COVID-19 takes Vail-area entertainment icon
The pandemic sweeping the nation has claimed the life of a Vail musical icon.
Rod Powell, 64, who delighted aprés-ski crowds for decades in Vail with his musical talents, died from complications from coronavirus. He is the first Eagle County victim of COVID-19, according to Eagle County Public Health and Environment.
“Rod Powell was a legend in Vail and brought joy to so many over his tenure as Vail’s No. 1 entertainer,” Shannon Tanner, his longtime friend and fellow musician, said.
Powell, who played for decades at Pepi’s and other watering holes around Vail, was the first to welcome Tanner as a “kid entertainer” from South Carolina.
“I learned much from Rod Powell. … His friendship I treasured. There is a hole in the world today,” Tanner said.
Powell’s sister, Nancy Powell Wilson, said her brother’s memorial service can wait until the pandemic has passed, probably this summer.
Powell skied March 6 at the 35th annual Tuxedo Party on Vail Mountain with friends from Vail and his native Missouri.
“It was one of those bluebird days,” long-time friend Heather Lemon said, who was along for what turned out to be Powell’s last ski day.
His friends said something might be wrong when Powell was not at church the following Sunday. He almost never missed church.
He went to his doctor Monday, March 9, and his doctor sent him to the hospital. On Wednesday, March 11, he was transferred from Vail Health Hospital to Presbyterian St. Luke’s Hospital in Denver, where he was placed on a ventilator. He died Saturday morning after a two-week battle.
He had COPD and diabetes, so he had underlying conditions to go with the COVID-19, friends said.
Musician, mentor, friend
Powell spent years singing on Pepi’s deck and entertaining tens of thousands of visitors over his 32 years there. He was always quick with a joke, always remembered his fans and played the meanest version of “Hotel California” around.
He was also a real estate agent, most recently with Berkshire Hathaway.
“I had the good fortune to know him, and be entertained by him, both as a member of the community and our company,” said firm president Michael Slevin, who grew up in Vail.
Kevin Denton also grew up in Vail being entertained by Powell. Also a broker at Berkshire, Denton became a friend of Powell’s when the latter joined Berkshire’s Vail Village office.
“He was one of the biggest characters,” Denton said. “He was really the poster child of Vail.”
Denton said Powell’s death makes the seriousness of COVID-19 very real.
“It’s hit home a lot harder now that one of our close friends is gone,” Denton said. “Hopefully everybody takes it a lot more seriously. We’ve all got to do our part,” he said.
Over the course of his career, Powell played with his own band, had a recording that made Billboard’s top 100, did a stint with the New Christy Minstrels and entertained people around the world on cruise ships. He performed for ambassadors in Europe, movie stars and for President Gerald Ford. Gregory Peck watched Powell’s first gig at Pepi’s.
Powell jammed with Hall of Fame musicians including the Doobie Brothers, Dan Fogelberg, Edwin McCain and Stephen Stills. He played Vail during ski season and headed for the Caribbean in the summer before moving to EagleVail full time in the late 1990s.
He loved sailing and once had a boat. He loved a good fire, blue Powerade, going to the casino in Black Hawk and was a regular at the Riverwalk movie theater. He knew almost everyone in the area and had an anecdote about each one. Powell had strong faith in God and most recently attended the Vail Church.
Although he never married or had children, he loved helping kids. One of his proudest accomplishments was fundraising for the Colorado Make-A-Wish Foundation. He used his connections to secure donations for auctions and helped organize concerts with fellow Vail area musicians to raise funds for the organization. He and Tanner, his best friend, were privileged to ski with a young man whose wish was to experience Vail.
Rod Powell was born in St. Joseph, Missouri, June 5, 1955, the son of Robert and Doris Atkins Powell. He attended Central High School, where he began his musical career, and Missouri Western State University, where he pledged Tau Kappa Epsilon. His parents preceded him in death. He is survived by his sister, who lives in St. Joseph.
“The news of this loss in our community serves as a solemn reminder that COVID-19 can pose greater risks to some members of our community, in particular older adults and people with pre-existing health conditions. We must all take steps to protect our families, ourselves, our friends, and our community,” said Heath Harmon, director of Eagle County Public Health and Environment.
Vail Daily reporters Scott Miller and Tricia Swenson contributed to this story.
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Multiple efforts have popped up to keep the region’s Latino population informed about the coronavirus crisis and economic aid available for unemployed workers. A special Facebook public group called Coronavirus Aspen 2 Parachute Community Help provides answers to frequently asked questions and directs people to aid.