Legendary rock promoter Barry Fey spent the last week of April quietly rounding up his four sons. Fey and his youngest son, Tyler, were promoting the Feed the Rocks concert at Red Rocks on April 27. That gave his next-youngest son, Jeremy, a reason to fly to Denver from his Jacksonville, Fla., home.
Fey had been struggling in recovery from an arduous hip-replacement surgery, so much that his son Geoffry had moved in as his caretaker. And between hospital visits and the occasional movie, Barry's eldest son, Alan, had seen more of his dad in recent months than he had in a long while.
The morning after the successful concert with the Disco Biscuits, Shpongle, RJD2 and others, Barry woke up on a warm Sunday to a visit from Jeremy.
Photos: Concert promoter Barry Fey dies
But before the food could be delivered, Barry — the talented, driven, outspoken concert-industry behemoth — ended his life.
"He asked me to bring him an omelet," Geoffry said late last week, surrounded by his three brothers in a room so silent you could hear his stilted, emotional breaths. "That morning (when I found him dead), I was walking in with an omelet."
The discovery brought the family to its knees. And the days that followed, from the planning to the crying, the funeral to the just-getting-by, have been an exercise in the power of a united family.
"He never talked with me about (taking his own life)," said eldest son Alan. "I got a note. I read it and cried. And I'm so happy I got it. Because I know exactly what it meant."
Barry didn't pull his family close to tell them of his plans but to ensure they could be there for each other, in the same city, amid the aftermath. He left behind four grown sons, three young granddaughters, two ex-wives and six notes to loved ones.
"My dad waited for me to get here (to Colorado)," said Jeremy. "I got to say goodbye to him on Sunday morning. I didn't know it was goodbye then, but I know that now."
The good with the bad
The four Fey brothers, clustered together in Alan's Cherry Hills living room (a few miles from their father's house), were remembering the man they call "Barry" more than "dad" — the promoter, the comedian, the disciplinarian, the gambler, the fan. It helps that Alan, 45; Geoffry, 42; Jeremy, 40; and Tyler, 21, are armed with a lifetime of stories to keep the mood light and faces smiling regardless of the week's bitter sadness.
"I think my dad would be happy to know he was trending on Twitter for a while there," said Geoffry.
The three older brothers especially had traveled a lot with their father, for music, sports and world events. Even at home, they were backstage at Red Rocks with friends, playing football in the yard with dad, barbecuing with the Lynyrd Skynyrd guys. Youngest brother Tyler didn't miss out too much, even though he's significantly younger (and from a different mother) than his brothers.
"I played pool with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards when I was 7 years old," Tyler said without a hint of posturing.
The brothers' stories are rich all right. Like the one with Fey always traveling with 200 feet of telephone cord so he wouldn't be beholden to an outlet in the pre-cordless era. The brothers smile when they talk about the Maui house Fey co-owned with Willie Nelson, the ham and mustard sandwiches he would make himself before a tanning session at the pool. And when Fey's horse, Reraise, won the 1998 Breeders' Cup Sprint at Churchill Downs? You've never seen him happier, his sons said.
There are also the stories about Fey the absentee father, the control freak, the gambling addict, the authoritarian "who didn't yell at you so much as he yelled through you," according to Tyler. But as Fey's sons remember their father for who he was, they take the good with the bad.
They remember him not being around much while growing up, but they recognize that he was working on becoming a more present father and grandfather in the last few years of his life.
Friends remember Fey
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper was in the restaurant business when he first met Fey in the late-1980s. Fey, promoting music and boxing at the time, was hanging his posters over already-hung posters at Hickenlooper's Wynkoop Brewing Company — a no-no in the promotions world.
"We told him that was strictly forbidden," Hickenlooper remembered, "and he said, 'OK,' and took it down. When I left a half-hour later, his posters were back up.
"His enthusiasm for music was so infectious. And genuine. His love of the music couldn't be faked. And that's why he had the relationships he did with many of the greatest rock 'n' roll performers in the history of music."
Ozzy Osbourne learned of Fey's passing while on tour in Australia.
"Barry Fey was a gentleman and a great friend," Osbourne told The Post via e-mail. "He was the first U.S. promoter to believe in Black Sabbath and gave us our first American tour. The music world has lost a great man. My heart goes out to his family."
Ozzy's wife Sharon sent similarly minded wishes from Los Angeles, where she co-hosts "The Talk": "Barry Fey was one of the biggest promoters in America ... He was a friend and a business associate. My family and I are saddened by his passing, and I send much love and respect to his family."
Denver rock promoter Chuck Morris first met Fey while fighting over shows in the early-'70s. Eventually they partnered, with Fey fronting the money on Morris' Ebbets Field rock club in downtown Denver.
"We were joined at the hips for four decades, and most of the time, it was fun," Morris said, a reference to Barry's outrageous temper and fierce competitiveness. "We had our differences, but I don't think anybody compared to him when his head was together."
