Concert promoter Tyler Fey stepped out of his car into a crisp Monday morning at Red Rocks’ upper parking lot.
As the son of famed concert promoter Barry Fey, the venue is practically etched into the 26-year-old’s DNA.
He saw his first concert (Sting) here when he was three days old; on his fourth birthday, Steve Miller brought him on stage during a show that Barry’s company, Feyline, promoted to let him strum his guitar.
In four weeks, Tyler, the current owner of Feyline, hopes to write a new Fey name in the annals of Red Rocks concert history. On Dec. 31, he’s hosting the venue’s first-ever New Year’s Eve concert, an 11-group hip-hop concert set to bring Migos, Post Malone, Lil Pump and others to Red Rocks for a six-plus hour show.
That is, if the weather holds.
“Hopefully, it’s like this the day of,” Fey said of the bluebird morning.
Though he’s not yet a weathered promoter, Fey has quickly become keen to the havoc that mother nature can wreak on an event. In fact, next week Tyler is presenting a talk at live-event conference XLive called “Planning for the Unpredictable: What To Do When Mother Nature is Uncooperative.”
This comes after Feyline announced the debut of Island of Light, a three-day electronic music festival in Puerto Rico this past April. The announcement came one week prior to Fyre Festival, another island music festival whose painfully public flame-out became the music industry’s latest cautionary tale. Then, in September, Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico. Shortly after, Feyline canceled the festival altogether. (They plan to bring it back next year.)
That expertise could come in handy at the end of the month. Because of Red Rocks’ unpredictable weather — the venue’s 6,435-foot elevation makes it more susceptible to extreme weather than Denver — an outdoor concert in Morrison at the end of December is akin to throwing an expensive tea party in the Marianas Trench. It will be memorable if it goes as planned, but that’s a big if. Cancellation insurance for the event cost three times what it would for a normal event, Tyler said.
That, combined with a splashy bill for artists and increased union dues for Red Rocks’ staff working on a holiday, has resulted in $175 general admission tickets. VIP tickets, which offer premium seating, champagne deals and commemorative merchandise, cost $350.
Granted, the show is scheduled to last more than six hours, Tyler estimates it’s “one of the higher” priced non-tiered general admission tickets in Red Rocks’ history. Tyler said Feyline did everything it could to keep costs low, even forgoing its promoter fee. Under Barry, Feyline strove to keep fans first — Tyler referenced the time he pulled a gun on Axl Rose after attempting to end a show early, telling him the only way he was leaving was through the crowd — an ethos his son is serious about preserving.
“I hate the fact we’re doing $175 tickets,” Tyler said. “Feyline has always been about keeping the prices low.”
Tyler and partner Danny Higginbotham bought Feyline from Barry in 2012. Alongside Bill Graham Presents, which fostered San Francisco’s hallowed Fillmore Auditorium, the company was one of the most formidable independent promoters of the late 20th century, making Barry a monarch of the local and national national music industry. In his lifetime, Barry vaulted Red Rocks from a 12-show-a-year bandshell into a national concert destination. He also ushered in the first U.S. gigs from legendary U.K. rock groups Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, unknowns in America at the time.
That makes Tyler music royalty. Seeing the Fey name behind a big Red Rocks concert, it’s tempting to think this is the opening salvo in a Feyline resurgence in Colorado. Tyler does have plans for the state in the future, including “two or three” date-specific shows at Red Rocks and a hush-hush project in Central City. Most of his plans revolve around destination events — fly-in concerts advertised as quasi-vacations, like New Year’s Eve on the Rocks. But he has no interest in trying to re-create his father’s legacy — if that were even possible.
“You can’t fill Barry Fey’s shoes,” Tyler said. “Nobody could. Nobody should try.”
Still, the Fey name has given Tyler a leg up in this business. He got involved in his first major concert — a Red Rocks gig in 2013 — after meeting a Denver promoter who asked him for help after simply hearing his name. The promoter had booked a mid-level DJ at Red Rocks, but couldn’t get any acts to sign on.
