Barry Fey

When Barry Fey sold his interest in the concert firm that bore his name late last summer, a lot of his competitors figured that, career-wise, he was as good as dead--but the old cuss won't lie down. Since then, the man who was Denver's most successful, and most feared, promoter over a three-decade span has put on major concerts in Las Vegas (his agreement with Universal Concerts precludes him from doing likewise in Denver); masterminded promotions schemes intended to create excitement around the Colorado Avalanche (who are so good that they don't really need his help) and the Denver Nuggets (who probably could find a way to lose with Jesus Christ as point guard); made frequent appearances in gossip columns, most recently because he has been temporarily banned from betting at Colorado racetracks (he denies any wrongdoing); received honors for his accomplishments in the music industry (on January 27 in Los Angeles, he was named to the Performance Magazine Touring Hall of Fame); begun planning a book of memoirs (it's still in the nascent stage); and become such a frequent caller to radio talk programs that the average listener can be forgiven for believing that he's got a show of his own.

Perhaps someday he will--because Fey has no shortage of opinions, about everything from rock and roll to the Colorado way of life. And he's not what you'd call shy about sharing them.

Westword: Last year you said that it was the right time for you to sell Fey Concerts. Do you still feel that way? Have the months since then reinforced that?

Fey: Oh, my God, yes. I am so happy to be out of the business, because there are too many ugly people dominating it now. I'm very, very happy to be gone.

Westword: Right now, with [longtime Fey associate] Chuck Morris teaming up with Bill Graham Presents, there seems to be the potential for a promotions war here. Is that the way you see it?

Fey: I think it's going to be good--but in a way, it's a shame. It's just like Russia.

Westword: Russia?
Fey: When the communists had control of the Soviet empire, it was harsh, but it was controlled and orderly. Then there was the breakup of the states, and now you have Bosnia, which is the worst example of what's happening because of all the killing, and you have the Russian mafia going wild. It's chaos--and none of it would have happened if the Russian army was still in charge.

Westword: How has the music scene in Denver changed since you started promoting here?

Fey: Well, I started in 1967, and I'd say by 1972, we were well on our way to being the best per capita concert market in the country. And it just kept going like that. In 1985, Springsteen did 137,000 people. At the time, that was 11 percent of the population. But with the new music that came--I guess in the late Eighties--I think the concert scene really dissipated here. Now, and so much of this is going to sound self-serving, but it seems that--how do you say this in a nice way?--the less interest I paid, the less of a good concert market it was.

Westword: Is another reason for that because people don't seem to have the kind of brand loyalty they once did? With the exception of Phish and maybe a couple of other groups, there don't seem to have been a lot of new bands rising up in the past few years that people seem interested in following over the long run.

Fey: You're right--and people around here seem to associate that with me. They're constantly coming up to me and saying, "It's not the same with you gone. It's just not the same." And obviously, it's not the same for me, but I don't think it's the same for anyone. There just isn't the excitement out there that there once was, I don't think. When you go to some of these new-music concerts, alternative concerts, the people are so much a part of the show that they don't really have that spontaneous roar that they used to have--because they spend all their energy stage-diving or in mosh pits or whatever. And everything's on a smaller scale. The bigness is gone. Concerts used to be big--big--huge. But that's gone. People who always complained about stadium shows won't have anything to complain about for much longer. Because there aren't going to be any.

Westword: Did regular concert-goers start losing interest in going to as many shows around when you did?

Fey: Yes, I think my career and the feelings of the regular concert-goers parallel each other. This was always such a great, great concert market, but I ran into a guy the other day and he said, "What the hell's happened to the concert scene here?" And a lot of people seem to have that opinion now--that the scene here is not as good as it used to be. But the local-band scene is the same as it always was. This has never become a Boston or a Seattle, even though a lot of people thought it would be. The local bands never really made it. You had Firefall, and before that you had Tommy Bolin--and now you have Big Head Todd. But there was never any explosion.

Westword: Why do you think that is? Back in the Seventies, the country-rock movement was breaking nationwide, and Colorado seemed hooked into that.

Fey: That's because you had a few artists--like Dan Fogelberg, Stephen Stills and Jimmy Buffett--who became, rightly or wrongly, associated with Colorado. But most of the local bands coming out of here never made it.

Westword: Is there a reason that hasn't happened?
Fey: I have no idea why, because it was a fertile, fertile area. I mean, there was so much here. You had Caribou, the [now-defunct] studio; you had so many bands that would come here and say that it was the best show on their tour because of the energy of the public. So I don't know. Maybe they had no talent. [Fey laughs.]

Westword: I've heard some people offer the theory that great artists don't pop out of Denver because it's such a nice place to live--that you don't have to struggle to survive as you do in some places, and struggle goes into making artists great.

Fey: That could be valid. This is a wonderful place to live.
Westword: And yet a lot of Denverites seem to have an inferiority complex. They're always trying to convince everyone that this is a world-class city, not a cowtown. What aspects of the city do you see as world-class?

Fey: The music scene was always world-class here; Red Rocks always helped with that. And the natural things, the mountains.

Westword: What about restaurants?
Fey: No, we don't have that. People around here are content with mediocre food. They don't make the restaurants become world-class, except for maybe steakhouses like Morton's.

Westword: Art galleries or museums?
Fey: No, we don't have that, either. You're not going to have the Metropolitan Museum here. But so what? People do this to themselves--like people at the Denver International Film Festival saying, "We want to become as big as so-and-so." I mean, come on. What you're supposed to do is to take the things that are world-class around here and accentuate those. Like the old song says, accentuate the positive. This is a great place to live and raise children, a healthy place with a well-educated community, and you're fifteen or twenty minutes from some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. That's why, when we had that Summer of Violence a few years ago, people were so shocked.

Westword: You seemed to feel very strongly about that. [Starting in 1994, Fey Concerts donated fifty cents for each Summer of Stars ticket sold to area youth programs.] Did it shock you, too?

Fey: It was such a shock. If you live in New York or L.A., it doesn't even faze you to see that stuff. But that kind of thing doesn't belong here, and that's why people were so outraged. The city hasn't become immune to it or anesthetized to it. Somebody said to me the other day, "Do you guys do anything but have crime there?" because of the McVeigh trial, the Nichols trial, the JonBenet thing, the hate crimes. But those are still an exception here.

Westword: Do they stand out more because they're not everyday occurrences?
Fey: That's exactly right. Those news stations in L.A., they have a chopper just waiting to go on high-speed chases because they're so common there. But they're not common here, and thank God they're not. This is a great community. People who bitch about Denver should be parachuted into New York City and forced to stay there for a week. They'll kiss the ground when they come back.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts