At the risk of stating the obvious, Barry Fey was the single most powerful figure in Denver concert promotions from 1967 until last August 11, when he publicly divulged that he was selling the remaining shares of his signature firm, Fey Concerts, to California-based Universal Concerts, a rival outfit that became his partner in 1991. Predictably, Fey's farewell press conference (held at PT's, a strip club that was formerly the Family Dog, the club where Fey got his start in Colorado) was a love-fest; among those offering their undying respect to the show's star was Universal president Jay Marciano. Since then, however, Universal has been methodically dismantling the house that Barry built, ridding the company of practically every Fey Concerts employee. That process reached its logical conclusion on January 6, when Chuck Morris, a longtime Fey intimate who had been expected to ascend to the Universal-Denver throne, admitted he was no longer affiliated with the organization, and talent buyer Brent Fedrizzi tendered his resignation.
The timing of these declarations has everything to do with two other personnel moves: the naming of Mark Norman, who had been running part of Universal's operation in Canada, to the position that Morris had been expected to take, and the anticipated hiring of Jason Miller, a young promoter and H.O.R.D.E. tour veteran with strong ties to the Canadian market, as talent buyer in chief. Although Norman confirms that "a very experienced promoter will be joining the team within weeks," he declines to confirm that Miller is set to become the new kid in town, and Fedrizzi tiptoes around the subject as well: "That's who it's rumored to be," he says, "but the way things change so fast around here, you never know." Still, there's no question that Fedrizzi felt that his future at Universal was far from bright. "I've been here for almost six years," he says, "and during that time, I thought I had established some ground and made a place in the company for myself. I hoped I was a player. But I didn't see me being part of the long-term direction of the company, and when I realized that, I decided to move on to bigger and better things."
Fedrizzi wasn't the only Fey Concerts staffer to come to this conclusion. Only days after the big man walked away, Pam Moore, an associate of Fey's for nineteen years and one of the toughest bookers in the nation, decided to use the door as well, because, she told Westword in August, "I couldn't come to terms with Universal." Also choosing to depart was Jesse Morreale of Gess Presents, a real comer on the local promotions scene. He bolted in October, in large part because he didn't feel that his approach fit with Universal's. "The process by which you have to work with a large corporation like them is by its nature kind of anti-effective in booking clubs," he noted at the time. "You have to be pretty quick, and an organization like this isn't quick."
Perhaps not, but Universal wasted no time in clearing out the Fey Concerts accounting department, whose duties are now being handled by paper shufflers in Los Angeles. Michelle "Mel" Gibson, Fey's press person, wasn't allowed to stick around for long, either; she was pink-slipped in October. Other symbols of the Fey era were mothballed, too, including the rock memorabilia that had once decorated the office walls.
While all of this was going on, Morris, whose management concern, Morris, Bliesener & Associates, oversees the careers of acts such as Big Head Todd and the Monsters, Leftover Salmon, the Ugly Americans and Leo Kottke, was conversing with Universal about taking the reins of its Denver unit. Within a week of the Fey Concerts sale, he told Westword that negotiations were progressing and that he expected an announcement to be made within a month or so. This proved to be an optimistic prediction; although inside sources told Westword that Morris, who already had a consulting contract with Fey/Universal, was meeting regularly with Universal muckety-mucks, Morris himself was mum on the topic of new challenges even after word began leaking out that the job would be going to Norman. And now that Norman is in charge, Morris is just as taciturn. After issuing the statement "I am no longer a consultant for Universal," he replies to subsequent queries with an almost boisterous "No comment."
For his part, Norman tries his best to remain above the fray, casting stones at no one: "I just got off the plane," he allows with a laugh. He sounds quite harried, and with good reason: His wife, who's pregnant, is still in Canada, where she plans to remain until their child is born. Moreover, Norman is running both Universal-Denver and his Canadian business simultaneously and will do so until a north-of-the-border successor is found. He doesn't expect to put down roots in Colorado until April, smack dab in the middle of preparations for Universal's summer concert season. "I'll be a basket case by October," he says.
That's doubtful, given Norman's experience. Eleven years ago he took over Perryscope Concerts, which he claims "is very much like Fey Concerts, in that it's a full-service concert company that covered a lot of territory. We worked in Western Canada, from Winnipeg to Vancouver, and did between 250 and 300 shows a year--everything from clubs to stadiums." When Universal bought Perryscope approximately a year and a half ago, Norman stayed at the helm, but when the opportunity to come to Denver was dangled before him, he grabbed it. "One of the nicest things is that I won't have to travel as much as I was doing," he points out. "Before, I was traveling three or four months of the year. And there's another plus: The sun shines here."
Norman knows that the pressure's on him to fill Fey's loafers. Already, many area concert-goers are grumbling about high-profile acts that have skipped Denver since Fey's semi-retirement--specifically the Rolling Stones, who had visited these parts during every other concert swing since 1969, and the reunited Jane's Addiction. Such complainers suggest that because Fey took so much pride in the Denver market, he would have made certain that these groups included Denver in their itinerary, whereas the folks at Universal, whose domain stretches from coast to coast, don't care nearly as much. Norman refutes these allegations: "With the Stones, I think that it was them picking certain markets not to go back into, because they found that in the markets where they'd been repeating, their sales were down. And as far as Jane's Addiction, we expect that they're going to be doing more touring; I've heard that they may go out on Lollapalooza. So we're working hard to get that on track.
"I'm here because Universal is committed to Denver. We're all musicologists here; we love music. Admittedly, the office is not as effective as it could be because of the change in leadership, but in six to eight months of reorganization, we're going to be strong. This place is going to rock."
Just who'll be doing the rocking is another question. Right now Universal is in hand-to-hand combat with SFX Entertainment, a conglomerate that is presently engaging in a buying spree; among its latest acquisitions is the venerable Bill Graham Presents, which has dominated the field in Northern California since the days when Janis Joplin was drawing breath. Numerous industry observers envision a scenario in which Universal, SFX and perhaps Cellar Door, which is huge in the American Southeast, will take over the business, leaving independent promoters to twist in the wind. "It's an interesting situation," says Fedrizzi. "It's hard to say whether that's what's going to happen, or if you'll see a resurgence of independents and smaller companies instead of two or three giants. But there's no question that it's tough to keep the mom-and-pop operations going."
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Nonetheless, Fedrizzi may try to do so himself. He doesn't know exactly what's next for him now that he's left Universal behind, but he says, "I want to stay a promoter, and I'd like to stay in Denver if I can. And we'll see where that takes me." He adds, "I don't think what Universal is doing is necessarily bad. They have a good reputation, and they're a bunch of good people. But they also have an agenda that I don't want to be a part of at this point."