The Long Goodbye

After thirty years, Barry Fey is stepping down. Sort of.

"In the old days I used to be so sensitive," he says. "I would hear that a conversation took place about me in a bar, and I'd call up the owner and say, 'Who were these guys? Do you know them?' I mean, if you're going to call me an asshole, give me a chance to prove it."

For those who don't need Fey to prove anything along these lines, the financial difficulties that struck him during the Eighties seemed like appropriate retribution. His first hit came in conjunction with 1982's Jamaica World Music Festival. "That was disastrous," Fey says. "We built the Bob Marley Performing Arts Center there, and the Dead came, and the Beach Boys, Gladys Knight and a lot of reggae acts. But people couldn't get there. It was Thanksgiving weekend, so there were no flights. Plus, the tickets were too expensive. The ministers we were dealing with said, 'That's fine, that's good,' because they could afford it, but the regular people couldn't. We lost about $900,000. But it was a great show--and the jerk chicken was so good. I tried to smuggle it out three times, but they caught me every time."

More greenbacks were lost in an ill-fated attempt to take Feyline public, an effort that fell apart in July 1985, costing Fey, by his estimate, another $800,000. After the failure of a second stock scheme, Feyline filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in May 1986. Fey swears that he had a plan to "pay back everybody 100 cents on the dollar" but that it was sabotaged by "this one asshole on the creditors committee. And by February of '87, we'd had enough. We said okay, fine, forget it, and converted to Chapter 7." After this designation was granted, Feyline was no more, but Fey was not done yet. He formed Fey Concerts and continued as before--at least until 1988, when MCA came to town.

MCA and Fey Concerts did not immediately go to war. Fey was not thrilled when MCA, led at the time by onetime Eagles manager Irving Azoff, barged onto his turf and built Fiddler's Green as an alternative to Red Rocks, but he did business with the company anyhow and divulges that "we made really good money with them for two years. But then Irving left and someone at MCA said, 'We don't need Fey. Fuck him. It's our market now.' And it was a bloody war for two years. We didn't make hardly anything, and they didn't either. After a while, everyone was telling me, 'Barry, you need to make a deal and end this.' And finally, [MCA head] Mark Bension came to me and said, 'I cannot afford any more Di-Gel. You make me sick to my stomach.' So we signed a deal."

The pact, inked in September 1991, made Fey Concerts and MCA halves of the same whole and included a clause that allowed either firm to buy out the other at the end of five years. Fey describes it as a good marriage until the departure of Bension and his replacement by Fred Ordower, an executive no longer with Universal whom he blames for "fucking me out of $700,000" by refusing to honor an accord Fey made with Bension. He still has not forgiven him for this alleged sin. "I went through recovery for my compulsive behavior--the rage and stuff like that," he says. "And at this one meeting, Ordower came up to me and put his hand on my shoulder and said, 'I'm glad to see you here.' And I said, 'Fred, the main beneficiary of my change in life besides me is you. Because not very long ago, if you would have put your hand on my shoulder like that, I would have torn your fucking eyes out. Now get the fuck away from me.'"

Once Ordower departed from MCA, Fey says that he and Jay Marciano, the current president of Universal, got along fine; at the August 11 press conference, in fact, Marciano proposed that the City of Denver build a statue of Fey at Red Rocks to honor him for his contributions to Colorado. Speculation is rife that Universal wanted to sever its relationship with Fey because he was a loose cannon, but Marciano disputes that. "Is Barry Fey a loose cannon?" he asks. "Of course he is. And that's one of the things we like about him. He was in the business 25 years before he became our partner, so obviously we knew a lot about him, but there was nothing in his history that made us unwilling to go into business with him, and nothing has happened since then to make us regret it. His colorful nature was one of the things we enjoyed. He is the undisputed heavyweight champion of rock-concert promotions. We in no way forced him out."

Marciano scoffs at the suggestion that MCA ever settled Fey's gambling debts or covered up ticket skimming or scalping by him, and he says he's looking forward to Fey's involvement in future "special projects." He sees Universal expanding its activities in the Denver market as a result of the acquisition of Fey's stake in the company--perhaps purchasing a "small venue room, becoming more active at the Paramount Theatre and broadening our programming to include theatrical and fine-arts productions." After a transitional period, the Fey Concerts moniker will likely disappear, and some longtime Fey staffers may as well. As Marciano puts it, "We plan to announce a management succession team in the next sixty to ninety days, and the new look of the company will likely include a mix of familiar faces along with some new ones."

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