The first time I saw Pete Huttlinger in person was at a concert in Breckenridge with Jim Salestrom. It wasn’t a full-on John Denver tribute, but given Jim’s inclination and Pete’s history with JD, there was no shortage of Sunshine On My Shoulders and Thank God I’m A Country Boy.
Far more impressive than those covers, was Pete’s unbelievable solo talent on his acoustic guitar. I’ve always found that regardless of one’s sophistication in any artistic discipline (or in my case, lack thereof) … when exposed to a talent that is truly one of the world’s best, it makes an appropriate and unforgettable impression.
Not only had Pete played backup for John in the early 90’s, but he also did some of the arranging for the famous Wildlife Concert, as well as others.
Later, after John Denver’s death, Pete played with LeeAnn Rimes, Vince Gill and more than a few other “household names”. His talent couldn’t be summed up any more completely or simply than LeeAnn’s reference to him as a “complete genius”.
Evelyn had met Pete once or twice in Aspen at a couple of the early “official” John Denver tribute concerts. In each case their meetings were brief and included a number of other people. Nevertheless, when we saw him in Breckenridge that day he greeted Evelyn like a long lost friend, not someone he had barely met. I quickly came to treasure that humility and warmth, which was as much a part of Pete as his incredible skill on the guitar.
Wonderful testimony of that kindness came when I had the nerve to ask Pete if I could use his music as background for some marketing videos we were producing for Antlers 2000. I expected him to tell me all about ASCAP and licensing issues and costs, etc. Instead, despite the fact that he didn’t know me from Adam, he said, “Absolutely … use whatever you want. No problem.” Just like that … that was it. When I asked him if I could pay him he said, “No, that’s okay … just send me a copy of whatever you do. I’d love to see it.” I’m still blown away by his generosity.
Not only did I use a couple cuts off his Catch & Release CD (arguably the best solo acoustic guitar CD ever recorded), but we stayed in contact over the next few years. When we had the Grand Opening celebration for the Antlers redevelopment in 2002, Pete came and played a private concert for our friends and owners. I sincerely doubt if the Antlers conference room will ever be host to more talent than it was on that day.
Over the years, Evelyn continued to stay in touch with Pete and his lovely wife, Erin. We had the pleasure of fishing with Pete on the Roaring Fork (his favorite pastime other than playing music) and later had them over for dinner. Pete enjoyed playing Evelyn’s John Denver signature guitar that evening and it will never, ever sound better.
After many years of heart and health problems, Pete passed away last week at the ripe old age of 54. It’s a sad day. A tragedy. Thousands of people will miss him, but few more than us. Here’s to you, Pete.