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.
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?
Over the past four years, the music industry -- which must continually adapt to new artists, new audiences, new markets -- has gone through monumental changes. At the time Fey was selling his company in 1997, the business was in a period of unprecedented consolidation as a few major companies gobbled up the bulk of the nation's record labels and merged them into only a handful. Soon after, a similar scenario played out in radio, as the medium, newly deregulated under the Telecommunications Act of 1996, began falling into the hands of a few giant companies, including Clear Channel Communications, which secured its hold on the radio market with the acquisition of AMFM Communications in 1999. Locally, Clear Channel acquired stations held by both AMFM and Jacor, eventually winding up with control of eight radio stations in the Denver market.
The changes in the concert-promotions business mirrored what was happening in its sister industries. Universal was acquired by House of Blues. A New York-based company called SFX began gobbling up independent promotional firms around the country (SFX considered buying Universal in 1999, but the negotiations ended when the Justice Department promised to watch the deal closely for anti-trust violations) and then was gobbled up itself by Clear Channel.
When Fey got into the business in the 1960s, promoters and artists brokered deals while swilling booze and consuming psychedelics in crowded backstage corridors. Now deals are consummated on Wall Street.
"Our whole culture has changed," says former Fey partner Chuck Morris, who left Universal in 1998 to start Chuck Morris Presents/Bill Graham Presents, which was sold last year to Clear Channel, where Morris now serves as vice president of Clear Channel Entertainment/Rocky Mountain region. "You can't just scream and yell and demand things. Not only do people not respond to that kind of thing anymore, they sue you. It's a different world; it's a whole different climate. There are certain ways that people expect you to act, and frankly, I just don't know that the old way of doing things really flies anymore."
"Barry's return doesn't change, in my opinion, anything about the current landscape," Don Howe, vice-president and general manager of Clear Channel's radio division in Denver, told Westword shortly after Fey announced his return. "I don't think, over the last several years, that House of Blues has thrown in the towel by any means. I think that Denver has been bringing through lots of shows, and that will continue."
"I'm still waiting for the thank-you call from Barry," adds Morris. "It gave me some real satisfaction that we kicked their butt so bad that they needed to bring back their old warrior."
But Fey, the onetime top dog turned underdog, knew he was going to take some hits. And he came out of the gate ready to hit back.
So far, most of Fey's efforts have centered on how to do battle with Clear Channel, a conglomerate he views not only as a foe in the promotional realm, but as a company that needs taking out. Although he says his enemy is destined to implode ("They'd be foolish not to divest [their concert division] sooner or later"), he has "strategies" in place, a plan for rising above Clear Channel.
"On a day-to-day basis, we are expected -- no, forced -- to do business with the very company that we compete with," Fey says. "It's an impossible situation. It's broken the spirit of a lot of people around here. Before I came back, I used to come in here, and people would be sitting around with their heads in their hands. They were weary. I think that's why so many people were so...relieved...to see me back. We may not win anything. But if they're gonna compete with me, they'd better know what the fuck they are up against. And that ought to be enough to put the fear in at least a couple of people. My motto has always been, if people are going to hate you, you'd better give them a fucking reason to hate you."
In his first days on the job, Fey wasted no time in providing some of those reasons. He fired House of Blues' longtime catering firm and its contracted production company, Rhino Staging, because both also worked for local competitors, including Clear Channel. "If you work for them, you don't work for us," he says. "That's it."
When he learned that Clear Channel was bidding on a date for Neil Diamond, an artist with whom Fey had worked numerous times over the years, he "made some calls" in an effort to quash the deal, then brokered his own Diamond date at the Pepsi Center in November. And right after agreeing to play fair during a meeting with representatives of the Clear Channel radio stations that last year handled the bulk of on-air promotions for House of Blues, Fey called a confab of non-Clear-Channel-affiliated stations KALC/FM, KDGM/FM, KIMN/FM, KKHK/FM, KQKS/FM and KXKL/FM and proposed the formation of a loose coalition wherein the six stations would split the lion's share of the House of Blues radio advertising budget. Under the terms of the deal, House of Blues would use the six stations almost exclusively as its partners in future co-promotes, effectively reducing the amount of money it spent annually with Clear Channel from more than $300,000 to around $30,000. "If I cut the amount of money I give Clear Channel by 90 percent, the readers of the Wall Street Journal are going to hear about it," Fey says.
He's also made some internal changes at House of Blues. Offended by automation and wary of technology, he's gotten rid of voice mail and issued a company-wide mandate that all calls be answered personally. He's returned a hefty percentage of his collection of gold records, all of which bear his name, to the office walls in an attempt to "personalize" the space -- and, of course, to make himself its focal point. He's hired a contractor to reinstall the window that once provided all-the-time access to the occupant of the neighboring office, a move that initially got a mixed reaction from said occupant, Jason Miller.
Fey does not do his work quietly.
A native of New York who spent his childhood in New Jersey and came to Denver by way of Chicago -- where he began promoting shows as a business-school dropout -- Fey kicked his concert-promotions career into high gear with the 1967 opening of the Family Dog, a southwest Denver club (the space is now home to strip club P.T.'s Gold) that was a franchise of Family Dog Productions in San Francisco. Fey began booking bold new bands that were leading the charge in the '60s music revolution, introducing local audiences to such far-out artists as the Doors and the Dead. He soon established Feyline Productions -- "It was meant as 'feline,' as a play on 'Family Dog,'" he explains -- and began placing the biggest acts in the music business into such local spaces as the Denver Coliseum, Red Rocks and McNichols Arena, which Fey helped open in 1975.
Along the way, Fey also gained a reputation for fighting (he once punched out the lead singer of Sha Na Na), for packing (he's been licensed to carry a weapon since 1971) and for eating. In the mid-'90s, Fey's second wife, Lisa Loving, with the help of Aerosmith and its management, staged an intervention to call attention to Fey's food addiction and to get him to a treatment center. "He was so respected by everyone that when it became obvious that he had a problem, we knew we had to step up and lend some of our expertise on addiction," says Aerosmith's Steven Tyler.
Although Feyline hit a financial slump in the '80s, during that time Fey still pulled off a few coups for his company and for the city of Denver -- notably, the 1983 filming of U2's Under a Blood Red Sky at Red Rocks, an album/film that bolstered the reputation of both the band and the venue. Feyline was eventually dismantled in bankruptcy court in 1987, then regrouped as Fey Concerts. But by now Fey had competition in the form of MCA Concerts. He was miffed that the company built Fiddler's Green Amphitheatre shortly after its arrival in town; during early shows there, Fey hired a plane to fly a banner overhead that asked: "Wouldn't you rather be at Red Rocks?"
Fey and MCA, which would become Universal, eventually partnered in 1991; when Fey stepped down in 1997, he sold Fey Concerts to Universal for an amount he still refuses to discuss.
During Fey's first thirty years in the business, the rock-and-roll environment allowed him to exist in a seemingly perpetual adolescence -- to be petulant, irrational, mean. He was known to belittle employees and associates as a way of winning an argument, to throw temper tantrums in order to get what he wanted. He'd scream and yell, overturn tables and chairs. At one point, Fey Concerts accountants had to factor in a new, regular expense: Fey was going through a phone a week, just ripping the things from the wall, throwing them across the room, sometimes at the person who happened to be the momentary object of his fleeting fury. The list of those who regarded Fey as boorish, unreasonable or even hateful grew along with his legend.
"Barry Fey was the reason I created a concert division in the first place, well before SFX became a partner," Howe told Westword in June. (Since then, he has not returned Westword's calls.) "And the reason Barry Fey is responsible for that is I got sick and tired of dealing with the ways Barry would deal with radio stations back then. It was pretty much his way or the highway. If a band would come to town and he'd call and ask for support, it was one way. He'd ask for this or ask for that and play one radio station against the other, and when it came time for signage at the venue or interviews or stage announcements, Barry never gave a thing. I thought, 'I've got the radio stations that really make this happen. If I can create that opportunity for myself, rather than deal with that kind of attitude, I'm going to start doing shows for myself.' That's how my concert business was born."
