Gil Asakawa, Westword's original music editor, remembers legendary promoter Barry Fey
By Gil Asakawa
I first visited the offices of Feyline, Barry Fey's concert promotions company, in the early 1980s when I was music editor for Westword. I had become friends with Feyline's publicist, Mark Bliesener, and I would go over to the office to get the skinny on upcoming shows. That's when I first met Barry Fey, who was physically larger-than-life at various times (he'd yo-yo between being morbidly obese and merely overweight).
Fey had an office next to Chuck Morris, his onetime competitor who booked small clubs like Tulagi in Boulder and Ebbetts Field in Denver. By the '80s, Fey had brought Morris on board the Feyline train. Every time I visited, I was amazed at how much the two of them fought -- or seemingly fought. All I'd hear the whole time was cussing and screaming back and forth, and stuff being thrown around, though I don't recall ever having to duck. Fey was one of the most profane people I know -- more than even most journalists.
During a 1985 press conference at Mile High Stadium when Barry Fey announced late September concerts at the stadium by Bruce Springsteen, Rocky Mountain News music critic asked a legit question, whether Fey was nervous at all about the possibility of snow (I write this as it's snowing like a mother on May 1, so it's not an outrageous question at all). Fey's immediate response was "Only a fucking asshole would ask a question like that."
I was the only journalist in town that assiduously covered the bankruptcy of Feyline in the late '80s (note to Denver Post reporters: His resurrected company post-bankruptcy was called Fey Concerts). For my trouble of sitting through boring court proceedings and poring over legal documents, Fey banned me from his shows for a year, which meant Westword had to pay for me to go to shows. Luckily, it was easy enough to skip the big shows he produced because there was so much great local music evolving, and smaller promoters bringing cutting-edge sounds to town that Barry had no interest in booking. And who enjoys climbing those hellish stairs at Red Rocks, anyway?
The one time I thought for sure Fey would ban me forever was when I wrote a long cover story about the death and life of Tommy Bolin, a flashy guitar superstar-to-be who turned out to be a falling star when he OD'ed on the first night as opening act of a Jeff Beck tour. Bolin was from Iowa but had migrated to Denver and ended up in Boulder by 1969, playing for Zephyr, then James Gang, then Deep Purple, and then his own two solo albums before flaming out.
There were always rumors that Fey, who was Bolin's manager, had some hand in his death, and I reported on those rumors. Fey had sent a "bodyguard" to Miami to watch over Bolin, but some witnesses claimed brought a case full of pharmaceuticals. Fey was angry about the accusation: "People really say those things? Fuck them, cocksuckers," he said for the story. But he never held the article against me after it ran.
Fey fed on the power he held in the Denver music market, and his position within the music industry overall. He loved jerking around the local media and putting an embargo on the lineup of each year's "Summer of Stars" concerts at Red Rocks until the pullout section ran in all the papers at once (the Post, Rocky and Westword -- I wrote the text for those damned things for some years).
But in spite of our various clashes, I ultimately respected his ability as a music promoter. He had great instincts, and he knew how to take care of acts he liked. That's why he had such great relationships with some of the biggest acts in the industry, from the Rolling Stones and the Who to U2, which he booked into the Rainbow Music Hall before anyone cared about them. U2's breakout moment, the videotaped concert at Red Rocks which has been released as Under the Blood Red Sky, couldn't have happened without Fey's support. It was a magical night, even in spite of the crappy weather.
Because he was a music fan as well as a businessman, Barry Fey brought a lot of magical nights to other music fans both here and in venues across the world where he promoted shows.