A changed Barry
Even a few days after their dad's death, most of the Fey brothers acknowledged that it was only a matter of time before the unexpected period of mourning turned into a memory-fueled, laughter-filled celebration of Barry's life.
A small, invitation-only funeral was held Tuesday at Feldman Mortuary with approximately 200 friends and family. His sons all talked quite openly about their father, including his shortcomings as a parent. His granddaughters sang one of his favorites, "Freebird." Barry will be buried in shorts, sneakers and a Led Zeppelin T-shirt, and a public memorial is in the works.
But as our private conversation with Fey's sons turned to their father's recent months, the brothers struggled to maintain their collected facades.
A few weeks before his death, Barry told The Denver Post of his hip-replacement recovery, "The surgery was a (expletive), I'm telling you. They tell you it's a major surgery, but they don't tell you how hard it's going to be."
It was unusual to hear Fey so deflated, so despondent. In his prime, he was loud, vibrant and tenacious, yet he was also loved for his loyalty, his heart. Friends and colleagues had noted Fey's unusually dour demeanor in recent weeks. His sons noticed the change, too. Fey didn't seem himself, from his day-to-day outlook to his absent-mindedness.
"I was laying in bed with him (on Sunday), holding his hand, and he was sad," said Jeremy, his tears falling freely from his face to the leather couch. "He told me to come home. He told me he was in a lot of pain. He wasn't of sound mind. Even in his later years, he was always very clear, but something was wrong this time. I don't know if it was the pain medications he was on ..."
Tyler interjected, "That's what it was."
Seemingly taken aback by his outburst, Tyler's downcast eyes started swelling.
"Seeing him that morning, and even our last few conversations on the phone, he wasn't Barry Fey anymore," said Jeremy, who is in the process of moving back to Denver — honoring his dad's wishes. "He wasn't my dad. Think about what we're talking about here, all these great stories ... That man doesn't do what just happened."
Added Tyler: "Never."
Added Geoffry: "No, he wouldn't. You don't have hip surgery if you're not looking to get better."
In his heyday, Fey was one of the biggest concert promoters in the world. But he also saved the symphony. He laid part of the groundwork for professional baseball in Colorado. He even sued the city of Denver, effectively bringing popular music back to Red Rocks after it had been banned for five years because of an unruly (as in swooping police helicopters) Jethro Tull concert at the foothills amphitheater.
"Barry was happiest on stage, and he was the most unhappy being ignored," Geoffry said.
After shutting down his Feyline entertainment empire in the late-'90s and finishing a consulting stint at House of Blues Concerts in the 2000s, Barry's main pleasures oscillated between his beloved sports obsession (sans the betting, as he'd finally kicked the gambling habit), his penchant for barbecue and his love for TV and movies.
But his addiction to the public eye and affection for the old-school music industry wouldn't allow him to become dormant or, worse, obsolete. Barry was going to write a book. And "Backstage Past" was the self-released, tell-all book he penned and promoted endlessly, leading up to his hip-replacement surgery.
"The book kept him alive, at least on a spiritual level," Jeremy said. "I'd be with him (at a book signing) at a Walgreens off some obscure road in Lakewood, and 17 people would come by in two hours, and he was a pig in (expletive), happier than anything.
"He was on so many highs for so many years and in such demand that he was never going to be coasting off into the sunset, out of the public eye."
The flood of attention, well wishes and press that has followed Barry's death has helped his sons work through the loss, they said.
"If he would have seen Facebook and everything else the last four days, he would have faked it to do it over again," Jeremy said, an unusual glint in his eye.
It's true that Barry loved the spotlight. He thrived while in the thick of it. He loved seeing his name in the newspaper so much that he would call friends at The Post every few weeks just to check in: "So, what's going on? Anything you want me to comment on?" But Andrea Fey, Alan's wife, said that if Barry could witness any part of this aftermath, nothing would bring him greater pleasure than his sons living, working, being together.
"That they've all been together since Sunday, literally 24-7, and it's all been peaceful," Andrea said.
When she said that, the brothers looked amongst themselves knowingly. The mood in the room said it all: The Feys are a unique American family, one with history and regret, a word each brother will use to talk about their post-Barry family dynamic. There has been separation, and there will continue to be anger, passion, directness and differing opinions — after all, these are Fey men.
"We were never going to be the Cleavers," acknowledged Alan, a nod to his unusual upbringing and spread-out family. Even so, their father's death is bringing them closer. Barry helped make these men, and just last week he rounded them up together, charging each of them with unique tasks as he said goodbye to each of them.
"The four brothers," said Alan. "He said in a note to me, 'Keep the family together' ... We've all been together for every meal, and we've talked, and we've made some big decisions. And we're making them all together.
"He'd be very happy to see us like this."
Ricardo Baca: 303-954-1394, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/bruvs