In reviewing the Orange County pop music scene recently for Calendar, members of the local music community offered a wide range of responses on a variety of issues. There was, however, one subject that nearly everyone mentioned: the county's lack of a mid-size concert facility.
That's a topic that is particularly ripe for discussion during the winter months, after the county's two outdoor amphitheaters have closed and when original music is once again limited to a few clubs with capacities of 300 or less.
With a population of more than 2 million, many musicians and pop music fans continue to ask, why doesn't Orange County have at least one hall comparable to such Hollywood locations as the 1,200-capacity Palace or the 4,400-capacity Palladium?
In 1985, for every new or experimental group, such as 10,000 Maniacs or the Jesus and Mary Chain, that came to such small clubs as Safari Sam's in Huntington Beach, there were others, including the Replacements and the Cult, that bypassed Orange County on their Southland swings because there were no rooms that could handle them.
"Safari Sam's is great, but we couldn't do the Replacements there because there'd be 500 people waiting outside," said independent concert promoter Ed Christensen, who booked the Replacements' show at Fender's Ballroom in Long Beach in December. "Most of the people, probably 75% of the ticket sales, for Fender's shows come from Orange County. I think Orange County can support five or six clubs of (a capacity of) 500."
Christensen, who has also booked shows recently at the San Juan Creek Saloon in San Juan Capistrano, added that one of his goals for 1986 is to find or open a larger facility in Orange County and book some of the acts that don't play here now.
Some observers of the music scene even went as far as to say that one new facility of the proper size would be the single most important addition that could be made for Orange County's pop music scene. "A 1,500-seat club would overnight change it," said Mike Jacobs of Jacobs & Associates management and consulting firm.
"There are bands here that will do real well in El Toro, for instance, but if they try to go up (to Los Angeles) and play Madame Wong's, they might draw only three people. Then it's a stiff gig and Wong's doesn't want to book them again," Jacobs said. "They have no way to grow if they can't be seen on their home turf. But finding a room in a city that's open to doing it is going to be a tough nut to crack."
Others agreed that local government's frequent opposition to rock music clubs of any kind is a major obstacle.
"I think there's some kind of discriminatory police action against clubs playing new music," said C. P. Welch, owner of Atomic Records in Huntington Beach. "Is it just a coincidence that those clubs featuring new music are the ones always being investigated and cited? That says much about the personality of the Orange County community and police actions in general."
To others, however, the even more pressing problem of opening a mid-size club here is profitability.
"If there is room for improvement in Orange County, it's for something like the Palladium down there during the school year," said Steve Rennie, vice president of Avalon Attractions, one of Southern California's two largest concert promoters. "But even as well as we've done (booking shows) at the Palladium during the rest of the year, from about June until the end of September it is basically dark a lot."
In addition, competition from the Greek Theatre and Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles "makes the guarantees at the Palladium seem pretty paltry," Rennie said. "You've got the same situation in Orange County. With two or three buildings starting their seasons in March and running through November, there's no way a 6,000-seat place can compete with Irvine Meadows and Costa Mesa (Pacific Amphitheatre).
"There's just not room for everybody," Rennie said.
Those who echoed Rennie's feeling that a mid-size facility isn't likely to open soon in Orange County said the No. 1 reason is that the amphitheaters gobble up most of the performers who would probably play such a club, using them as opening acts for superstar attractions. In addition, the amphitheaters will frequently book headlining acts capable of drawing as little as 3,000 or 4,000.
"We came up with our Meadows Terrace setup where we sell just the orchestra and loge sections--about 6,100 seats," said Jeff Apregan, director of operations at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre. "I consider that to be a mid-size concert facility. So we can do jazz acts that sell about 3,500 to young rock acts that might sell 5,500 tickets. We have that flexibility. In the course of a whole season, you get to the point where you run out of superstars and you want to book people even though they won't sell it out."