Barry Fey is dead: Towering figure in Denver music scene passes away

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barry fey 205x205.jpg
More photos below.
We've just learned that Barry Fey, a larger-than-life figure who helped put Denver on the music-business map, has died.

At this writing, the circumstances of Fey's death have not been made public, but he has been ill of late. His personal Facebook page features a March 11 post that reads, "I am happy to tell you that Barry's surgery was a success. He is now in recovery and wants to thank you for your thoughts and prayers," with an April 24 followup noting "Barry is now home and doing well."

Whatever the specifics of his passing, there's no denying that Fey was among the most fascinating, and most controversial, figures in Colorado for decades. He more or less built the Denver concert scene with his own two hands, and his incredible will -- but he also had rageaholic tendencies that made him plenty of enemies during his time in the spotlight. Still, there's no denying that he was a born showman who put an indelible mark on Colorado for decades.

To get a sense of the man, here's the appropriately titled "The Long Goodbye," a 1997 warts-and-all feature article I wrote about him when he sold his shares of Fey Concerts to Universal Concerts, Inc. The move was seen at the time as a precursor to retirement, but Fey wasn't a sit-around-and-do-nothing kind of guy. Only death could silence him.

"The Long Goodbye: After thirty years, Barry Fey is stepping down. Sort of."
By Michael Roberts
August 14, 1997

barry fey with barry fey painting.jpg
A photo of Barry Fey with a portrait of Barry Fey, from his Facebook page.
Barry Fey: genius. The last of the old-time rock promoters. A man with a legendary ear, terrific taste and an unmatched ability to hype a concert into an event. A bit rough around the edges, maybe, but a good-hearted fellow who single-handedly saved Denver's symphony orchestra in 1989 and set aside a percentage of ticket sales from shows staged under his Fey Concerts banner during the past three years for a "Safe Summer" fund intended to decrease violence among young people. Barry Fey: monster. A greedy, venomous sort whose business dealings are notable for their lack of ethics and utter absence of fairness. A verbal abuser of longstanding whose addiction to food and mania for gambling are just the most obvious of his personal foibles. Mean and dangerous, yet so powerful that many of those who've witnessed his actions or suffered at his hands are too afraid to say anything about what they've seen.

Which of these portraits is accurate? Perhaps both of them, but it's nearly impossible to tell for certain. The former claims are made by city officials and selected Fey intimates, the latter by ex-employees and onetime business associates who, in the main, will speak only under the cloak of anonymity. But there's one thing upon which all parties agree: Fey, 58, has been the most important figure in the Denver music community for thirty years--which is why the August 11 announcement that he has sold his share of Fey Concerts to Universal Concerts Inc., a onetime rival that's been his partner since 1991, is so intriguing. Fey is not disappearing from the scene; he has agreed to serve as an "active consultant" to Universal for the next five years and expects to be intimately involved with the planning of the annual Summer of Stars series, which he calls "a labor of love." Moreover, he notes that Universal has "carved out" the Las Vegas market for him, thereby allowing Fey to promote between twelve and fifteen concerts a year there as Feyline, the name of his original company, which was dismantled by a bankruptcy court in early 1987. But for the first time in well over a generation, he will not be promoting performances in the state that he put on the rock-and-roll map. Vocabulary-challenged pundits will refer to his decision as "the end of an era," and for once they may be right.

As might have been expected, Fey handled the announcement itself with aplomb, hosting a media roundup at the site of the Family Dog, the West Evans club where he began his reign as Denver's rock guru. That the Dog closed ages ago and is currently PT's, a strip bar, appeared not to have bothered him in the slightest. Many observers in the room could not help but see irony in the setting, but Fey is a sentimentalist. To him the room will always be the Dog, where he introduced listeners from the Rocky Mountain West to musical glories about which they had only dreamed.

Fey's Cherry Hills Village home overflows with mementos from the Dog days to the present. Over a sofa in his front room is an Andy Warhol painting of Mick Jagger, and the airy entranceway is lined with oversized works typified by a genuinely tacky rendering of Jimi Hendrix by splatter artist Denny Dent. The walls of the nearby den are hung with vintage posters and guitars autographed by the Eagles, the Who and U2, the most contemporary act represented. A half-filled vinyl jukebox offers a window into the songs Fey adores most: The most recent 45 is Don McLean's "American Pie."

Dressed in a dark T-shirt and shorts held up by a belt, Fey weighs a trim 192 pounds (he once tipped the scales at 320 pounds), and although his hairline has that store-bought look, he otherwise seems younger than his years. His son Tyler, who celebrated his sixth birthday this week, is padding around the house in bare feet, and Fey scoots after him, doling out advice. "Wash your face, Tyler," he says in reference to a red, sugary-looking substance smeared across the boy's face. Later, Fey helps him lace up his shoes in advance of a trip to practice hitting golf balls. After learning that there are no holes on a driving range, Tyler asks, "So what are you supposed to do?"

