His Way

As two of his competitors brace for a legal battle, a revived Barry Fey sits quietly by. Kidding!

It's the middle of the day, but more than a dozen employees of House of Blues Concerts have gathered in the small conference room of the company's Greenwood Village offices. It's party time. Again.

In-house festivities have become commonplace around here lately. On June 20, Barry Fey announced that he was emerging from semi-retirement to head the company, returning to the very same fourth-floor office he inhabited as the head of Fey Concerts before selling his company in August 1997 to what was then Universal. Since Fey's announcement, there's been something worthy of celebration almost every day, whether it be Fey's latest interview with a reporter or a phone call from a city leader, citizen or former business associate pleased to see him back. Just the day before, House of Blues hosted a barbecue for the local representatives of major record labels.

Today the occasion is more personal: Only three days remain until Fey's 63rd birthday, and a gigantic chocolate cake, a couple of half-gallon containers of ice cream and some sodas wait on the table -- all arranged for by Fey, a man who's never been shy about throwing parties for himself.

John Johnston
Barry Fey circa 1972, with Roger Daltrey of the Who.
Barry Fey circa 1972, with Roger Daltrey of the Who.

But even as the staff gathers around to sing "Happy Birthday," there's tension in the air. There's always tension in this business. Fey and Jason Miller, HOB's senior vice president, are scrambling to fill an unexpected vacancy in the upcoming KBCO World Class Rock Festival, just a weekend away. Melissa Etheridge, one of the bill's biggest draws, has the flu, and HOB's hoping to rope in Jackson Browne as a replacement. Phone calls have gone out, offers are being considered. The waiting -- a major activity for any concert promoter -- makes both men anxious.

When "Happy Birthday" ends, Miller retreats to his office to wait some more.

Fey, meanwhile, regales the remaining staffers with a few anecdotes about "the old days" -- he's full of these stories starring "Janis," "Mick," "Bruce" -- and they eat them up along with the cake. Fey's got thirty, forty years on most of his staff, a hip-looking group whose members sport multicolored hair, nose rings, baggy pants and cell phones. They seem to like Fey, but they're cautious in his presence: He's like a new teacher, or a stepdad, whom they both fear and admire.

Eventually, Fey, too, leaves the conference room to pace outside of his office.

"We get that call yet, Jason?" he asks.

"Not yet," replies Miller.

"Bastards," Fey says, to no one, really.

That call finally comes: Browne's management has accepted the offer. Crisis averted -- for now.

"There really hasn't been a day that's gone by that I haven't asked myself why the hell I came back to this," Fey says, only partly joking. "This business is crazy; it's absolutely fucking nuts. And if it wasn't for the people constantly asking me to come back -- everywhere I went, they would ask me when I was coming back -- there's no chance I would be driving my car into this parking lot every day.

"I keep saying that I want to retire again just so I can come back again," he says. "Everywhere I go, people are coming up to me. 'Oh, we're so glad you're back.' 'Barry, thank you so much.' It's been great. I love the attention. It's so much better than the actual work."

Barry got plenty of attention the day he announced his return to the concert-promotions business. At a press conference held at the Paramount Theatre, one of the venues that House of Blues operates locally, Fey descended the staircase to the strains of Frank Sinatra's "My Way" as cameras flashed. Then he assumed a fighting stance at the microphone, flanked on one side by House of Blues president Jay Marciano and other bigwigs from the company's Los Angeles headquarters and, on the other, by the principal members of House of Blues Colorado. That's the division of House of Blues, formerly Universal, formerly MCA, that Fey now heads. In his address to the troops, Fey vowed to use the "Kill 'em All" approach that had been so successful during his thirty-year career as Denver's concert-promotions king, offering a series of battle metaphors: likening himself to the "sleeping giant" General Yamamoto and to the Allied Forces storming the beach at Normandy (House of Blues approached him about the job on June 6 -- D-Day); referring to his biggest competitor as "the mighty...enemy," and then chastising that company for "taking the heart and soul" out of the business he'd helped create.

The event became a pep rally for a local character who'd put himself back on the front pages: Fey, the irreverent, foul-mouthed businessman whose reputation for antics and outbursts was as much a part of his image as his ability to bring world-class talent to a city always conscious of its cowtown past.

But even as the city welcomed Fey back, cynics were suggesting that this was not a war he could win. The concert business had changed more than Fey realized, they said. What could one individual -- even one extremely colorful individual -- do to fight an industry increasingly owned by the few and run by the numbers? And how could someone who'd been out of the loop for four solid years expect to keep up with those who'd been clawing their way, every single day, in the meantime?

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