Comparing the entertainment lineups for the 93rd Orange County Fair, opening this weekend, and last week's Del Mar Fair, local pop music fans could easily get the feeling that Orange County is in the midst of a time warp.
Starting tonight with the revised Mamas & the Papas, the Orange County Fair's 10-day nostalgia-heavy entertainment roster includes the Association, Rick Nelson, Three Dog Night, Fabian's Good Time Rock 'n' Roll Revue, the Osmond Brothers, the Marshall Tucker Band, Jan & Dean, Elvin Bishop and Rain's Tribute to the Beatles.
That's a far cry from the Del Mar Fair's formidable lineup of contemporary rock, R&B, country and blues acts such as Los Lobos, Stevie Ray Vaughan, the Blasters, Emmylou Harris and New Edition.
Why the vast difference in bookings when the two events are separated by only 75 miles?
"There's a very simple answer to that," said Bill Hollingshead, the Orange County Fair's director of entertainment, who only half-jokingly refers to himself as "The king of the Oldies-But-Goodies shows."
"They have a larger budget to work with. They have a grandstand that seats about 11,000 and attendance of about 800,000," Hollingshead said. In contrast, the Orange County Fair's Arlington Theatre holds 5,000 and fair officials are predicting a total attendance of around 325,000 this year. The budget for the 10 concerts is $100,000, according to Jill Lloyd, the fair's media and public relations coordinator.
Because such "oldies" shows have usually filled the Arlington Theatre in past years, Hollingshead said, "There's no need to spend four times as much as necessary to fill our theater.
"If you spend $25,000 or $30,000 for an act, hopefully that act will draw a proportionately larger audience. We don't have a facility of that size. So it's a natural balancing act," he said.
The other major consideration behind the bookings, Hollingshead said, is the Orange County Fair's target audience.
"We aren't shooting for that teen-age market on our stage. We're shooting for what I call the 'super class' age, 22 to 52. They're the ones with all the money. So instead of booking acts to draw the 11 to 18 age group, we're looking for acts that the older crowd will like but who hopefully will catch some of the younger people too.
"And we don't book heavy metal, acid rock or real heavy rock 'n' roll because we wish to comply with the ongoing question about the decibels coming out of the Orange County Fair," Hollingshead said. "There is a touch of conservatism in our bookings. If there is any question about an act, then we just don't book it."
In addition to annually lining up performers for the Orange County Fair, Hollingshead and his wife, Jean, operate Bill Hollingshead Productions Inc., a Santa Ana-based firm that books about 200 shows a year at various county fairs and theme parks on the West Coast.
"I have found that groups (that were popular) from 1958 to about 1973 are my strongest shows in fairs and amusement parks," he said. "There has also been a resurgence in interest in these groups, which are being rediscovered by the teen-age market."
Dean Torrance of Jan & Dean agreed with Hollingshead's assessment.
"County fairs are the perfect venue for us because they are family oriented," Torrance, 44, said by phone from his Los Angeles residence. "But I think we get more young people at our shows than adults. It's harder to get the people my age to come out. They are older and just want to stay home and watch TV. The kids like to boogie. I don't think there's anything artsy-craftsy about why young kids like us. It's just high-energy dance music."
Torrance did say, however, that he believes there is a greater appreciation now for the California sound pioneered in the late '50s and early '60s by performers such as Jan & Dean and the Beach Boys than there was when the music was new.
"The interesting element is that this music is uniquely California's," he said. "In the '60s, that wasn't interesting to Californians. We just took it for granted. But once we got outside California, it was pretty damn special. I think the music started getting more respect in the '70s and '80s."
While some "oldies" acts continue performing strictly for the nostalgia circuit, Del Shannon, who plays at the fair on Tuesday during Fabian's Good Time Rock 'n' Roll Revue, is not content to rest on his past achievements.
Although he had a string of hits in the early '60s, including "Runaway," "Hats Off to Larry, "Little Town Flirt" and others, Shannon teamed up in 1981 with Tom Petty, who produced Shannon's critically well-received comeback album "Drop Down and Get Me," which included his Top 40 hit "Sea of Love." And earlier this year, he released "In My Arms Again," his first country single under a new deal with Warner Brothers Records.
Reached this week by phone in Nashville, where he is recording a new country album, Shannon said he recognizes and accepts the limitations of county fair performances.