Concert promoter Barry Fey, a long-time Arapahoe County resident, turned Denver into a must-stop city for concert tours. He died April 28 in his Arapahoe Lakes home. File photo
By Peter Jones
Concert promoter Barry Fey is being remembered as the man who almost singlehandedly built the Denver concert industry – often with an iron hand, but always with a genuine love for the music.
Fey, a longtime Arapahoe County resident, died April 28 at age 73. The cause of death could not be confirmed at press time, but Fey had been having health problems and had recently undergone hip-replacement surgery.
Arapahoe County Coroner Michael Dobersen completed an autopsy this week, but the results had not yet been made public at press time at the request of the family
Jock Bartley, founding lead guitarist of Boulder-based Firefall, called Fey a giant of the music business.
“There was no other rock promoter like Barry Fey,” he told The Villager. “He single-handedly put Colorado on the national and international music map. … He was the smartest and toughest music industry businessman you’d ever want to encounter, usually always wearing his signature cut-off shorts and baggy T-shirt, no matter how prestigious the venue was.”
Within just a few hours of Fey’s death in his Arapahoe Lakes home, the retired promoter’s Facebook page was being inundated by comments from friends, music fans and entertainment-industry professionals from across the country.
Musician Ozzy Osbourne posted this:
“Barry Fey was a gentleman and a great friend. He was the first U.S. promoter to believe in Black Sabbath and gave us our first American tour. The music world has lost a great man. My heart goes out to his family.”
A music fan in Rio de Janeiro wrote, “My teenage years would not have been as incredible as they were if not for the amazing concerts I was able to go to during those years, thanks to you!”
Denver singer Lannie Garrett wrote this of the hard-knuckled promoter:
“Yes, we know he could be hell on wheels and often not so nice, but he was always good to me. Barry, your huge personality was and is legendary,” she wrote.
Fey was born in New Jersey in 1939. His family moved to Chicago when he was 11. After a stint in the Marine Corps and brief flirtation with law school, Fey fell into the concert business, eventually winding up in Colorado, where he produced his first show for a University of Denver fraternity party.
For three decades, Feyline and later Fey Concerts booked everyone from Paul McCartney to Elvis Presley in Denver and later in other cities across the United States. He was credited for taking Denver from a musical cow town to a must-stop destination for major concert tours.
On the home front, Fey once helped save the troubled Denver Symphony Orchestra by offering to run the reinvented Colorado Symphony’s shows.
During his 30-year self-described “monopoly,” Fey saw his share of highs and lows – from his bankruptcy and the financially disastrous 1982 Jamaican World Music Festival to the North American debut of a then-unknown
“I thought the agent was kidding me – a lead balloon,” Fey told The Villager in 2011. “But when they came on stage, a legend was born in the first 15 minutes.”
He was also among the first promoters to book the Doors.
Fey maintained his own kind of legend as an uncompromising businessman with a healthy appetite for food and gambling. His former home in Cherry Hills Village was fabled for its parties with the likes of the Who and U2.
According to songwriter and longtime music-industry professional Patrick Cullie, those get-togethers were as colorful as Fey was himself.
“At a party for the Rolling Stones at his home, he took $100 off me shooting baskets from the free-throw line. He never missed,” Cullie told The Villager.
Over the years, Fey developed a reputation as a brash promoter with a quick temper and little tolerance for competition. Telephones would fly across Fey’s office on a bad day, according to some former employees.
That tough-as-nails characterization bemused Fey himself.
“You’ve seen that cross up on the mountain? They think that’s Mother Cabrini Shrine. It’s not,” Fey told The Villager. “It’s a graveyard for promoters who say ‘Barry Fey put me out of business.’ If they had worried more about their business, they would have been better off.”
The industry changed overnight when Fey retired and sold Fey Concerts to Universal in 1997. The firm would eventually become House of Blues, which briefly brought a reluctant Fey out of retirement in 2001.
In 2011, Fey published his long-waited autobiography Backstage Past. The next year, he was inducted into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame.
Fey displayed his caustic wit again when The Villager asked him to pose for a photo outside Fiddler’s Green, during a time when the Greenwood Village venue was still known as Comfort Dental Amphitheater.
“There’s nothing wrong with my teeth. Why would I go to Comfort Dental Amphitheater?” he quipped.
In response to an outpouring of support, the Fey family posted a “thank you” to well wishers on Facebook.
“We continue to be comforted by the amount of thoughts and prayers we’ve received over the last 24 hours,” the posting said. “The family will be holding a private funeral and ask that you respect our privacy during this time. We will be planning a celebration of his life in the coming days and will let everyone know, so that you can celebrate with us the amazing things that he accomplished.”
In lieu of flowers, the Feys asked for donations to Preserve the Rocks Fund, a conservation project for Red Rocks Amphitheater, where Fey booked many of his most successful concerts.
Fey, who was divorced, is survived by four sons, Tyler, Jeremy, Geoffrey and Alan, as well as several grandchildren.
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