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ORANGE COUNTY CALENDAR: ARTS, ENTERTAINMENT, LEISURE

Every Night Fever

Disco, Rock and Even Blues Add to Crazy Horse's Country Music Lineup

November 22, 2000|RANDY LEWIS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Disco at the Crazy Horse Steak House?

Not only is it true, it's a surprise success story in the year since the nationally known country music showplace moved from its longtime Santa Ana home to a new venue twice the size in the Irvine Spectrum.

"The biggest change for us has been tapping into the desires of our existing customers and finding a formula that fits with what the general Irvine Spectrum customer is looking for," said Crazy Horse majority owner Jay Nuccio. "I don't look at that as a problem--I see it as a challenge in finding the right combination. It's brought in a lot of people who had never been to the old Crazy Horse."

The nightclub and restaurant hasn't abandoned country; nationally touring acts are still the backbone of the club's entertainment. Merle Haggard has already been through twice, and Michael Martin Murphey and country-pop singer Juice Newton played Monday and Tuesday nights. Upcoming bookings include Tracy Lawrence (Dec. 4), Tanya Tucker (Dec. 7), Tracy Byrd (Dec. 11) and singer Gary Morris' annual country Christmas show (Dec. 12).

The big-name country shows fall mostly on Monday and Tuesday nights, as they did for two decades at the old site, leaving the weekends up for grabs. Nuccio now faces higher overhead--he owned the old building adjacent to the Costa Mesa Freeway, but now leases space in the Spectrum, where rents are among the county's highest. That, along with country music's decreased popularity nationally, means he must expand and diversify his entertainment bookings.

So although Stetsons and Tony Lama boots still rule Fridays during the Crazy Horse's popular country dancing night, come Saturday night they give way to Afro wigs and polyester leisure suits when local '70s band Super Freaks takes the stage.

And that's just half the story.

Before the disco ball starts spinning, veteran Orange County rock 'n' roller Greg Topper pounds out '50s and '60s rock hits of Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Fats Domino and other early rock giants. (Topper, likewise, will get the Crazy Horse's New Year's Eve party started around 7 p.m., then turn things over about 10 p.m. to country band Fit To Be Tied to ring in 2001 with some two-step and twang.)

Response to the one-two punch of classic rock and disco, Nuccio says, "has been a real pleasant surprise. It's sort of become the place to be in the Spectrum on Saturday night."

Nuccio and the outside entertainment promoters he works with continue to experiment with a Sunday lineup. In the first several months in the new location, the Crazy Horse presented local jazz and blues acts, which didn't pull in the numbers Nuccio was hoping for.

He's now looking to a blues-revue format, with two or three acts on the same bill, to pump up the crowd. Figure to see more double country bills as well, with younger acts trying to cut expenses by touring together and sharing a single band.

The club's most unusual booking to date--Orange County punk-rockabilly group Cadillac Tramps--was set for tonight, but was canceled because the band's singer, Mike "Gabby" Gaborno, recently came down with throat problems. Playing instead will be veteran L.A. roots-rock group the Blasters. Both acts appeared over the summer at the Hootenanny roots-rock festival in Santiago Canyon, where the big difference between audience response to the two bands was the mosh pit during the harder-edged Tramps' set.

"We're trying lots of different genres of music," Nuccio said, citing the production of a gospel-tinged play, "Is There a Preacher in the House?" on Saturday-- as well as weddings, corporate events and parties.

One big challenge will be weathering the Spectrum's latest expansion, which occupies most of the parking lot nearest the club. It'll be about a year before the expansion is done, and Nuccio hopes the mall's valet parking will ease any customer concerns.

He doesn't see the Crazy Horse giving up any significant business to the new House of Blues in Anaheim, opening in January as part of the Downtown Disney expansion.

Other House of Blues clubs book country shows, and Nuccio said, "I'm sure on occasion that will happen [in Anaheim]. But they usually go for different acts, so I really don't see them being any problems for us.

"In fact, I think it will end up being a very positive thing for us. As the county grows and people have other entertainment options, it just means that those people [at the House of Blues] also see that there's a lot of business out there. I look at that again as being a positive."

SHOW TIMES

The Blasters, Hellbound Hayride and Hot Rod Lincoln play tonight at the Crazy Horse Steak House, 71 Fortune Drive, Irvine. 8 p.m. (949) 585-9000.

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