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For Some,Thanks a Lot; for Others, Thanks for Nothing : A Holiday Overview of Orange County's Music Scene Shows Some Extremely High--and Low--Spots for Past Year

November 26, 1987|RANDY LEWIS | Times Staff Writer

For better or worse, it's been a relatively uneventful year on the local music scene. The good news is that there hasn't been anything approaching 1986's dismal record of four major music clubs folding.

The bad news is that's because there haven't been four major clubs in operation this year--a shocking condition for a county of more than 2 million people just 40 miles from the heart of the West Coast entertainment industry.

For most of the year, only two clubs--Big John's in Anaheim and Night Moves in Huntington Beach--have regularly booked local bands playing original music. Pretty Vacant in Orange ran out of steam not long after it tried to fashion a hip, underground club atmosphere to showcase such up-and-coming bands as Concrete Blonde, Red Lorry Yellow Lorry and Mission U.K.

So pop music fans now are more dependent than ever on imported music, which is producing a serious cultural trade imbalance in the county. It's great to see superstars like Bob Dylan, David Bowie, Whitney Houston, Eric Clapton and Neil Young visiting Orange County's outdoor amphitheaters, but that doesn't give hometown fans much to rally for, the way New Jerseyites can cheer Springsteen when he returns home.

On the bright side, the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano has continued to offer an invigorating mix of tried-and-true, old and new touring groups, and in the last three months the Celebrity Theatre in Anaheim has begun carving out a niche with its R&B and soul bookings.

Now, in observation of Thanksgiving Day, it's time again to distribute Turkey Awards to those whose contributions made us want to hide our heads, as well as to heap thanks on those who added to our musical bounty.

First, the 1987 Turkey Awards:

To Assemblyman Gil Ferguson (R-Newport Beach), for wanting to prohibit the use of public property for political fund-raising. Ferguson made the suggestion after staging a protest Oct. 27, outside a benefit concert for Indian activist and convicted murderer Leonard Peltier. The operators of the Pacific Amphitheatre donated use of the facility to Willie Nelson, Joni Mitchell and the other participants, so Ferguson complained that because the amphitheater is on state-owned Orange County Fairgrounds, it shouldn't be turned over for such a blatantly political event. Ferguson apparently forgot that the Nederlander Organization, which operates the Pacific, also donated the amphitheater in 1986 for a political rally and fund-raiser, attended by President Reagan, for Republican U.S. Senate candidate Ed Zschau.

To the Costa Mesa Planning Commission, for rejecting an ambitious but decidely counterculture-oriented plan by the former owner of Safari Sam's nightclub in Huntington Beach, to resume business in Costa Mesa, the self-proclaimed "City of the Arts." The planning commission said it liked Sam Lanni's proposal for a multifaceted center in a Costa Mesa business park for showcasing contemporary music, art, film and theater. But, perhaps mindful that Safari Sam's frequently presented bands with such scary names as Sonic Youth and 10,000 Maniacs as well as classic plays like Samuel Beckett's "Endgame" that use four-letter words, the commissioners said Lanni should look for a better location. Like maybe Iowa?

To Orange Coast College, for allowing the annual Orange Coast College Jazz Festival to succumb to economic woes this year. Orange County lost a great traditional event that had hosted some of the greatest names in American music, from Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald to Count Basie and Buddy Rich. That kind of invaluable musical education deserves support at any price.

To Cal State Fullerton, for hosting only a smattering of concerts and club shows this year. Not that anyone expects our institutions of higher learning to turn into Rock 'n' Roll High School. But don't forget what Springsteen said: "We learned more from a three-minute record than we ever learned in school."

To Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre, for failing to find a better way to get fans in and out of concerts this year in the midst of road construction on Irvine Center Drive. Over the summer, traffic surrounding the amphitheater's only entrance/exit was frequently backed far up the San Diego Freeway, causing delays of an hour or more.

To Orange County commercial radio, which, as always, shows few signs of trying to be anything other than a mirror image of Los Angeles commercial radio. Where is the local in local radio? One bright spot was KEZY-FM morning disc jockey Rick Lewis (no relation) for attempting to inject a little life at the soporific Anaheim-based rock station. Now, if he will just toss some records by Orange County bands on the turntables once in a while.

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