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January 01, 1989|JIM WASHBURN

W as 1988 the year of the dead in the Orange County arts scene? Well, it was the year Pacific Symphony conductor Keith Clark was termed "a dead fish," the year William Shakespeare was nearly a dead duck in Garden Grove and the year the rock zanies in Oingo Boingo held yet another "Dead Man's Party" at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre.

Jokes notwithstanding, there were encouraging signs of life locally. South Coast Repertory Theatre won major national recognition with the 1988 Tony Award as best regional theater in the country. The Grove Theatre Co. triumphed over considerable civic adversity that threatened for a time to shut down the county's only annual Shakespeare festival. The Pacific Symphony demonstrated new enthusiasm , with concerts led by guest conductors vying for the soon-to-be-vacated music director post.

Local rock bands seemed to flourish, live and on record, despite a paucity of clubs in the county that would book them or radio stations that would air their music. The Improv in Irvine paved the way for a significant increase in the quantity and quality of stand-up comedy in the county.

With that in mind, in the following four pages critics for The Times Orange County Edition offer compendiums of the best--and in some cases, the worst and the silliest--that the county had to offer during the year in art, music, dance, theater, pop and comedy. *Richard Thompson at the Coach House. Probably the best songwriter in rock, with the full range of human emotions being evoked by his driven voice and terrifyingly good guitar work in concert.

*Stevie Ray Vaughan at the Pacific Amphitheatre. Forget the guitar hero tag: Vaughan's claim on greatness is the way his music goes straight from heart to heart.

*Jonathan Richman at the Coach House. Richman's solo concert hit with a directness and passion most of us lose with childhood.

*The Antone's Blues Revue, with Buddy Guy, Kim Wilson and others at the Coach House. Following the "everything's bigger in Texas" maxim, Austin club owner Clifford Antone's road show offered as much talent as any recent blues festival.

*Sonny Rollins at the Coach House. For the few that saw it, sax colossus Rollins' show was a torrent of musical ideas and emotion.

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