"You try to hit the ball as far as you can," Fey explains. "They have signs: ten yards, twenty yards, thirty yards. The further it goes, the better you did. That's how you win."

Winning is still important to Barry Fey. These days, he soft-pedals his fiercesome reputation, referring to himself as "a wimp" and noting, "I'm all mouth. I've got nothing to back myself up anymore." Likewise, his preferred conversational volume (while reminiscing, anyhow) is surprisingly low, and he smiles and laughs easily. But every once in a while, a testier Fey can be located beneath the surface. When a photographer takes a little longer than he likes in getting the expression he wants for a shot, Fey asks him, "Would you like to see my irritated look?"

Today, such a phrase would strike fear into many of Fey's colleagues. But if his account of his childhood is accurate, he was not always such an intimidating presence. He was born in New York City; his father wholesaled steel pipe while his mother stayed home and looked after Barry and his sister. Before long, the family moved to East Orange, New Jersey, and Fey describes the years that followed as idyllic. Unfortunately, the good times would not last forever. "When I was eleven years old, the world was my oyster," he says. "I was going into sixth grade, I was going to be president of the class at Nassau School in East Orange, and my baseball team was really great. I played third base and was captain of the team, and we were playing for the city championship when a very significant thing happened. We were ahead 9-0 and there were two outs in the ninth inning, and the other team was batting when the guy hit it to me. And I just held it. Everyone was yelling, 'Throw it! Throw it!' But I didn't throw the ball.

"Now, if the other team had scored ten runs, this would have been a disaster. But the next guy made an out, so everything turned out fine. But when I look back on that, I think what happened was that I had a premonition that things were going to change and I would never be that happy again. I didn't want it to end. But two weeks later, my dad came in and said, 'We're moving.' And things took a turn for the worse."

The Feys settled in Pittsburgh for two years before heading west to Chicago. For Barry, the result was "culture shock." He never felt that he fit in and began to gain weight at a dizzying rate. Then, when he was sixteen, his father died. "It hit just like that," he remembers. "He had bronchial pneumonia and asthma. I came home one night and he was in an oxygen tent, and the next day he died."

Continue for more of our feature article about Barry Fey, who died this weekend.



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16 comments
Robert Smith
Robert Smith

He asked for his final resting place to be near Red Rocks. Grant him his last wish.

Spumky60
Spumky60

If it had not been for Barry Fey and Chuck Morris I would not have had the pleasure of seeing Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks, Eric Anderson, Janice Ian (although she was pretty lame) and Ambrosia, among others, at Ebbets Field. I still haven't stopped talking about those shows. Thanks for the thrill, Barry Fey and company. I had a blast.

Spumky60
Spumky60

I have a relative who worked in the same circles as Barry Fey in the 1970s. When I visited Denver in the 1970s, and then moved here, I worked for this relative. Occasionally, I would join the people from work for a meal at El Madiero's, which I think was on Santa Fe. A couple of times Barry was there, with a group of his own, sitting at an adjacent table. I could never figure out if my relative and Barry were, or had been, friends, but they definitely had a couple of small-scale food fights there. The margaritas were excellent there, so I can see how that would have happened.

Spumky60
Spumky60

I have a relative who worked in the same circles as Barry Fey in the 1970s. When I visited Denver in the 1970s, and then moved here, I worked for this relative. Occasionally, I would join the people from work for a meal at El Madiero's, which I think was on Santa Fe. A couple of times Barry was there, with a group of his own, sitting at an adjacent table. I could never figure out if my relative and Barry were, or had been, friends, but they definitely had a couple of small-scale food fights there. The margaritas were excellent there, so I can see how that would have happened.

Juan_Leg
Juan_Leg

For ALL the absolutely amazing things Barry did musically speaking, there MUST be at least 500 illegitimate ', now adults, offspring residing all over the region ....

SeizeTheDay
SeizeTheDay

People will say what they will about him, but he kept live music about the music and the fans...and not about money.  You didn't have to fork out $200 for a decent seat, and you never paid $60+ dollars in fees for a ticket to a show.  He made live music accessible and affordable for fans.  I'm not saying he didn't make his money...but he surely wasn't on the same level as the crooks of LiveNation.  May he rest in peace.

djbuckdc
djbuckdc

Who can forget Ebbets Field, a Barry Fey venture & one of Denver's best small clubs in the early 1970s.  Fey brought in a wide variety of acts -- I recall a couple of great shows by folk-rockers Maria Muldaur and John Stewart.  Fey always struck me as one of those fellows who enjoyed the stories, true or untrue, that were told about him.  That was part of his persona.  Dan

Matt Morava
Matt Morava

My favorite Barry Fey moment... Rainbow Music Hall and he comes onstage to apologize for the band that's just left, Nig-Heist, for throwing their "cum" all over the audience (Which I'm sure was Ponds skincare cream, it had to be right?) and for talking smack and playing naked. The band's first song? "I wanna stick my dick in your mouth!" which was followed by, "You've got a tight little pussy!" Ten minutes later the Meat Puppets were onstage and all was cool. Then Black Flag. I was 14 yo and I loved it! Barry was responsible for some of the best moments of my ill-spent childhood. RIP!

