Barry Fey, R.I.P.: He put on stadium concerts, but couldn't make a cup of coffee

As we reported yesterday, legendary Denver concert promoter Barry Fey has died.

Ever since the news broke, those who encountered Fey over the years have been sharing stories and anecdotes about the two Barrys -- the hard-as-nails asskicker and the cuddly pussycat.

The take below, from former Rocky Mountain News rock critic Justin Mitchell, captures both sides of this complex but fascinating figure.

Mitchell's career has been mighty intriguing, too, as we reported in the 2003 Message column entitled "Well Red." After leaving the Rocky, Mitchell worked for the supermarket-tabloid fave the Weekly World News, even impersonating fictional columnist Ed Anger at one point, before moving on to a copy-editing gig with the Shenzhen Daily, which touted itself a decade back as "South China's only English language newspaper."

These days, Mitchell is still in China, but news of Fey's passing still reached him -- and spurred two very different memories. "I woke up to it Monday morning in Beijing and it was like being hit in the chest," Mitchell writes. "I saw some of my first concerts -- Cream, Doors -- at ages 14-15 at the Family Dog," the long-gone venue where Fey first made his mark, "and only years later, when I was writing about rock etc., knew that he was behind them. My first date was an Association concert at CU's Macky Auditorium, which, thanks to your article, was when I realized that it was produced by a guy who would a couple decades later call me an 'asshole.'

"That came sometime in the '80s, when he held a press conference to announce that Springsteen would be coming to [Mile High Stadium] in late September...and I asked him if he might be concerned about snow or sleet.

"He glared at me and shouted: 'Only an asshole would ask a question like that!'"

Maybe so, but that asshole had a good point, as noted in a Denver Post piece about concerts scheduled for September 22 and 23, 1985. Here's an excerpt:

An icy rain fell on the morning of Sunday the 22nd, and the temperature fell into the low 30s with 25 mph winds. It was decided to delay the performance until Tuesday the 24th.

On stage both Monday and Tuesday, Springsteen was profuse in his apologies for Sunday's postponement -- but the weather during those shows wasn't much better. By the time Monday's show ended, temperatures were back in the 30s. On Tuesday, the band played in a cold, drenching rain that made everything slippery -- at one point Springsteen had to quit playing his acoustic guitar because he couldn't pick it up.

What about Fey's kinder/gentler qualities? Mitchell saw them up close and personal during a trip to his home for an "exclusive" about the upcoming Summer of Stars concert series.

As he recalls, Fey "greeted me at the door in a plush brown bathrobe and matching bedroom slippers and asked me if I wanted a cup of coffee.

"'Sure, Barry. That'd be nice, thanks.'

"He shuffled off into the kitchen and disappeared for about ten minutes, it seemed, before emerging holding an unoponed jar of instant Folger's or Nescafe.

"'Do you know how to make this?' he asked me almost plaintively, like a little kid."

His reaction? In Mitchell's words, "I thought: 'This is a man who can produce mega-shows like the Who, Stones, Floyd,, but he can't make instant coffee?'"

More from our News archive: "Barry Fey is dead: Towering figure in Denver music scene passes away."

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
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