Tyler had booked some small shows before, but never a large, national band like this, and especially not at a venue like Red Rocks. It he said yes, it would mark a serious foray into promotion. He’d grown up with mixed feelings about the industry. On one hand, it had crippled his father’s life with stress; on the other, U2’s Bono was a close family friend. As a teenager, he wanted to be a lobbyist, or maybe a politician — he read Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto at a young age — but not a concert promoter.
Despite that, he agreed to help promote and market the show. Tyler paired the DJ with two other acts — they called it “Feed the Rocks” — and sold out Red Rocks. A flair for concert promotion, it turned out, ran in the family.
Following that high came an unimaginable low. The day after the concert, Barry died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He was 73.
Chuck Morris, the CEO of dominant Denver concert promoter AEG Presents Rocky Mountains, was Barry’s close friend and coworker. Barry gave Morris his first big break in the local promotion scene, bringing him on to Feyline from Boulder club Tulagi’s to open Ebbets Field, a small room in downtown Denver. Morris was at Tyler’s bris; Tyler calls him “Uncle Chuck.”
“I promised Barry a long time ago that if Tyler decided to go into the music business, I would help him,” Morris said. “I’ve stuck to that promise.” Aside from agreeing to participate in a panel at X-Live in Las Vegas next week, Morris didn’t extrapolate on what that meant, although Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom, now partners with AEG Presents, is helping promote his New Year’s Eve show.
Could he see Tyler joining him some day at AEG Presents, too?
“Nothing would surprise me,” Morris said.
When it comes to battling for a band, though, business is business. Tyler said he’s already lost out to AEG and Live Nation for some shows at Red Rocks. Morris conceded that Tyler has good instincts, but he’s still young.
Morris is Barry’s disciple in some senses — his philosophy on concert promotion, for example: “If you don’t grow, you go away” — but he differs in just as many ways. He wouldn’t, for example, threaten to hospitalize an employee who got a job offer from a different agency, as Barry once did to Chuck. And he doesn’t feel the need to stomp out Feyline.
“I’ve been a little different,” he said. “We’ve done so well that I’m not intimidated by other people doing shows. Maybe I’m getting soft in my old age.”
Similarly, Tyler has led Feyline with a gentler touch than his famously volatile father. When talent agents came calling to argue that Young Thug should be billed higher than Post Malone on the poster for the New Year’s Eve show, Tyler didn’t, for example, huck a phone out the window, as Barry once famously did.
“I yell sometimes,” Tyler said. “I try to not though. I definitely don’t throw things at people’s heads. Those days are over.”
But as his son, Tyler did pick up some of his dad’s hallmark personality traits. He’s outspoken, especially about the music industry, which he, as did his dad, bemoaned as having lost its soul. He’s also a feverish worker. In our 1 1/2 hours at Red Rocks, his phone was rarely out of hand, usually alight with texts, calls and emails.
“He had very little tolerance for being wrong,” Tyler said of his dad, sipping a mug of tea at Red Rocks’ cafe. “You could feel that disappointment that you failed. That’s something I never want to feel again. That’s why I work so hard.”
For all the stress, the work brings Tyler closer to Barry, too. Especially at Red Rocks, the place Tyler found himself nearly every weekend growing up, bouncing along to the concerts his dad screamed, cajoled and begged into existence.
“I feel him when I’m up here, there’s no question,” Tyler said. “The day after my first Red Rocks show, he passed. The timing of it all, the emotion of it all. This is the venue he and God built.”
At Feyline, they try to channel Tyler’s dad when they find themselves in a tricky situation, asking: What would Barry do?
So, four weeks out from a historic concert at one of the country’s premiere music venues with the possibility of inclement weather to contend with — what would Barry do?
“He was as close to a perfectionist as you could get,” Tyler said. “He’d be up my ass about ticket sales right now.”