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New Club Could Energize O.C. Live Music Scene : Peppers Golden Bear's breaking the monopoly of the Coach House may lead to concerts by more adventurous, less established bands.

August 16, 1990|MIKE BOEHM

Peppers Golden Bear has been trying to draw heavily on the public memory bank.

The soon-to-open nightclub near the Huntington Beach Pier alludes at every turn, from its name to its advertising campaign, to the old Golden Bear and to the marquee names that played there over the years.

But fans of live pop music in Orange County can only hope that Peppers Golden Bear will mark a break with the good old days, not a continuation.

Monopoly and, too often, boredom are what the good old days meant on the Orange County club scene.

From the early 1960s when the Golden Bear opened until today, with the Coach House in its last 10 days of monopoly power, Orange County has been a one-horse town when it comes to all-purpose clubs booking nationally known pop talent.

Monopoly brought security for the reigning venue--the original Golden Bear until it closed in January, 1986, and after that the Coach House, which began booking national acts the same week the old Bear died. It also meant that conservative booking policies would be rewarded. Why exert the extra promotional push it takes to sell tickets for an interesting but unestablished act when you can sell out a few nights with Robin Trower instead?

With two clubs in the county, only one of them will be able to book Robin Trower, or Dave Mason, or whatever old warhorse happens to be coming through to graze in the clubs now that dwindling fortunes have taken it off the arena or theater track.

There is nothing wrong with booking Trower and Mason and other old reliables. They obviously keep their fans well-pleased enough to be able to return time and time again, and they mean a proven night's profit for the club booking them. But with two clubs on the block, the one that loses out on the sure thing with Robin Trower is now going to have to scout around for something that's harder to sell, perhaps, but also more adventurous. At least that's how local music fans should hope it turns out.

The question is whether Peppers Golden Bear and the Coach House are willing to risk more adventurous bookings, and whether Orange County audiences will support shows by less established acts (Coach House officials have long bemoaned the lack of an Orange County album-rock radio station that would play music by newcomers and do promotional tie-ins with the club; judging from the slack turnouts at some of the Coach House's more recent on-the-edge bookings--Marti Jones, Tom Verlaine and Shawn Colvin--promoting new acts or cult favorites here won't be easy).

The first round of booking announcements for Peppers Golden Bear two months ago didn't exactly make one's heart race with anticipation of adventure to come. There were a couple of reliable jazz-fusioneers in Stanley Jordan and Al Dimeola (both of whose shows, scheduled for next week, were canceled after Peppers announced this week that construction delays had pushed back its first concert date from Aug. 21 to Aug. 26). There also was an array of rockers--A Flock of Seagulls, Ronnie Montrose, Eric Burdon and Robbie Krieger, Edgar Winter and Rick Derringer, Jon Kay & Steppenwolf--who fall in the Trower/Mason old-warhorse category.

Rick Babiracki, the former Golden Bear owner who has been brought back by the San Juan Capistrano-based Peppers Inc. to serve as the new club's entertainment director, says that more adventurous stuff is in the works.

The Coach House pretty much had its choice of acts through September because Peppers Golden Bear was still gearing up its booking efforts, said Babiracki, who began working for Peppers in June. He predicted that bigger and more adventurous names will start turning up regularly this fall, after the club has had time to establish itself. More recent additions of shows by Steve Wynn (since canceled because of the construction delay), the Paladins, Koko Taylor, Tony Macalpine and Bad Manners, and the Skatalites point in a more adventurous direction.

"We can afford to take chances with bands that may not sell a lot of tickets, but are excellent bands," said Babiracki, a tall, husky, red-haired man who sold stocks and mutual funds before Peppers brought him back into the concert business.

What makes that possible, said Babiracki, is Peppers' all-purpose format. According to Peppers' plan, income from an adjacent restaurant and post-concert nightclub crowds will help subsidize some risks on the concert end--an advantage not enjoyed by the Coach House, where the club only serves meals to concert-goers, and shuts down right after the final encore.

"Maybe we only sell 150 tickets (for a still-emerging band)," Babiracki said. "But we know we'll still make thousands of dollars after the performance" by selling food and drinks to the dance crowd. "That will allow us to stretch out a little bit more."

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