Red Rocks Amphitheater draws the world to Colorado in hopes of seeing an internationally acclaimed musician play at one of the grandest venues of all time. Its beauty is obvious as its acoustics – immediately recognized from the start of the first song. Red Rocks Amphitheater represents Denver’s accomplishments in uniting natural inheritance with progressive achievements. While it draws over 750,000 non-concert goers each year, the nature-made venue wouldn’t be nearly as famous if it weren’t for the famed music promoter Barry Fey.
When Barry came to Denver at the age of 27, he hit the ground running. Fey may not have known many people or even what he wanted to do with his life but one thing was certain – knew music. Fey dedicated himself to forging the Denver scene and built an empire in which Fey -more often than not – was a mad dictator, hell bent on realizing his dream, occasionally sprinkling benevolence on those he saw fit. Despite, or maybe because of, his larger than life and often manic personality – Fey made Red Rocks famous and in doing so, helped Denver shed its cow-town status and take the stage as the place to perform for musicians worldwide.
While Red Rocks is internationally recognized, it’s unofficial, late promoter is not as much. Native Coloradans may know who to credit for the killer music scene in Denver. For recent transplants and music fans in general – here are some interesting facts about the man that played a grand part in putting Red Rocks on the musical map.
He was the Epitome of a Mad Genius
Two of the most told Barry Fey stories revolve around a telephone. In the days before cordless and mobile phones, high powered business men and concert promoters alike were obligated to a wall, severely limiting their reach. Not Barry Fey. He always carried a 200-ft long telephone cord when traveling, so that he wouldn’t be tied to a particular outlet – he was a man on a mission. When Fey wasn’t tripping people up with a never ending phone cord, one might find him angrily hurling his phone out of the fifth story window of his office on 16th street.
His Resume is Impressive
Fey worked as the booking agent for a newly opened Denver spot – The Family Dog – and in its brief, ten month life span, Fey booked Janis Joplin for its opening night. In the following months, he continued to schedule some of rock’n’ roll history’s biggest names – the Grateful Dead, the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Van Morrison, Jefferson Airplane, Frank Zappa and more. Fey is also credited with booking the last show of The Jimi Hendrix Experience and the first U.S. show for Led Zeppelin. In 1983, Fey promoted a show at Red Rocks for a little known Irish band called U2, who ended up filming a portion of “Under the Blood Red Sky” at that concert.
Rock Concerts Were Banned from Red Rocks and Fey Sued
During the 1971 Jethro Tull concert at Red Rocks, which Fey booked, a large riot broke out just outside the amphitheater when ticketless fans attempted to see the show. The crowd was brought to an area just outside the amphitheater where they could hear – but not see – the show. Some tried to bust down man-made barriers, so the police released tear gas and attempted to quell the riot in any way they could, albeit unsuccessfully. Red Rocks was evacuated and rock’n’roll was banned indefinitely. Four years after Mayor William McNichols banned rock concerts from Red Rocks, Fey sued the city and won. That following summer, his company Feline Presents promoted Red Rock’s “Summer of Stars” – an event that sealed the outdoor theater’s fate in eternity as the place to play.
Barry Helped Ozzy Osbourne Get His Start
Ozzy even thanked Fey for giving Black Sabbath a chance, many years ago: “Barry Fey was a gentleman and a great friend. 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.” Fey was the first promoter to book Black Sabbath as the opener for Mountain. Fey remained close with Sharon and Ozzy – Sharon even helped Fey with his memoir Backstage Past.
He “Soared” Above the Competition
When Fiddler’s Green opened up in 1988, the number of booked shows at Red Rocks Amphitheater fell from 55 to 21. What was once a highly sought after venue, was now second fiddle to the new outdoor amphitheater. But not for long. Barry Fey hired planes with banners that read “I’d rather be at Red Rocks” to fly over the new amphitheater, reminding show-goers of their first true love.
He Saved the Denver Symphony
Fey is credited with saving the Denver Symphony Orchestra. In 1989, Colorado’s only full time professional orchestra was on the verge of going under. However, Fey organized fundraisers and put the symphony on a ‘pay-as-you-go‘ system. The group was renamed The Colorado Symphony and, in conjunction with big named artists, often play at Red Rocks. The Boettcher Concert Hall proudly boasts a plaque honoring Barry Fey. Barry’s youngest son, Tyler Fey, told us that, “…my father, although strident, and certainly abrasive, did stand up for the right reasons. Often for the people who didn’t have a voice, going against the corporate grain such as Robert Sillerman of SFX and ticketmaster.”
But Was Reportedly Still a “Complete Jerk”
Death seems to add a rose tint to memories – Barry Fey’s is no different. Many cite stories of his grandious behavior, his tireless campaigning for unknown bands, and his charitible donations. But like many larger than life personalities, his polarizing behavior often left a bitter taste. Fey’s former assistant explains, “He would literally suck the air out of the room. And oh boy, when he yelled….you never saw anything like it. People would be running, office supplies would be flying, it was like one giant dysfunctional abusive kingdom with Barry Fey sitting on the throne, and all of us scurrying about at his feet, there to serve.”
Fey Had An All Time Favorite Show
Fey not only helped musicians achieve their dreams, but helped those past their prime, relive their own glory days. The best show he ever promoted, Fey says, was The “Denver Dream” – an old-timers baseball game in 1983 booked at Mile High Stadium. For the game, Barry needed to sell 30,000 tickets in order to break even. Willie Mays and Joe DiMaggio were in attendance and DiMaggio even coached third base. The game drew 58,000 fans and left onlookers with misty eyed wonderment. Barry went above and beyond supplying a Denver dream to players and onlookers alike.
He was a Purveyor of all Things Delicious
Barry is cited as a “full time amateur restaurant critic” in Kyle Wagner’s 1996 Westword restaurant review “Prime and Punishment.” According to the article, Barry Fey loved a good steak and took enjoyment in reviewing steak houses across the Denver area, but his favorite remained Morton’s. However, if Fey was in New York, you could most likely find him indulging in a world famous steak at Peter Luger’s. In addition to putting in his two cents on fine cuts of meat, Wagner writes, “Fey rings up the Westword office annually to criticize our Best of Denver steak awards (as well as the picks in numerous other food categories).” Fey definitely wasn’t afraid to share his opinion, even with a mouth full of medium rare filet mignon.
Fey Committed Suicide
After hip replacement surgery in April of 2013, Fey struggled through a rocky recovery and eventually took his own life on April 28, 2013. According to Tyler Fey, his father was set to spend the day with his family, but asked everyone to leave. In that time, Barry took his own life. Barry Fey left behind four sons, three granddaughters, two ex-wives and an eternal legacy, immortalized in scorched sandstone and cherished memories held by concert goers far and wide.
He Had An Unfulfilled Dying Wish
Fey applied for internment in a private cemetery in Morrison, CO so that he could eternally rest near Red Rocks. This particular cemetery is only for residents of Jefferson County, but Barry pleaded for an exception. Tyler Fey says, “Everyone from Governor Hickenlooper to the mayors of Denver and Morrison lobbied to get him there.” Unfortunately the paperwork was lost and Fey’s wish was never fulfilled. However, he has a plaque of his very own backstage at Red Rocks Amphitheater.
*quotes have been edited and condensed for clarity