"I would say that when Barry and I worked together, part of my job was to convince people not to quit, because he was so difficult sometimes," remembers Morris. "I had to rebound the morale on a daily basis. I was almost always the guy who made people laugh in the office, and he was the tough guy. He was like Tito in Yugoslavia. He was tough, but he kept everything together. And it worked really well in its own way. But it was not always easy having to play that part."
A self-proclaimed "media whore" who knew how to play to reporters, Fey was a beloved bad boy who engaged in occasional displays of true altruism. In 1989, for example, he salvaged Denver's symphony orchestra and donated ticket revenues to local youth organizations. In 1992, Mayor Wellington Webb declared October 22 "Barry Fey Day"; a placard commemorating the event includes a bit of ironic foreshadowing: "Those who attempt to compete [against him] find they have to no chance to gain an edge..."
Fey also enjoyed his status as one of Denver's biggest pranksters.
"Maybe there were times, say, if I found out about a Paul McCartney show that Concerts West had brought to town and that I hadn't had a chance to get in on, maybe the lights went out in the middle of the show," he remembers. "But we never did anything to jeopardize anyone's livelihood. Not like the stories you hear today."
Shuddering at the mere mention of those horror stories, Fey seems a slightly kinder, slightly gentler Barry. And so far, his phone and computer -- which he doesn't trust and rarely touches -- have remained intact. But the more combustible elements of his personality are never far below the surface. Fey frequently is as caustic, foul-mouthed, brusque and bristly as ever, engaging in what seems like an almost compulsive battle of wits with everyone he encounters. When a female employee passes him in the hall and offers a friendly face, Fey deadpans a terse "Quit fucking smiling at me."
"I would say things have definitely been ratcheted up a notch or two," says Alvin LaCabe, who became Fey's assistant after fulfilling a similar job for Mark Norman, the former House of Blues vice president who left the company last year, reportedly to spend more time with his family in Canada. (Norman did not return Westword's phone calls.) "There's a lot more yelling, but a lot of it is joking. It can get pretty tense under Barry, but it's also more exciting that way."
Fey jokes that his new position as one general in an army of many -- House of Blues has branches in Toronto, Vancouver, Dallas and Los Angeles and owns venues around the country -- will only heighten his capacity for troublemaking. "They thought I was crazy when it was my money," he says. "Now it's not my fucking money."
But this new access to bank balances larger than his own also brings new restrictions. Much to Fey's chagrin and surprise, he does not always have the last word. While his approach has always been guided by an almost primitive, instinctive business sense, he now finds himself accountable to the House of Blues higher-ups, corporate-minded execs who are more likely to be concerned with fine print, projections, spreadsheets, market research, legalities. "I've learned more about the law in the last couple of months than I did in 25 years," Fey says. Sometimes these higher-ups dare to say no -- at least initially. They almost said no to Fey's insistence on firing Rhino Staging, wary of inviting a breach-of-contract lawsuit. And when Fey recently requested a personnel change within his own office, he was told he'd have to wait until the company could look into the ramifications of such a move.
"I think some of these guys -- not Jay, but his bosses -- they aren't really music guys," Fey says. "I'm sure when Jay brought them the piece of paper that had my deal on it, they said, 'Who the fuck is this guy, and why are we giving him all of this money?' I think when they first brought me back, it was my name, my reputation, that was appealing to them. House of Blues desperately needed some kind of figurehead, a human being, in here. But now that it's in motion, they are not always sure what to do with me. Maybe, in the grand scheme of things, maybe here's not really important.
"It's frustrating to me, because I'm not used to it. Any of it. I'm not used to being told 'maybe'; I'm not even used to having to ask. I'm not used to inactivity. I've never worked for anybody before. To tell you the truth, it has taken me so completely by surprise. I don't think these guys understand the meaning of the word 'now.' They only understand 'wait.'"
While Fey might have expected some resistance from his new bosses, he certainly didn't expect it from within his own office. But in the first days of Fey's new deal, some House of Blues staffers were predicting that Fey would butt heads with Miller, a young, hip music lover and aggressive promoter well-versed in popular modern genres like hip-hop and R&B. Miller had worked for Universal in Vancouver, then briefly served as the general manager of the 1997 H.O.R.D.E. tour before joining Universal's Denver office in 1998, the year after Fey's retirement. In the months between Norman's departure and Fey's hiring, Miller had assumed a sort of default leadership role in the company's Denver office. Today his duties include booking all of the bands that play the Paramount Theatre and Fiddler's Green, and overseeing the operations of both venues as well as the marketing and ticketing departments at House of Blues. At 32, Miller is energetic, lightning-quick and confident -- not the kind to be intimidated by competitors, or a new boss.
