, including “Sing My Songs,” which he wrote as a tribute to Denver and other popular singers who have passed away.
Vigil is grateful to be touring and meeting so many interesting people and sharing their memories of Denver. He believes music is an important part of life. “It’s such a wonderful thing — music. It really helps people I think emotionally and spiritually and mentally to cope with life because life is hard,” he said.
Theatre Three, 412 Main Street, Port Jefferson, will present Ted Vigil: A Tribute to John Denver on Saturday, Feb. 13, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $35 per person. For more information, visit www.theatrethree.com or call 631-928-9100.