By Drew Ailes
By Courtney Harrell
By Kyra Scrimgeour
By Jena Ardell
By Mary Willson
By Bree Davies
By Tom Murphy
By Tom Murphy
Nature abhors a vacuum, and so do concert promoters--which is why the Denver live-music market has been weaving like Charles Bukowski on a bender ever since Barry Fey announced that he had sold the remaining shares of his Fey Concerts firm to Los Angeles-based Universal Concerts last August. Just two weeks ago, this space was filled with news about two major changes at Universal--the departure of talent buyer Brent Fedrizzi, and longtime Fey associate Chuck Morris's decision to sever his consulting agreement with the outfit. At the time, Morris declined to answer questions about his move with anything other than "no comment"s, and with good reason: On January 19 he announced that he was joining forces with Bill Graham Presents (BGP), a legendary promotions concern anchored in San Francisco, to form Bill Graham Presents/ Chuck Morris Presents, a promotions partnership whose first official act was to name Fedrizzi as its talent buyer. Because BGP was recently purchased by SFX Entertainment, a concert juggernaut nationwide, the stakes for this new entity are incredibly high. Although neither Morris nor Mark Norman, the head of Universal-Denver, will come right out and admit it, there's a very real possibility that your home and mine will become the site of an all-out promotions war. Fey himself puts the situation in perspective: "I feel like Dick Butkus or Joe Montana watching the Super Bowl. It's past my time, but I'd still love to strap my helmet on. This is going to be a battle."
Morris, reached in Nashville, is considerably more cautious about making predictions than is his onetime mentor. Fey feels that the hiring of Fedrizzi represents the first blow in a blood match unlike any Colorado has seen since Fey and Universal (previously known as MCA) first knocked heads in the late Eighties, but Morris says, "I beg to differ with Barry. My feeling is, this is going to be a boutique company. If it was going to be a war, we would hire a whole bunch of people and go for it. But we're not going to do that. We're going to pick and choose the artists that I'm close with, we're going to find the best halls for the right situations, and we're not going out there to compete with every offer at MCA. We can't. That's not my intent."
Instead, Morris has his eyes set on putting together "ten to twenty larger shows," as well as an undetermined number of smaller presentations at clubs or the like in 1998 before deciding whether to expand. The majority of these will probably involve acts with which Morris has worked either at Feyline, Fey Concerts' predecessor, or Morris, Bliesener & Associates, a successful management firm that he will continue to run with the aid of longtime colleague Mark Bliesener. BGP/CMP has already booked Blues Traveler to play Red Rocks on July 3 and last week confirmed an Amy Grant date at the Buell Theater in April. Word of other shows could be forthcoming within weeks, and although Fedrizzi names no names, he says, "Hopefully, our past relationships will help us retain some of the bigger acts."
Relationships have been one of Morris's strong suits since he stumbled into the music industry three decades ago. A native of Brooklyn, he was a political-science student at the University of Colorado at Boulder in the late Sixties when Herbie Kauvar, owner of the Sink, a popular local watering hole, asked him to manage the venue for him. Morris did so for two and a half years, hiring artists such as Flash Cadillac and the Continental Kids to crank out jams in the Sink's back room. He and Kauvar subsequently purchased Tulagi's, a Boulder nightspot then foundering as a dance club, and turned it into a happening joint. "This was 1971, and in a period of two years, it became like the Fox Theatre of the Seventies," Morris recollects about the 500-seat space. "We had Linda Ronstadt, the Doobie Brothers, ZZ Top, old folkies like Eric Andersen, blues people like Big Mama Thornton--every kind of music. It was one of the biggest showcase rooms in the country."
This success inspired Morris to ask Fey, who had already emerged as Denver's most powerful promoter, to back him in a venture of his own. Says Morris, "I had never met Barry before, and I thought he was going to hang up on me. He basically said, 'What the fuck do you want?'" But the next evening, Fey visited Tulagi's, and before long, he agreed to bankroll Morris's dream venue. Ebbets Field, located at 15th and Curtis and christened in honor of the Brooklyn Dodgers ballpark near where Morris grew up, never made much money, owing to a capacity of only 238, but it hosted the Denver debuts of Lynyrd Skynyrd and Marshall Tucker and earned Club of the Year honors from Billboard magazine in 1975 and 1976. Shortly thereafter, Morris and Fey sold the Field so that Morris could become Feyline's vice president. He served in this capacity for ten years, after which he formed his management business. He first made his mark in this realm with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, whose career he began shepherding in 1983, while still at Feyline. Other performers he's managed since then include Highway 101 and Lyle Lovett; presently, Morris, Bliesener handles Big Head Todd and the Monsters, Leo Kottke, Ugly Americans and Leftover Salmon.