"I think when Barry first came in, it was very important for me to be clear that I wasn't going to be pushed around," Miller says. "Ultimately, I am the future of this organization. There's a new generation of promoters here, in this city and nationally, coming up. There's me, there's Donny [Strasburg, of the Fox Theatre], there's Jesse and Doug [Morreale and Kaufman, of Nobody in Particular Presents]. Barry's here for a while, but I'm probably here longer.
"Things are just different now," he continues. "With Mark, it was a totally different scene. We were both new to the city. We had to work together to figure out its nuances, what would work and what wouldn't. With Barry, I feel like I'm sitting next to an encyclopedia of rock and roll. I've inherited the guy who created the music scene in this town, and for virtually any band or any situation that could come up, he's going to have some sort of experience or insight or relationship or opinion that can correlate to the artists at hand. I feel like I have a tremendous opportunity to learn from him, but at the same time, the business has changed since he's been gone, and I feel like he has a few things that he can learn from me."
Fey's first two months on the job have proven that he has a lot to learn from everyone. Everywhere he goes, someone wants to give him a spontaneous tutorial on something or other. During a recent meeting with Ticketmaster representatives, Fey was instructed on the importance of Internet sales in today's marketplace. "Things have changed a lot since you've been gone, Barry," Ticketmaster's Cathy Felling told him. "It isn't like the old days. You really don't see those kids standing in line in the rain. They are at home logging on their computers." At the office, LaCabe has to remind Fey to check his e-mail, a medium he despises. But the job of helping Fey get up to speed on new artists has largely fallen to Miller.
"It's actually pretty cool. He wants to learn, and he picks up quick," says Miller. "It's still funny to hear him run around, saying, 'My new favorite band is Radiohead.' I'll run into his office and say, 'Hey, you have got to check this out.' And he will. If I'm really passionate and fired up about it, he will be, too."
One morning, Miller tries to explain to Fey the popularity of the String Cheese Incident, which both men had seen the previous night at the Fox Theatre.
"They're epic. They've been around for like ten years," says Miller. "They're one of my favorite bands. They're huge."
"I dunno. The drummer seems superfluous," Fey says. "As far as I'm concerned, they suck."
The conversation, like most of those between Fey and his employees, between Fey and anyone, is peppered with jokes, barbs, "motherfuckers," but it's much more amiable than one a few weeks before, when Miller called Fey into his office to discuss his decision to fire the caterer.
"I just don't think in the early stages, when we're having growing pains, that we should be fixing things that aren't broken," Miller told Fey.
Fey wouldn't budge. As they argued, the tension bounced off everyone who walked by Miller's door.
"I'm the one who invented catering," Fey said. "Back in the old days, the Rolling Stones -- we always had to be sure the bands were happy backstage. No one else was doing that before me."
"I don't give a shit about the Rolling Stones," Miller replied. "This is my reputation you are putting on the line, not yours."
"Oh, I see. Your reputation. I guess that's why people are coming up to me on the street saying, 'Barry, I'm so glad Jason Miller is back.'"
Fey won, of course; he didn't take this job so that he could lose fights in his own office. But his relationship with Miller has become more relaxed; next month they're taking a friendly business trip together to New York.
"I think we work very well together, and for two guys who don't really know each other, we actually have a lot in common," Miller says. "I don't think he would want to surround himself with yes men, and if there's something that I feel passionately about, I will defend my position vigorously. That doesn't always mean that in the end of the day I win the argument, but it does make a point when I put my foot down to at least fight for it. That's how I've been my whole career."