SEVEN7HWAVE
SEVEN7HWAVE

In light of Barry Fey's passing, I'd like to share the tale of my first proper rock concert. It's a bit of a read. So pour a drink and kick back.

The year was 1992. Back then, things were different; just a handful of bands could dominate the airwaves and the collective consciousness of the youth. In 1992, those bands were Guns N Roses and Metallica. And they were on tour together. It was the equivalent of the Stones and Beatles doing a world tour.

13-year-old me had been looking forward to the Denver stop of the tour for months. A friend and I convinced one of our moms to camp out in line for tickets. The show had already been delayed after James Hetfield walked into a pyro blast onstage in Montreal. A full-on riot happened after GNR, rather than save the day with an amazing show after the accident, decided to not play their set.

So - September rolls around and it's finally the day of the show. Walking into Mile High Stadium, we hear Bodycount, Ice-T's rap metal band that was in the news for its song "Cop Killer."  This was a few months after the LA riots, so there was this extra political edge and racial tension in the air that even my middle-school self could comprehend.

Metallica came on before GNR. Their performance, even without James on rhythm guitar (he only handled vox, as he was still mending from his pyro encounter), was incredible. Everyone was out of their minds.

Then came the intermission as Metallica tore down and GNR set up. It took forever; much longer than the typical intermission between sets. Meanwhile  the tens of thousands of fans have all this energy and nothing to do with it. Things start to feel a bit edgy.

Finally, Guns comes out and everything is kicking full ass. Axl Rose was the equivalent of Jesus Christ back then. (This was shortly before Nirvana came along and rendered all his posing and posturing comical.) So to see him in person - along with Slash and Duff and the whole band - was incredible.

But a few songs into the show, something goes wrong. Not in a dramatic way, like the lead singer blowing himself up, but something more confusing. All of a sudden, Axl isn't there. He's walked offstage and isn't coming back. A few minutes pass.

15 minutes pass. Half an hour. 45 minutes. Slash is playing some extended noodly solo but nothing is really happening. By this point all these adrenalized, beer-fueled rabid fans are getting pissed and restless. Someone got the idea to tear up their leftover Pizza Hut box and use it as a projectile. Hundreds of other fans copied the idea, and before you know it the place is filled with smoke and anger and flying corrugated cardboard. There's this tension in the air that feels like shit might soon break out into a riot - just like in Montreal.

Unbeknownst to myself and the audience, Axl had gotten upset with Slash and decided to leave the gig in a limo. While Mile High Stadium is getting dangerously tense, homeboy is cruising down I-25 and probably sipping some expensive champagne.

Enter Barry Fucking Fey. The man. The legend. The promoter for this show.

Barry Fey, realizing that things are about to get very bad, calls the limo on one of those oldschool brick phones and gets the driver to come back to the stadium.

Accounts differ at this point, but  upon the limo's return, Barry pulls out a pistol and makes it very clear to Axl that he was playing the show.

This is no mild business disagreement that can be resolved by guys in suits. There is no fancy AEG or LiveNation contract. The promoter has a goddamn pistol and he is going to get his way.

Then Barry sends Axl back onstage, puts cops at the stage exit, and forces him to play.

GNR resumes their set, the tension goes away, and everything is cool. Riot averted.

Fey talks about this incident in this autobiography. From my perspective, as a young fan, it was all very intense. But in a cool way, the raw excitement and danger and tension helped show my 13-year-old self the sheer power of music.

RIP Barry Fey.

Jeanne M. McEvoy
Jeanne M. McEvoy

The angel's are blessed with his passing -- their voices await. RIP Mr. Fey. Peace be with his family.

Dennis Scott
Dennis Scott

Remember when almost everything that had to do with music in Denver had Barry Fey's name on it?

Tony_Funches
Tony_Funches

It is, as if I have died. Now is too soon to "Pontificate & Pose Proudly"; beware the Validity of those who do so ... I Could BE CUSSIN' & Flippin' Out, but I'm a Great Granpa these days ...

"Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright; The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light, And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout; But there is no joy in Mudville — mighty Casey has struck out."

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