Barry Fey during his 2011 book tour to promote his memoir “Backstage Past”
This story was updated May 7 with new information regarding Barry Fey's death
Legendary Denver promoter's death was ruled a suicide, according to officials with the Arapahoe County Coroner's Office. According to longtime friend and publicist Phil Lobel, Fey had experienced several setbacks after a hip replacement earlier this year.
“Speaking with his family and friends that were with him through his rehabilitation, Barry had told them that he didn't feel like he was going to get better,” Lobel said. “He said that if he had known it was going to be this difficult, he wouldn't have done the surgery in the first place.”
Plans are now in the works to memorialize Fey, and Lobel said the most obvious rememberance he would like would be a statue or bust at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in nearby Morrison, Colo., where Fey promoted a number of concerts.
Fey had publicly stated a number of times that he wanted to be buried at a small cemetery outside of Red Rocks, but the private cemetery’s bylaws state that only residents of the city of Morrison who have family already buried in the cemetery can buy a plot. Fey was even rumored to have already purchased a plot at the cemetery, but the agreement has now reportedly been lost. Last Wednesday, the cemetery board voted to deny his family’s request to have him interred close to Red Rocks.
“At one point, (Colorado) Governor John Hickenlooper tried to intervene, but it's a private cemetery and there was nothing that could be done,” said Lobel. He has since been buried and there are several projects in the works to memorialize him.
One strange phenomenon that would have certainly tickled the promoter — his 2011 memoir “Backstage Past” is currently priced at $999.99 on Amazon.com — Lobel thinks it's because the book is technically out of print and a few ambitious booksellers are trying to capitalize on his death.
Although Fey disliked scalpers, he would have “loved that people thought his book would be worth so much. If he was here right now, that news would have put a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye.”
Fey was one who loved to buck tradition and, according to one family member who asked not to be identified, Fey was buried in “Bermuda shorts, sneakers, a tie dye shirt with sport coat with Rolling Stone lapel pin” — his signature dress to all formal-wear events he attended, no matter what the time of year or weather.
Barry Fey (right) is seen here with publicist Phil Lobel prior to a Rolling Stones concert at Folsom Stadium, Boulder, Colo., July 16, 1978.
An outpouring of support from both artists and music industry professionals followed the passing of Fey, who died April 30 at the age of 74.
“He was one of the last great independent promoters, one of the last gunslingers from the Old Wild West days,” said Cory Meredith with StaffPro, a security group that worked with Fey in the 1990s. “He was a straight shooter. He always let me know what he wanted and I always knew what he expected. He didn’t beat around the bush.”
Fey's death came as a surprise to many, and Twitter was abuzz with goodbyes from Fey’s famous friends, including TV star Sharon Osborne, who praised Fey for bringing Black Sabbath across the pond for their first U.S. tour in the 1970s.
The famous Rock N Roll wife helped write the forward to “Backstage Past,” now on its fourth printing. The book detailed Fey’s 30-year run as the biggest promoter in the Mile High City and explains how his company, Feyline, was the first in Denver to book U2, Bruce Springsteen, Led Zeppelin, the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix.
“On Barry's birthday he booked the Rolling Stones for a show at Boulder (Colo.) inside the Folsom Field,” said Lobel. “He modestly said it was the best birthday gift he had ever given himself.”
Fey was said to be brash, shrewd and generally fair. Friends described him as opinionated, temperamental and protective over his empire, sometimes to the point of paranoia. The state of Colorado was his territory and he wasn’t afraid to go to battle to protect it.
“If anyone tried to take his acts, he would cut them off at the knee,” said Mark Brown, who covered Fey at the entertainment desk at the now defunct Rocky Mountain News and stayed friends with Fey after his retirement.
Jason Zink worked with Fey at House of Blues Concerts for a number of years and said Fey’s strongest asset was his ability to use his own credibility to move the needle on ticket sales.
“He represented the importance of the promoter in being able to sell a show. In the past, the impression was that the promoter was simply there to hit a number, but Barry was a student of PT Barnum and he would use everything at his disposal to sell tickets,” he said. “If he went to the Denver Post and said, 'This will be a great show, I guarantee it. In fact, if you don’t like the show, I’ll give your money back,' the very next day, he would be on the front page of the newspaper.”
Fey’s greatest gift was his ability to interact with the media. He maintained a massive network of media contacts always eager for sound bites from the Colorado impresario. The announcement of his annual “Summer of Stars” concert series was an over-the-top spectacle, with few reporters turning down a chance for a sit-down with the Colorado Music Hall of Fame Inductee.
“Long after he was retired, he was still getting stories written about him in the paper for one thing or another,” recalled Brown. “I remember when the Grateful Dead reunited, we did a story about his favorite Grateful Dead memories.”
Brown said Fey spent the last years of his life promoting his book “Backstage Past,” touring through bookstores and universities. After he would finish sharing war stories (Zink said his favorite was about a guy Fey knew once trying to dive into a pool without any water), Fey would spend the remainder of his time bashing Live Nation, Ticketmaster and the current state of the concert industry he helped create.
“It used to be the music business; now it’s the business of music,” Fey told Venues Today Editor-in-Chief Linda Deckard in 2011 while promoting his book. “The main things that are missing are loyalty and heart and soul. It’s really terrible.”
The famed promoter grew up in New Jersey, but moved to Colorado in 1967 and opened the Family Dog venue in Denver, followed shortly by the launch of his production company Feyline Presents. He promoted hundreds of shows at Denver’s Mile High Stadium and iconic Red Rocks Amphitheater and eventually sold his company to Universal Concerts in 1997.
Fey came out of retirement in 2001 to help run Universal’s House of Blues chain for two years, quitting when he realized the music industry had changed beyond his recognition, with the field of regional promoters gobbled up by Live Nation and AEG Live.
“Today, Barry Fey couldn’t get started. I wouldn’t know what to do,” he told Deckard, later detailing just how large his company had become.
“Feyline, at the apex of our career, promoted in St. Louis, Kansas City, Dallas, Houston, Denver, Salt Lake City, Albuquerque and Phoenix on a steady basis. We did 4,000 shows total. My best year — 1994 — I grossed $57 million because of all those high ticket prices. I netted about $3.5-$4 million. The most ever in my employ were 35, and seven were in the accounting department. I didn’t like to go back there. I was scared of that department.”