"This is a business of egos," says Fey, "and I've got one of the biggest around. I guess I didn't expect someone to push back when I pushed. But we're working it out. There are gives and takes. The thing that bothered me at first was that -- I think that this was the way it was under Norman -- Mark would have his shows, Jason would have his. But I don't go for that. We are a family, a team. I have to know everything that Jason is working on, and he's got to know what I'm doing. No 'his,' no 'yours.' Only 'ours.'''
Besides, even Fey admits that having Miller around has made his job easier.
"It's a generational thing, I think, but he's more likely to bring in the younger acts, while I'll work the older ones, and that's a pretty good arrangement," says Fey. "He knows everything that's happening in music, just like I used to. I guess I'm an old fuddy-duddy, but you can't tell me there's a Sgt. Pepper's out there. I'm the first one to admit, a lot of this new stuff...like hip-hop, I don't understand it. Techno, it's not for me. You could play me some of the biggest acts right now and it would mean very little to me. If you were to play Limp Bizkit or Widespread Panic or Radiohead for me over the phone, I wouldn't be able to tell you who was who."
Clearly, Barry Fey didn't listen to much new music during his four years away from the business. When he sold Fey Concerts to Universal, he signed a non-compete clause that stipulated he would not promote shows in Denver; while he was officially listed as a Universal "consultant," Fey says, his dealings with the company were almost nonexistent. Fey did produce a few shows in Las Vegas, placing artists like the Stones and Neil Diamond into the MGM. He got involved in sports promotions and pushed other forms of entertainment: At one point, he was in negotiations to promote a Chinese trapeze artist/ tightrope artist ("I had a great thing going in China until we bombed their embassy," he says), and he did some consulting work for a company looking to build a stadium in Bogota, Colombia. In Denver, he promoted two fights by local lightweight champion Stevie Johnston and worked intermittently as a consultant for Ascent Entertainment, the then-parent company of the Colorado Avalanche and Denver Nuggets.
But for the most part, Fey stayed away from show business, at least in any official capacity. He eyed Universal/MCA/HOB and its competitors almost as a sporting event, watching the play-by-play of local promoter battles as a spectator and pundit.
"I was asleep, as far as the concert business goes," he says. "I didn't want a thing to do with it. When I left, it was because, for the most part, I was sick of it. The business had changed; it was full of ugliness. I needed to have a life that wasn't wrapped up in the constant, constant attention that my career had required.
"Thirty years in rock and roll is like a hundred in any other business. You work all day and all night. Before my retirement, I had never been able to take a vacation, to go anywhere, without continuing to work. Checking the phone, making calls, dealing with emergencies -- always emergencies. When I left, I left. That was it."
For the first time since the early days of his career, his private life wasn't squeezed into the tiny spaces between shows, deals and meetings. He focused his attention on himself, his family and his prize horse, Reraise, who shocked Fey by winning both the Breeders' Cup Sprint and the Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year in 1998. Reraise, now boarded in Belmont Park, New York, hasn't raced since last November and is still recovering from injuries -- "nagging little things," Fey says, adding that he expects Reraise to run competitively again as early as September.
"Toward the end, before I retired, I wasn't thinking about rock and roll. All that I was doing was daydreaming about Reraise," he says. "That horse, that was such a fluke. It allowed me to leave one business as a success and enter another as a success. I feel as though I hit the jackpot twice in my life. People invest millions in a horse. I just got lucky."
Fey spent more time with his three grown sons, Alan, Geoffrey and Jeremy, and assumed a more traditional fatherly role in the life of Tyler, his now-nine-year-old son by Loving. "I think there were times when I was working that I was really probably not fit to be around my family," he says. "I loved them, of course, but it kind of had to be from a distance. Now that I'm older, I've worked to be a lot closer to my youngest. He spends every other week with me, and once a week, he and Lisa and myself do something together as a family. The other three aren't jealous. We are close in our own way. I think they understand that they had a different kind of father and a different kind of life."
