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Bill o' Fair Features Country Cookers

July 08, 1993|MIKE BOEHM | Mike Boehm covers pop music for The Times Orange County Edition.

The Orange County Fair may be able to put on some really big shows next year, when fair officials expect to be in control of the 18,760-capacity Pacific Amphitheatre.

But for this year, it's business as usual, as the fair offers a typical array of country, pop, comedy and rock oldies attractions at the outdoor Arlington Theatre, which can hold about 6,000 concert-goers. Each performer plays two shows, at 7 and 9 p.m. The concerts are included in the $5 fair admission.

Most of the acts involved typically play such smaller Orange County venues as the Coach House, the Crazy Horse Steak House and the Celebrity Theatre.

Topping the list in stature is Merle Haggard, one of the essential figures in the history of country music, who plays July 22. The son of Dust Bowl refugees, Haggard emerged from Bakersfield (and from a three-year stay in San Quentin) to begin a remarkable run on the country charts starting in 1963.

The title of that first hit, "Sing a Sad Song," was telling: Haggard became famous as a chronicler of the hard times and struggles of working folks, prison inmates and brokenhearted barflies.

In 1969, "Okie From Muskogee" made him even more famous as a Vietnam-era upholder of embattled patriotic ideals. But Haggard's patriotism has never been of the knee-jerk sort; along with the bedrock values expressed in "Okie From Muskogee" and its sequel, "The Fightin' Side of Me," he has always conveyed a strong anti-authoritarian streak.

Also renowned for his contributions as a bandleader and guitarist, Haggard has championed jazz-influenced Western swing music along with straight honky-tonk.

Nowadays, with country radio crowded with newcomers who often bear Haggard's influence, it has become hard for stars of his generation to reach the large new crop of country fans. But he's still in there pitching.

The fair's other country-related highlight is the Texas Tornados, in which roots-rockers Doug Sahm and Augie Meyers combine forces with balladeer Freddy Fender and Tex-Mex accordion ace Flaco Jimenez in a lively, musically varied and unpretentious roadhouse version of a super-group. They play July 11.

Eddie Rabbitt (July 21), Ronnie Milsap (July 9), the Marshall Tucker Band (July 23) and Restless Heart (July 24) offer pop- and Southern rock-influenced takes on country.

One of the best bets on the oldies side figures to be the Four Tops (July 14), who accounted for some of the most dramatic and emotional hits in the Motown catalogue, including "Bernadette," "Baby, I Need Your Loving" and "Reach Out (I'll Be There)." Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels will rev it up with their rowdy and raw rock 'n' roll approach when they headline a 10-act "30 Years of Rock 'n' Roll" revue July 20. Also on hand will be Cub Koda of Brownsville Station, Dennis Yost of the Classics IV and Len Barry.

Frankie Valli arrives with the Four Seasons on July 17 to warble many a famous hit in his trademark nasal falsetto, while David Clayton-Thomas and Blood, Sweat & Tears appear July 16 to sing about riding painted ponies and spinning wheels for fair-goers who may have just stepped off same.

Then there's the Beatles, who play the fair July 10. Oops. Make that Yesterday, a band of impersonators who (except for the Ringo ringer) served previous hitches as "Beatlemania" cast members. Yesterday has been going since 1986, so with that prior experience, most of these guys have been playing the Beatles longer than the Beatles played the Beatles.

Serving up soft pop confections are the Australian duo Air Supply (July 15), and Christopher Cross on July 19. Cross mopped up in the early '80s with "Sailing," "Arthur's Theme" and "Ride Like the Wind."

For a more contemporary pop-R&B approach, there's Hi-Five, a teen-age vocal group from Texas, which appears on July 25.

Hiroshima (July 13) plays jazz-pop fusion laced with traditional Japanese strains. Along with Bonnie Owens, a longtime fixture in Merle Haggard's band, Hiroshima's singer, Jeanette Clinger, and koto player, June Okida Kuramoto, are the only featured female musicians on the fair's 17-night schedule.

A July 18 comedy night does have Cathy Ladman joining Wayne Cotter and Tom Parks on a stand-up triple bill. Gallagher (July 12) is known for pulverizing produce in his comedy routines. Better hide those blue-ribbon watermelons.

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