DENVER (KDVR) – The year was 1967, and a 27-year-old Chicago native who had moved to Denver earlier that year had just arrived in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district for a visit to the unofficial epicenter of the “Summer of Love.”
The visitor to the Bay Area, Barry Fey, was vacationing on the west coast to take in the era-defining moment firsthand, according to Colorado Music Experience.
After seeing what those in the California city were producing for the region’s music scene, Fey reached out to San Franciscan counter-culture figure Chet Helms. According to the Colorado Music Hall of Fame, they ruminated over how they could harness the movement in order to bring it back to Denver.
This was the first of many significant steps Fey made that would, in the long run, forever morph Colorado from an occasional tour blip for big-name acts to the fulcrum of western U.S. tour legs that it has arguably become.
Chicago to Denver: Fey’s early dog days in Colorado
Today, the structure located at 1601 West Evans Ave. is a strip club, but back on Sept. 8, 1967, it was the newly christened Family Dog concert hall. Fey and Helms chose the location as the perfect place to lay down the roots.
According to the Colorado Music Hall of Fame, Fey, the venue’s booking agent, had managed to get Janis Joplin with Big Brother and the Holding Company to headline the opening performance.
The 2,500-seat venue would close 10 months after Joplin’s performance, but not before the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, the Grateful Dead, Van Morrison, Frank Zappa, Jefferson Airplane, Cream and many others came through to give Denverites a taste of top-tier musical acts.
For just $4.50, you could have had an opportunity to see the Doors put on their first show outside California.
Denver police were putting pressure upon the venue’s management for attracting the “hippie crowd,” and in July of 1968, the Family Dog closed its doors for good. Fey, however, was not done molding the Denver concert scene.
In 1967, that voice helped establish Feyline, a promotional company for concerts and festivals. Once Family Dog was out of the picture, he migrated his promotional efforts toward other venues.
According to Feyline’s historical page, in 1969, the promotional outfit was able to somehow bring Denver a late Christmas gift in the form of Led Zeppelin.
The Denver Auditorium Arena was the site of the British band’s first-ever North American performance. A few months before that, Fey also promoted the three-day 1969 Denver Pop Music Festival at Denver Mile High, which included the final performance of the Jimi Hendrix Experience.
Fey’s fight for music rights
According to archives with the Denver Public Library, just a few years later on June 10, 1971, Jethro Tull was set to perform at Red Rocks Amphitheatre when a large section of fans without tickets decided to flood the gates in an attempt to see the show for free.
“Police Gas Stone-Throwers at Red Rocks” was the headline on the Denver Post’s front page the next day. Tear gas deployed by Denver police officers allegedly instigated the ticket-holding crowd into a frenzy that included throwing broken bottles at the officers.
Fey was standing backstage with the members of Jethro Tull as they debated whether or not to go on with the show. They decided it was likely the quickest route to calming the crowd and after finally making it on stage, Jethro Tull lead singer Ian Anderson said the following: “Welcome to World War Three!“
As a result, any act deemed to be rock music was officially banned from Red Rocks. Fey didn’t take kindly to this, and according to 303 Magazine, he sued the city, eventually winning and returning rock back into the amphitheater where it had been prohibited for several years.
Fey’s impact on legendary acts of today
In 1976, Fey created “The Red Rocks Summer of Stars” concert series, and just three years later, his efforts were recognized by Billboard when they named him “promoter of the year.” He would win it initially in 1978 as well as the following two years.
Five years later in 1983, he would help the burgeoning Irish band known as U2 put on a show at Red Rocks that would eventually become the concert film “U2 Live at Red Rocks: Under a Blood Red Sky,” which Rolling Stone included in its June 24, 2004 issue that highlighted the “50 Moments that Changed the History Of Rock and Roll.”
“Selling tickets wasn’t our job. In Denver that was Barry’s job and what a job he did,” Pete Townsend of The Who told Feyline. “We have been able to build an entire West Coast leg of almost every tour we’ve ever done around a single Denver show…We relied on Barry and Denver, and they never let us down.”
Fey also gave Black Sabbath a chance when no other promoter in the country would take them in.
“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,” Ozzy Osbourne said after Fey’s death.
Fey’s lasting impact
“There is only one VIP and that is the person who bought the ticket,” a quote from Fey reads, highlighting his stance on the most important part of the concert-fan relationship.
He told Billboard that he was a self-identified “prick” but despite this, he still had a hand in many positive, almost philanthropic events.
He helped save the Denver Symphony in 1989 when it was approaching bankruptcy. He helped transition the orchestra to a pay-as-you-go system, all while leading fundraisers for the full-time orchestra. After funds were raised to keep it afloat, the newly renamed Colorado Symphony Orchestra began doing collaborations with acts from other genres, including upcoming performances with Nathanial Rateliff and the Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA.
Fey took his own life on April 28, 2013, after he underwent hip replacement surgery earlier that month. He left behind four sons, three granddaughters, two ex-wives and a lasting impact on the Colorado music scene that can’t be denied.