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Never know what might happen when you play a banjo . . . here is what December 8 had in store for me.

My time with Celine Dion

Was short, but full. We were both called on to perform at the Denver Art Museum in honor of the Anschutz family of Denver, who are the benefactors for many good things. In this case Mr. Anschutz’s funding the construction of this beautiful new Museum was being honored. He is known by all those who know of him to have ‘a lotta of money’, but what makes him rich is his family and how they all use their position for philanthropic causes. (One of the richest men in America, his holdings are vast). While he has developed many successful businesses, he has never lost sight of the good his position can do to improve the ‘human condition’, for which he and others in his family are quite known.

Years ago Mr. Anschutz told me that one reason he became interested in the music business was because of the excitement he felt going to Nitty Gritty Dirt Band concerts in the mid-‘70’s, while a college student in Kansas. He is a fan. Such a fan that as his successes built to the point where one of his ‘loves’ being art of the American West (he is the largest private holder of artworks of this type) led him to bring the band to perform at the MOMA in New York City in the ‘80’s, where his collection was displayed at the time. Then, in the ‘90’s, he took the whole band to Russia for 10 days with his exhibit, and proudly displayed both his art and one of his favorite groups.

Now it was time for a dinner in his honor, held at the Denver Art Museum the night of December 8. 400 guests of various prestigious backgrounds were in for the surprise of Mr. Anschutz’s life when I came out to ‘warm up’ the crowd for someone who needed no warm-up – Celine Dion. We had both been brought in as a surprise for this event, and I was sworn to secrecy about this show.

I wondered if I would meet this great singer, as even though our dressing rooms were next to each other, I knew she was well protected. I had heard comments about ‘she’s a diva.. not friendly’ or such from some people who apparently did not really know her, and had figured those reports were based on brief encounters some had when she was working, or concerned about her performance.

She arrived while I was playing my banjo, going in to that dressing room on the other side of a paper-thin wall. I kept playing a bit to see if I would hear someone yell, “make them stop that noise!!” and switched to the mandolin for a couple minutes when they didn’t. I had to warm up and be ready to play; I was ‘opening’ for Celine Dion!

Venturing to knock next door to ask if my playing was disturbing her (actually an excuse to say hello), she said “nooo! Sounds wonderful! Please, don’t stop..” Going back to my space, after a few comments and niceties from her about the event and being there. She started warming up with some acrobatic vocal exercises. I felt like a lucky guy, to be hearing her do that, and she was only doing one song after my 15 minutes. Sound check went fine, and she departed until show time.

My wife Marilyn and I came back a few hours later, and getting ready to go on, Celine also returned and they got to meet. After ‘the show’, she graciously stood for photos with those around, and I got one with her holding the Maasai album (Loruvani – Songs of the Maasai Steppe) I gave her, even holding it up for the camera. It was a good night, and the Anschutz family was duly surprised and all smiles throughout. My banjo has taken me to some strange situations.

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