But although Fey kept insisting that he'd retired, he seemed as ubiquitous as ever -- appearing at public events and popping up as a regular call-in commentator on talk radio. (He even had his own short-lived show, Backstage With Barry, on the Hawk in 1998.) He became the media's go-to guy when a music-industry story broke and was happy -- eager, even -- to provide quotes and sound bites to almost anyone who asked. When House of Blues was caught in an embarrassing scandal over the Backstreet Boys' sold-out Halloween 1999 show at the Pepsi Center and it was revealed that the company had sold hundreds of its prime seats to ticket brokers who'd sold them for as much as ten times their face value, Fey was quoted in much of the coverage. Of the incident, which some feel was the catalyst for Norman's departure, Fey now says: "I guess my first reaction was surprise, because I always knew Jay Marciano to be very strict about all that. And I kind of thought, well, it's the group's fault -- they invite this kind of thing. If they let a promoter make enough money, nobody would have to try to pull this shit. But ultimately, I felt very good that nothing like that had ever happened under my watch."
It was as if Fey, so accustomed to the local celebrity spotlight, was experiencing separation anxiety from his own persona. He seemed to have a need to remain in the public eye, even though he spent much of his time alone -- sometimes happily, sometimes not -- in the Cherry Hills home he's owned for thirty years, the same place where he once hosted football games for Lynyrd Skynyrd and luaus for the Stones. He battled prostate cancer as well as chronic depression. And while Fey appears to have beaten the former (his cancer is in remission), he still feels the pull of the latter: Sometimes, he says, he has difficulty opening his mail at home; he allow piles and piles of the stuff to accumulate in his upstairs office. He sometimes doesn't like to answer the phone or to talk to almost anyone once he's left the office. He faced the dissolution of his marriage (he and Loving separated in December) and the death of his mother (she died in February).
He watched a lot of TV.
"I had a routine every day, and I would follow it religiously," he says. "At 11 a.m., I would watch Law & Order, take a break, watch ER at 4. If I missed the eleven o'clock Law & Order, I could catch it at 5. If not, I'd watch The Pretender, and then the CBS Evening News at 6. It was a very good system."
Marciano's call on June 6 shot that system to hell. (Marciano did not return Westword's phone calls.)
"There are still moments when I rue the day that call came," Fey says. "I think a lot of people thought that it was the same old story when I came back. That the lonely old man starts to get crazy in his house and miss being around people. But it's laughable to me. I love being alone. I love solitude. Recently, one of my sons and his wife came over, and I said to them, 'I hope you are not planning on staying long.' And they weren't offended. They understood.
"When Jay first called me, my initial reaction was, 'Are you out of your mind, Jay? There's not a force of nature that could bring me back.' But he kept asking, and I started to think more about it and to think of all the other people who had said, 'It's just not the same without you.' And I guess I realized that ought to mean something to me.
"It was not an option to do this half-assed," he adds. "I said yes. I am here. And I am in the midst of what I consider to be an all-out war."
But the battlefield has changed.
"I would say there was a time when, pound for pound, Barry Fey was the greatest seller of tickets. Period," says Morris. "When Barry put his mind to it, he could sell anything. And hopefully I've learned a lot from him. But I'm not sure that his way is really going to cut it anymore. Certainly Barry is reintroducing himself to all of the people that we deal with every day, and I've heard and seen that he's attempting to develop some of his old relationships. I feel like there are a few of them who will go back with him, but with many of them, I think, it will be difficult to recapture those alliances for one reason or another. Time has changed what is going on in our business. The perimeters of what decides who goes with who are different. For one, so much of the current industry centers on national tours, and bands go along for the whole thing, and it makes no difference what individual promoter is in any given town.
"Time will tell whether he can regroup some of what he had, and God bless him. But we just did U2 and Willie Nelson, two of Barry's big ones, so I don't know what that tells you. I feel very confident in the relationships that I have, and SFX and Clear Channel. I think that at the end of the day, we will still come out on the right side of the ledger more often than not. It's always interesting to see the teacher and the student go at it."
Fey has never hidden his feelings for Clear Channel, his fiercest competitor, despite the fact that the bulk of its Colorado staff is composed of his former employees -- Morris, former Fey Concerts talent buyer Brent Fedrizzi and publicist Michelle "Mel" Gibson among them. Depending on Fey's mood, he may refer to Clear Channel as "the evil empire" or, simply, "Satan." So it's with particular glee that he watches the pending court case between Clear Channel and Nobody in Particular Presents, which filed a federal anti-trust lawsuit against the corporation in U.S. District Court two weeks ago (see "Taking on the Empire"). And although some suggested early on that Fey -- who employed NIPP's Jesse Morreale for two years -- was involved in the financing of what will surely be an expensive legal battle, Fey insists his support is moral only.
