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Musician, club owner Byers brought The Beatles to Red Rocks

Published December 25, 2008 at 12:05 a.m.

Verne Byers was many things - club owner, big band leader, restaurateur and raconteur. But he forever cemented his place in rock 'n roll history by booking a band he'd never heard of - the Beatles - to play Red Rocks in August, 1964.

Mr. Byers died on Dec. 19 in Las Cruces, New Mexico. He was 90.

"Dad flew under his own flag, that's for sure," said his son, Brad Byers. "If he wasn't a big band leader he was a restaurant owner. He never worked for anyone but himself."

Born in Denver on March, 14, 1918, Mr. Byers was a graduate of South High School and a journalism major at the University of Denver, but ended up with a career in music.

A talented bass player, he did everything from touring the Midwest with big bands to opening The Baja, a Denver club that helped launch the careers of acts like The Astronauts. The Verne Byers Band was a regular at the old Elitch Gardens, occasionally opening for Benny Goodman.

Mr. Byers also ran The Robin's Nest, a late-night steakhouse/jazz club atop Lookout Mountain that often saw jam sessions run till 4 a.m. Despite the 2 a.m. cutoff for liquor sales, Mr. Byers made sure his customers and musicians were well-cared-for at those jams.

"He was the original Austin Powers. He had an MG in the '60s and only put the top up if there was a blizzard," Byers said, noting that his father switched to a Jaguar XKE in the late '60s. "He had not one care in the world about what people would think of him."

"Anytime I saw Verne he had a suit or sports coat, suit and tie on, and these big, black-rimmed glasses kind of like (Buddy Holly) but a little more extreme," said Roberta McFarland, former business manager for Denver's theaters and arenas who handled the rental of Red Rocks for Mr. Byers' shows.

"A lot of the artists and promoters were in love with themselves and demand everything. Verne wasn't that way," she said. "He was just a real nice guy. There weren't very many of those."

But Mr. Byers will always be remembered for the Aug. 26, 1964 Beatles concert at Red Rocks, a 32-minute affair that few in attendance heard because of the jet-plane screams of the audience.

The late Rocky reporter Al Nakkula summed it up: "England's four Beatles, disheveled, needing shaves and haircuts, played a one-night stand in Denver on Wednesday that left pandemonium in its wake."

"I became a professional drummer because of Ringo. He ruffled my hair and said 'How you doing lad?' " Byers said.

That show was just one of many he promoted.

"The Beatles were the biggest. He was the early Barry Fey in the '60s," Brad Byers said. He also booked acts like Peter, Paul & Mary, Otis Redding, Count Basie, James Brown, Glen Campbell and more at Red Rocks and his clubs.

It was that reputation as the local go-to guy that got him a call from an agent in Chicago, telling Mr. Byers that the Beatles wanted to add a show between Cincinnati and Los Angeles, Brad Byers said.

The size of the crowd has always been in dispute, with estimates going from 7,000 to 15,000; the show has the reputation as being the only one on the '64 tour to not sell out. But Brad Byers said his father printed extra tickets in case the show needed to be moved to the Denver Coliseum in the event of rain, and that all the Red Rocks tickets sold.

"They were wonderful people," Byers told the Rocky years later. "The only problem was that they were a little upset about the condition of the dressing room. It hadn't been cleaned."

He moved to Las Vegas in 1982 to continue his band-leading work, but several years ago demand for live music dropped to the point where Mr. Byers told the local newspaper that his 12-piece band couldn't get any work. He retired to New Mexico shortly thereafter in 2002.

Mr. Byers is survived by his wife of 58 years, Jeanne, of New Mexico; a daughter, Vicki Jeanne Anderson, of Denver; a daughter, July McClure, of New Mexico; and sons Steve of Denver and Brad of Las Vegas.

In lieu of donations, flowers or memorials, Mr. Byers wanted everyone to go out and have a good time.

"He didn't want to bring attention to it" by having a funeral, his son said. Instead, his attitude was "everybody save their money and go spend it on a party somewhere."

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