John Denver’s first shot at television was a folk music show filmed in DC

As a student involved in student government at Northern Virginia Community College in Annandale during the 1969-70 school year, I had an unusual opportunity. Several students were asked to participate in the filming of a television pilot for John Denver. I remember the concept was a series hosted by Denver with the setup to be the cellar door at Georgetown. A dozen students showed up at a studio somewhere near Alexandria. The kit gave the appearance of a cellar door. For maybe two hours, John Denver sat and stood on stage repeatedly playing his acoustic guitar while singing “Something to Sing About.” I also remember him either describing or reciting that the first episode would involve Peter, Paul and Mary. I couldn’t find a reference to the show. Denver’s career skyrocketed not long after and I assumed this project just withered on the vine.

David Grimes, The Villages, Florida.

This particular project may have withered on the vine, but John Denver no. And the short-headed troubadour had a special relationship with Washington.

The former Henry John Deutschendorf Jr. (it was probably a good idea to change his name) had grown up across the country as an Air Force brat. When he was 13, his parents bought him a guitar. It served as a good icebreaker for him when he moved to a new school.

In 1965, Denver dropped out of college – Texas Tech, where he was studying architecture – to join the Chad Mitchell Trio, a folk group that, upon arriving in Denver, had to change its name to the Mitchell Trio. (Denver had replaced a founding member Chad Mitchell.)

The trio eventually disbanded, but Denver established himself as a standout presence, writing ‘Leaving On a Jet Plane’ – a hit for Peter, Paul and Mary – and coming under the wing of the producer Milt Okun.

Okun has worked with the Chad Mitchell Trio. He produced Denver’s solo debut, Rhymes & Reasons, released in August 1969. A year earlier, Denver recorded three numbers for a compilation of traditional folk songs organized by Okun. The name of this three-disc set was Something to Sing.

“Something to Sing About” was also the name of a future show centered around the Cellar Door, a well-known and much-loved music venue at 34th and M Streets NW. And that was the name of the song that Denver performed at the opening of the pilot show.

Answer The man knows this because he has watched a video of this pilot. It is in the collection of Universal Media Inc., an incredible archive of musical material. The company — runs from Alexandria, Va., from Eric Kulberg — grants research rights and permits and permits for documentaries and museum exhibitions.

The pilot opens with a graphic that says “Recorded live at the Cellar Door, Washington, DC” This is partly true. An internal fact sheet previously noted that the show was produced by Logos Teleproductions. Logos was at 3620 S. 27th St. in Arlington, where WETA would later find a home.

Kuhlberg and former Washington Post pop music critic Richard Harrington saw the pilot and had a few observations. They believe that the performance of Peter, Paul and Mary was probably filmed at the cellar door, although a blue curtain was placed on the back wall, possibly to make the performers more visible.

However, the opening scenes with Denver look like they were edited after being shot elsewhere, most likely at Logos studios on a fake Cellar Door set.

“Something to Sing About” was produced by Dick Seery and directed by David Sylvian. Sylvian has worked in public television, including a stint with “Mr. Rogers Quarter. Ceri was a DC disc jockey who presented a show called “Music Americana”.

“I only have the tape because Dick Carey produced it,” Kuhlberg said. “His brother Bill Seery was my roommate.”

The idea was that each week there would be a different collection of folk acts recorded when they were in town playing the Cellar Door and presented by Denver.

“Something to Sing About” was filmed at a time when Denver had a new manager: Jerry Weintraub.

Kahlberg suspects Weintraub had a different plan: to commit Denver to network television shows instead of having him host his own syndicated show.

“I think he was right,” Kahlberg said. “I’d love for Dick to do it, but Weintraub was right in that assessment. That’s why you have a good manager.”

About a year after filming the dying pilot, Denver hung out with Bill Danoff and Taffy Nivert of the DC duo Fat City while playing at the Cellar Door. One night he was played an unfinished song inspired by a drive on Clopper Road in Montgomery County, Maryland.

The trio stayed up late to finish Denver’s first hit: “Take Me Home, Country Roads.”

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