"I am definitely cheering them on. I am behind them 100 percent. And I suspect that, for the time being, Monaco Parkway [where Clear Channel's Denver offices are located] is going to get a lot kinder and gentler all of a sudden, which is nice for everyone," Fey says, smiling. "Hopefully, when something like this happens, it can be a kind of wake-up call to those few people over there who still have any sense left. Like, let's dispense with the bullshit and do some business, like we're supposed to. We're in the business of bringing music to people, not fucking each other around.
"Unfortunately, I think that's what Jesse and those guys have been saying for a while, and no one has listened. So finally, they'd had enough with all of it, and they're going to court. I don't see it as some particularly brave thing that they've done. What choice did they have? They are just trying to save their business. They have nothing to lose at this point. When someone hates you, when someone is out to get you, you have nowhere to go but up."
But for Fey, a NIPP victory over Clear Channel would certainly offer personal as well as professional satisfaction. He tends to view each move by his competitor as a potential strike against him, a deliberate attempt to undermine his ability to do business. That Neil Diamond thing, for example. Clear Channel, he says, made a dauntingly high bid to bring Diamond to the Pepsi Center, effectively trying to force Fey out of the negotiations. "It was fucking blatant," he says. "From what I gathered, they were offering 100 percent of the gross plus half of the insides. I don't know if they wanted to make a point or discourage me early on. Here's an artist I personally helped to develop. Everything we built, they want to buy."
And then there's Clear Channel's recent partnership with the Pepsi Center, one that gives the company preferential booking. "It's insidious and impossible," Fey says. "Here's how it goes now. I call Gene [Felling, general manager of the Pepsi Center] and say, 'Gene, do you have this date open?' He says no. Click. Then he gets on the phone to Chuck, because now he is essentially an employee of Clear Channel. He says, 'Chuck, Barry's looking to book on such-and-such. Who do you think he's bidding on?' Which tips Chuck off to everything I'm working on. Before you know it, they've got a higher bid out for my act. It's getting to the point where I'm almost ready to say, 'Hey, you either give me a chance to compete, or we'll join Jesse in another lawsuit.'"
But Fey's dead wrong if he thinks Clear Channel is making any moves just for the sake of showing him up, responds Morris.
"It's all about the bottom line," Morris says. "I'm not in the business of impressing people with putting a name on the front of the marquee for any reason other than that it is a financially sound thing to do. We're not going to do it to impress anybody or scare anybody -- or just to prove that we can.
"I think it's rather funny to see a man who controlled a town in a certain way to respond this way when he now faces competition. It's hard for me to say bad things about a guy who gave me a chance to really break in and develop my career, but I also find it deeply insulting that he would even dare to say that the way we do business is without any heart or soul. It's not just myself and my company. It's Doug and Jesse, and the people at the Fox Theatre and the Gothic Theatre and everyone who has been doing unbelievably hard work, killing ourselves, to bring music to this town. For him to say that heart and soul left when he did is unbelievably egomaniacal."
Fey has never denied that he has an ego. That's one of his strengths. And while he focuses on building House of Blues's strengths, he's getting back in touch with his own. "Bill Graham once told me I'm the greatest promoter who ever lived," he says. "My approach has always been to promote not concerts, but events. People want music, they want heroes. Let's give that to 'em. Let's give them a huge fucking fireworks show. You give me any event in the world, and I can figure out a way to make it better. That's always been what I've done best.
"I'm just praying that they're all going to leave me alone so I can do it again."
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Westword's biggest stories.
- Big Pot Grow in Routt National Forest an Environmental Hazard, Feds Say
Fri., Sep. 4, 7:00pm
Sat., Sep. 5, 12:00am
Sat., Sep. 5, 12:30pm
Sat., Sep. 5, 7:30pm
- Reader: Denver Is Safe Because Cops Will Crack Your F*cking Skull
- Saying Goodbye to 8 Denver-Area Restaurants, Hello to 21 New Ones