No rest for the beery
Mary Rayne, of Elkins, wasn't pleased to hear the song years ago during a backpacking trip in Europe. "One night as I was trying to sleep in a youth hostel that was above a bar in Ghent, Belgium, I heard the entire bar united in singing 'Take Me Home, Country Roads.' At the time I was annoyed, trying to sleep. Now it's just funny," Rayne said.
G'day, Mountain Momma
When a rainforest tour guide in Australia realized Dennis and Suzie Legg, of Wallback, were from West Virginia, he surprised Suzie by calling her a "Mountain Momma." He told her he was learning to play the guitar was working on "Country Roads" and sang some lyrics.
"As with any true Mountaineer, my heart was filled with pride that our unofficial state song had also touched the heart of an Aussie deep in the rainforest of Kuranda, Australia," she said.
Katie Felitsky's five years singing with Appalachian Children's Chorus included an Irish tour on which she noticed that everyone in Ireland seemed to know "Country Roads."
The chorus recently performed for the United Nations in New York, along with many international groups. "There were many different countries that knew 'Country Roads' as well as I do, such as Tobago, South Africa, Norway, Canada, Luxembourg and Australia. When we had our solo in front of these choirs in Hard Rock Café in New York, the refrain was sang by everyone," said Felitsky, of Scott Depot.
Martha Ranson, of Scott Depot, was visiting her daughter and son-in-law, who was serving at an Army base in Frankfurt, Germany. She heard "Country Roads" twice while she was there -- once at the airport and once in a McDonald's.
"They were speaking German all around. It was nice to hear the song from home," she said.
Erika Collins attended a Volksfest in Germany with her daughters and grandchildren for an oompah band concert. "We were surprised when the first song they played was 'Country Roads.' I don't know if they did this because they heard us speak English or not. It was hilarious and, needless to say, we all sang along with them loudly. This made our day," Collins said.
"I was in Munich in October of 1996. The last night before heading home we went to the Hofbrauhaus for dinner," said Sherrie Stover, of Charleston. "I was sad about leaving Germany, but when their band started playing 'Country Roads,' I knew it was time to go."
In the Land Down Under
When Billy Joe Peyton, of Charleston, attended the first rugby World Cup in Australia in 1989, he entered a bar in Brisbane to the sounds of "Country Roads" playing on the jukebox. "It brought a smile to my face, and I heartily joined in on the chorus," he said.
He's also heard it in Germany, Tanzania, Peru and Wales, where it is well known.
Steve and Linda Winkel, of Elkview, hadn't been to their large family reunion in Michigan for a few years. When their daughter-in-law's Polish father heard the West Virginia relatives were coming, he worked on a surprise to welcome them.
"He learned the words and to play the song on his guitar. He sang 'Country Roads' in a Polish accent. We loved the way he pronounced the words and that he worked so hard and learned it just for us. We were so pleased," said Linda Winkel of Walter Bilski's rendition of the song.
Linda Myers, of Parkersburg, traveled to China in 1984 with one of the first tour groups allowed in the country. "One of the highlights was visiting an elementary school where they greeted us with John Denver's 'Take Me Home, Country Roads.' At first it was very difficult to know what they were singing until they sang the chorus and then we all knew," Myers said.
Adam Thompson, of Morgantown, studied abroad in China in 2006 in Nanjing. The first time he heard "Country Roads" was from the radio of a passing car. "I was pleasantly surprised hearing it, but what really surprised me was, someone walking past me started singing it," Thompson said.
During his two months in China, he usually heard the song at least once a day -- on the radio, over the public address system in parks and by a Chinese student in a school play.
Jennifer Waggener, of Charleston, said her husband was serenaded with the song at a bar in Beijing. "When I was in high school, my family went to Hawaii. My dad requested it one night at dinner and the whole place broke out in song. It was awesome," said Waggener.
On the high seas
Anne Summers, of Charleston, was on a cruise in the Bahamas when a member of the staff asked her, "Where you from, mon?" When she told him West Virginia, he said, "'Country Roads'? Could I go home with you?"
"I was shocked. We were on a cruise ship in the middle of nowhere, and he knew that song," Summers said.
Gianna Fioravante, of Charleston, was gambling on the slot machines in Las Vegas when she hit 20 free spins. A man from Rio de Janeiro sitting next to her asked where she was from. She didn't think someone from Rio de Janeiro would have heard of West Virginia, and was surprised when he hopped up on his chair and sang the song at 3 a.m. in the casino.
"He told me, 'Who doesn't know "Country Roads"?' And he did, every word. So not only did I have it performed for me in Nevada but also by someone visiting from a whole different country," said Fioravante.
Ringing in the new year
Bunny Crockett, her husband and friends celebrated the turn of the century with a trip to Greece and Crete. Toward midnight of a New Year's party in a Mediterranean resort, the German band played 'Country Roads.' Crockett, of St. Albans, took the stage and sang along.
"To my heartfelt surprise, all those foreigners joined in. I led the last refrain with tears in my eyes, realizing that everyone in the world loves the song about our love for our home state," said Crockett.
A gondolier in Venice crooned the song to Debbie Martin, of League City, Texas, as he steered his gondola through the waterway. At the time, Martin lived in St. Albans and was chaperoning her son's high school trip.
Anna-Marie Ward and her husband heard the song on their honeymoon in Cancun earlier this year. As the walked into the resort's lobby, the band started playing "Country Roads."
"Total coincidence, but it stopped both of us in our tracks," she said.
Carolyn Saul, of Charleston, first heard "Country Roads" 40 years ago on an Illinois radio station. She called the radio station and asked the name of the song and the performer.
"I went to my local record store and asked them to order the 45 for me. I went back a few days later and picked it up. I always felt my little contribution might have helped make it famous," she said.
Longing for home
John Fox, of Renton, Wash., left his West Virginia home in 1961. He returns to visit family here, but not as frequently as he would like.
"When I hear the song I get homesick. But I also get a strong feeling of pride. I see it as Almost Heaven," Fox said. His wife, a Reno, Nevada, native, loves John Denver, and West Virginia by extension, although she'd never visited until they were married 18 years ago. "Her greatest desire was to see the Mountain State."
Kim Rundstrom, of Maine, moved away from West Virginia 17 years ago. "When I hear 'Country Roads,' I literally do get a teardrop in my eye. That song moves me as much as 'The Star-Spangled Banner,'" Rundstrom said. "Beautiful song for a beautiful state."
Reach Julie Robinson at jul...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1230.