Either you are closing your eyes to a situation you do not wish to acknowledge . . . Or you are not aware of the caliber of disaster indicated by the presence of a pool table in your community. Well, ya got trouble, my friend . . . ." --Prof. Harold Hill in Meredith Willson's "The Music Man"
In turn-of-the-century small-town America, as reflected in Willson's popular musical, a pool table represented the same sort of threat to the nation's social and moral fabric that rock 'n' roll symbolized in the 1950s.
So some might consider it a double threat that the two have come together in Orange County, circa 1986.
Yet in the four months since local rock bands began playing at Big John's Billiards in Anaheim, the combination has been running smoothly, according to both the club's operators and an Anaheim police spokesman.
Because several Orange County clubs featuring original music have closed in the last six months, the addition of Big John's gives local bands a much-needed new venue. It is also providing the long-neglected rock audience in the north county with a place to see bands such as DIN, Children's Day, El Grupo Sexo, Exobiota and others that have played Big John's weekend shows so far.
This weekend's offering includes a show Saturday featuring Tender Fury, the new band fronted by former Cathedral of Tears singer Jack DeLauge, while Doggie Style will appear on June 14.
One reason that club operators have avoided encounters with the police, booking agent Kelly Carver said, is that "We are fortunate to be in an industrial area, so we go unnoticed."
The nearest neighbors are an adjacent battery service shop and a brake supply store, while across the street are a foundry and a plastics manufacturing business.
"From the standpoint of the concerts, they haven't been a problem," said Sgt. Jim Brantley, Anaheim vice bureau supervisor. "I am not aware of any complaints (from neighbors)."
Big John's is divided into two sections: a smaller room holding perhaps 200 people where bands perform and the larger pool playing area, which contains about two dozen pool tables.
The unusual format may prove to be an advantage since most problems at rock clubs over the years have stemmed from fans loitering in the parking lot, not from those inside the club. Instead of leaving the premises during the breaks between sets or when they simply aren't interested in one particular band, fans remain in the club playing pool or other games such as table hockey.
Dave Marker, a band manager and booking agent who first brought original music to Big John's in February, said, "We are doing everything we can to keep the city of Anaheim thrilled. At Flashdance (another Anaheim original music club that closed in 1985), they had a great thing going but they blew it.
"We're trying to prevent problems before they come up," Marker said during an interview at the club last weekend. "A lot of problems arise because the neighbors are an afterthought. You can't treat them that way."
One of the most fascinating aspects of the club is the cultural mix between its regular billiard-playing clientele ("mostly bikers and Hispanics from the factory," Marker said) and its younger, predominantly Anglo music audience.
At first the two factions eyed each other with some suspicion, Marker said, but there haven't been any confrontations. "Everybody pretty much ignores each other now," he said.
Marker, however, is turning over bookings to Carver because he wants to pursue his original concept of "a floating club" with shows in different locations each week.
Carver said she plans to spruce up the interior of the concert side of Big John's, which is lined with well-worn wood-veneer paneling and decorated with aged tables and chairs.
She is also complementing the Friday and Saturday new music shows with a varied mixture of jazz, theater and poetry readings on Sundays.
"I'd also like to do some country-Western shows here. I think there are a lot of people who would come to that," Carver said. "I want to try a lot of different things." If response to the shows is sufficient in coming months, Carver said she will expand music bookings toward a goal of operating seven nights a week by the end of the year.
Although many of the same bands that perform at Big John's also play other Orange County clubs, Carver said she doesn't feel a sense of competition with Safari Sam's in Huntington Beach or the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano.
"We're definitely more cooperative than competitive," Carver said. "Sam (Lanni, owner of Safari Sam's) and I are good friends and there are no hard feelings."
"My big concern is getting the scene going again," she said. "There are more than 2,200 bands in Orange County and they have no place to play. I consider myself a real person, someone a band can come up to and say, 'Hey, we want to play here.' They don't have to have a demo tape or give me a free record in order to play. They just need a chance to play."
LIVE ACTION: Tickets go on sale Monday for four Pacific Amphitheatre shows: Robert Palmer (July 27), the Monkees-Gary Puckett & the Union Gap-Grassroots (Sept. 4), a second Julio Iglesias show (Sept. 28) and Sandi Patti (Oct. 18). . . . INXS will play Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre on Sept. 6 . . . Reba McEntire will perform on June 17 at the Phoenix Club in Anaheim. . . . Jeff Pearson will play the Crazy Horse Steak House in Santa Ana on June 23.