COPYRIGHT DAN FONG
When Barry Fey died on Sunday, the Boulder music scene was stunned and left marveling at the legacy of the legendary concert promoter.
Fey, who was 73 and recovering from hip surgery, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in an apparent suicide, a source close to his family told the Daily Camera.
The Arapahoe County Coroner completed an autopsy on Fey on Monday, but is withholding the results for several days at the request of the concert promoter’s family, according to Denver’s CBS4.
Fey worked with the likes of the Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix. He was a master of getting big names into venues, and his powerful influence was notable in Boulder, especially on the University of Colorado campus.
“For Boulder and CU, he was the renaissance years,” said Phil Lobel, former CU Program Council director and Fey’s friend and publicist.
“He was the king of music for the CU campus and for the city, and you know he’ll always be remembered for those renaissance years of concerts. The late ’70s and early ’80s — there was no school in America that had more concerts and more variety, and it was due to Barry.”
Throughout those years, Fey and Program Council reeled in the world’s top talent, including The Who, the Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac and Van Halen. . In 1978, Lobel was honored as the college talent buyer of the year by Billboard. That same year, Fey was named concert promoter of the year.
Fey first came to Colorado when he opened a music venue called the Family Dog in Denver in 1967. Soon after, he founded Feyline Presents.
When Lobel was elected director of PC in March of 1976, he immediately contacted Fey to request a meeting. Fey was skeptical, but Lobel said he insisted that the pair could put on great shows together, so Fey invited him to dinner.
“At the office, he kept me waiting for two hours. I sat in front of his desk and watched him work his magic on phone calls,” Lobel recalled. “It was a show for him. He was putting on a show for me and at the same time, putting me in my place. He wanted me to know, you’re gonna wait for the king.”
That temperament became a defining trait for Fey, and it was certainly a big part of his success. JC Ancell witnessed the intimidating but effective way Fey got things done in his own years working with PC. From 1968 to 2002, Ancell was a PC staffer, head of security and finally, staff advisor and associate director of the University Memorial Center.
“Through all the time that I’ve known him, I would say that the thing that characterized him was that his personality was explosive,” Ancell said. “Very often, it exhibited itself in a temper sort of way, but even when he was being friendly and gregarious, it was in an effusive way.”
One moment that stands out for Ancell was when he was running security for the back-to-back Rolling Stones shows at Folsom Field. The memory includes former Boulder Chief of Police John Towle, who died last week.
“I was in the position of having to work with Barry on promotion and having to work with the city on security,” Ancell said. “Here you have these two guys who couldn’t be more different on a political background and outlook, point of view, but were two peas in a pod when it came to that explosive temper and take-charge sort of personality.”
As they prepared for the Stones shows, Towle wanted the promoter to pay to station plain-clothes officers in the crowd to police drug use. Fey disagreed, and the argument reached a boiling point in a production trailer.
“Well, this is a pretty big trailer, but I have never been in such a small space,” Ancell said. “I was looking for a crack in the wall to get out of there.”
Ancell described Fey and Towle’s ongoing relationship as a “respectful working relationship” and “two volcanic personalities working to provide music in Boulder, Colorado.”
The shows Fey brought to town had a lasting effect on those who were part of them, behind the scenes and in the crowd. Lobel recalls the 1977 Fleetwood Mac show selling out 10 days in advance — 61,500 people.
“Barry would call me and wake me up every morning at 7 a.m., counting down to that show,” Lobel remembered. “He would call me up, singing to me on the phone, the song, one of the hits on the album, “Go Your Own Way.” Barry was so excited about this show in Boulder … He was on cloud nine. I was in heaven.”
Andrew Carpenean lived and worked on-and-off as a photographer around Colorado for about 24 years, a photographed many of the bands Fey brought to the state. He still remembers the July 1986 Van Halen concert.
“That was the first American tour with Sammy Hagar, and Van Halen was pretty huge back then. I remember Sammy Hagar going on the scaffolding on the stage. He shimmied up the scaffolding to the top and walked across and came down the other side while singing.”
Whether the impression Fey left was that of a mentor, friend, formidable businessman or unseen power pulling the Colorado music scene’s strings, one sentiment comes through all the stories about Barry Fey. As Ancell said, “I was fortunate to be there.”