When live entertainment was halted at Safari Sam's nightclub in September, it left dozens, perhaps hundreds, of local rock bands without a place to perform in Orange County.
That's one reason that several groups, including Social Distortion, have volunteered to perform at Sunday's benefit concert for Safari Sam's, which starts at 2:30 p.m. at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano.
But when musicians talk about their reasons for supporting the club, it's obvious that they see more at stake than just their own finances or careers.
"There are so many benefits people call Social Distortion for," said band manager Jim Guerinot. "Most of them are pretty farfetched, and I've passed on most of them because we just don't believe in them. But this is one that everybody in the band said right away, 'Sure, Sam. Whatever you need, we'll do it.'
"Because in times where the band has been down, when we've had personal problems," Guerinot said, "Sam has been there for us."
In addition to headliner Social Distortion, Sunday's lineup includes Children's Day, Western Skies, the Nick Pyzow Band, the Bell Jar, Electric Kool Aide, National People's Gang and the Satellites. All have performed regularly at Safari Sam's in the two years the club has been showcasing original music.
The show's proceeds will go to help defray legal expenses the club's owners have incurred while trying to persuade Huntington Beach officials to reinstate the club's live entertainment permit. That effort continues Monday when the City Council will hear the issue at its meeting.
"This has given me time to examine exactly where you can play in Orange County," said Nick Pyzow, who left the Top 40 club circuit a few years ago to perform his own songs in original music clubs.
"Sometimes you take for granted that clubs like Sam's will always be there, then one day, boom, they're gone. I've been forced to concentrate on a college tour. I have nothing against Top 40 clubs, but they are a whole different ball of wax, and I didn't want to turn to that again.
"It's very tempting to go to the Top 40 clubs because there's a lot of money in it. But as a career move, it's moving horizontally," Pyzow said.
Without Safari Sam's to play, Pyzow, Western Skies and other local groups have been exploring opportunities, both in and out of Orange County.
"We've been playing some of the L.A. clubs," Western Skies bassist Mary Rogers said. "If any band is going to grow, it can't be totally dependent on one club. We've been around long enough to realize that we have to continue to grow no matter what happens.
"But we've also been around long enough to recognize something special when we see it, and Sam's has always been special," Rogers said. "I think a lot of people have taken that for granted and haven't realized how special it was until it closed. I hope that if Sam's reopens or they move some place else that people will treasure it more next time."
Most Los Angeles clubs, however, won't book Orange County bands until they have developed strong local followings. Without Safari Sam's or similar clubs with an open-door booking policy, some younger bands are finding it tougher to get started.
Electric Kool Aide is one such band. The group has been performing for about a year, having played its first concert at Sam's, and is still working on building a core following in Orange County.
Since live entertainment stopped at Safari Sam's, "we've been trying to work on a record and check out other opportunities to play," said band member Nick Sjobeck. "Night Moves (in Huntington Beach) is an over-21 club and a lot of our fans are younger. So Sam's is very special. I've personally been distributing flyers to get everyone I know to the benefit."
Safari Sam's itself has been existing in limbo without its live entertainment bookings, which have included samplings of contemporary rock, jazz, blues and folk, as well as weekly poetry readings and experimental theater.
Huntington Beach City Administrator Charles W. Thompson agreed in September to uphold the Police Department's recommendation to deny the club a new entertainment permit because of complaints from some neighbors of noise and vandalism that were attributed to Safari Sam's patrons.
For the first couple of weeks after live entertainment ended, some Safari Sam's regulars continued to stop in to socialize or play any of a number of board games that club owners Sam Lanni and Gil Fuhrer keep on hand.
But even that clientele has trailed off recently.
"It's getting a little frightening," Fuhrer said in an interview Wednesday at the tiny, darkened club. He and Lanni sat among the empty tables, their quiet conversational tones interrupted periodically, not by the sound of guitars and drums, but only by the ringing of the telephone.
"I knew a lot of people came in just for the music, but I didn't think the difference without it would be so stark. It's been really quiet around here," Fuhrer said.