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San Diego Spotlight / POP MUSIC / THOMAS K. ARNOLD

Spreckels Moves to Pop--But in a Limited Fashion

January 09, 1991|THOMAS K. ARNOLD

The venerated Spreckels Theatre downtown is now playing host to pop concerts on a regular basis. Owner Jacquie Littlefield last April signed an agreement with the Robert Stein Group, out of Los Angeles, to book the 79-year-old, 1,480-seat theater.

Initially, Stein said, he concentrated on plays, dance and classical music, but last month he added pop music to the mix, beginning with the Dec. 10 appearance by the Cocteau Twins.

"I was hired to revitalize the theater, and booking policies are really set by ownership and implemented by me," Stein said. "And the more we got into it, the more we decided that pop music had a place as well. It simply rounds out everything else we do. It's not going to be the emphasis, it's going to be another facet."

The latest pop show at the Spreckels was last Saturday night's appearance by the Neville Brothers. Coming up are Bob Weir and Rob Wasserman, Jan. 25, and several other tentative dates.

"Realistically, my objective would be to do between 15 and 20 pop shows a year; that's what I'd like to see," Stein said. "I don't want to lock out limited engagements--classical performances generally run a week or two, and I never want to cut that out. But at the same time, pop music is certainly welcome.

"I want the best of all worlds for the Spreckels Theatre. It's in the most vital part of San Diego, and it ought to be there for the widest possible cross-section of people, which includes people who buy tickets to the Neville Brothers as well as people who buy tickets to the Alvin Ailey Dance Company," Stein said.

The opening of the theater to pop music partially fills the void left by the closure last spring of the nearby California Theater, which for years had been one of San Diego's busiest pop-concert spots--also under Stein's auspices. But don't expect nearly as much action, particularly by heavy metal, hard rock and punk-rock acts.

"It's never going to do what the California Theater did in the way of pop concerts, and it shouldn't," Stein said. "What it's going to do is pick up on certain types of pop music that are suited to it, while other types that were suited to the California Theater, like the harder rock stuff that we feel aren't suited to the Spreckels, we're not going to invite in."

Waylon Jennings must like San Diego an awful lot, and vice versa. Last year, the celebrated country outlaw made two well- received local concert appearances: at Humphrey's on Shelter Island in August, and then at the Lakeside Rodeo Grounds, with the Highwaymen, in September.

Sunday night, Jennings will be in town once again. This time, he'll appear at Leo's Little Bit O' Country in San Marcos, where he'll play two solo sets.

If you've never seen him, don't miss out again. Jennings represents country music at its finest: He's got a gritty, tobacco-and-whiskey-stained voice, a stage presence something akin to a truck driver downing a couple of cold ones while singing along to the jukebox in a truck stop, and a rich repertoire of songs that bring the Old West morality and Weltanschauung right up into the present.

Like many country greats, Jennings was originally a rock 'n' roller. In the late 1950s, he was a member of the Crickets, the late Buddy Holly's backup band. Shortly before his death, Holly produced Jenning's first solo single, an interpretation of the Cajun standard "Jole Blon," for Brunswick Records. A popular story, which may be apocryphal, has it that Jennings was booked on the charter flight in which Holly was killed Feb. 3, 1959, but gave his seat to the Big Bopper.

Jennings formed his own group in 1963, the Waylors, and soon drifted from rock 'n' roll to country folk. Two years later, he was signed by Chet Atkins to RCA Records and changed musical directions again, this time to mainstream commercial country. He had a minor hit in 1969 with his version of "MacArthur Park."

By the early 1970s, however, Jennings had developed a more earthy, rebellious style, and along with Willie Nelson, he became one of the founding fathers of the so-called outlaw country movement, reviving traditional honky-tonk twang as an alternative to the sanitized string-laden stuff coming out of Nashville.

Ironically, it was Jennings' move away from mainstream country music that brought him mainstream country success. Since his conversion, he has had five platinum and three gold albums and scored myriad hits on the national country singles charts. He has also won two Grammy Awards and four Country Music Assn. Awards.

Jennings is currently touring the country in support of his latest album, "The Eagle."

Tickets to his two shows at Leo's are $32.50; the early show starts at 5 p.m. and the late show at 8 p.m.

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