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ARTS WATCH : DEL MAR FAIR OPENS MUSICAL CORNUCOPIA

San Diego County Arts Editor

The annual Del Mar Fair is just the sort of county perennial that leaves a columnist scratching for a new angle, and coming up dry. Let’s see, the new statue of the fair’s late host and symbol, Don Diego, has been unveiled to the press in advance, so that’s out. Still, the fair’s 1985 edition begins Thursday at the Fairgrounds, and that by itself is news. And, as usual, a glance at the roster of pop acts scheduled for daily concerts at the racetrack grandstand reveals a musical variety unmatched by other local concert series.

Where else might the fairgoer satisfy a nostalgic taste for the Harry James Orchestra and the Lennon Sisters one night (June 27) and the next indulge the Latino-tinged barroom rock ‘n’ roll of Los Lobos (June 30)? Where else do Patti Page and, again, the Harry James Orchestra share the day’s billing with Rob Hanna’s Salute to Rod Stewart (July 4)? And where else can the aging hippie catch up with an old Woodstock-era fave such as Jesse Colin Young and the Youngbloods (June 23) and the next night catch the very latest pop-chart sensations (“Walkin’ on Sunshine”), Katrina and the Waves (June 24)?

All in all, the fair’s 1985 entertainment roster shapes up better than any in recent years. The diversity is matched by the quality and the promise of several acts who can turn their shows into a bona fide concert event. Thursday’s opener is the pop-R&B; group New Edition, which tends to ape the Jacksons more than anything, but Friday’s attraction is Texas blues guitar phenom Stevie Ray Vaughan and his band, Double Trouble. Although Vaughan has never lived up to the commercial potential sparked by his hotly hyped stint with David Bowie and signing to Columbia Records, the bluesman is a genuine guitar wizard who can rouse and seduce a crowd with his passionate interpretations and rapid-fire bursts.

Then, on June 26, singer Emmylou Harris performs. One of country music’s quietly charismatic treasures, Harris has a rapturous presence and a deceptively gentle way with a song, her voice building in concert to expressive peaks. On July 1, the quintessential power-pop band Cheap Trick--fallen far from its arena-filling height of a few years back--is slated, and hard-rock fans could do a lot worse. Trick deserves better than its fate, having married a witty, light touch to some of the loudest music of the ‘80s.

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July 5 brings the revived and updated rockabilly of The Blasters, who should thrive in the grandstand setting, and July 6 brings Philip Bailey--hot from his “Easy Lover” duet with Phil Collins--and one of the most engaging and stylish pop-soul vocalists around (2 p.m.). Also hot that day is Amy Grant (7:30 p.m.), whose Christian-rock approach has been broadening its appeal a lot lately. The fair closes July 7 with a big name, ex-Eagle Glenn Frey, whose solo success has been boosted recently by his appearance on a “Miami Vice” episode keyed to his contraband anthem, “Smuggler’s Blues.”

BELIEVE IT OR NOT: The Starlight management has come to terms with the intermittent intrusion from overhead aircraft by stopping the onstage action while the planes roar over the Starlight Bowl. Starlight audiences have learned to live with the interruptions too, and some of the unusual stage pictures created by the obligatory freezes even evoke a round of applause.

But outsiders still scratch their heads in disbelief at the Starlight solution. It has even caught the attention of television director Yong Kil Hong, who came to San Diego last week during Starlight rehearsals of “George M!” to film the freeze phenomenon (complete with the rumble of jets overhead) for Japanese television. The segment will be aired on the Japanese equivalent of Ripley’s “Believe It or Not” (literally translated “True or Lie”).

SOUNDS SHIFT: The “Hot Summer Sounds” concert series at the La Jolla Village Inn, beset by problems with city zoning, has been moved to the Kona Kai Club on Shelter Island, promoter Marc Berman of MBC Presents has announced.

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The series, which began with a sold-out David Sanborn concert in late April, will resume at the new facility Thursday (June 20) with a three-night stand by jazz fusion group Spyro Gyra. Each performance will start at 8:30 p.m.

Next in line for the outdoor concert series will be a three-act blues show headlined by guitarist B.B. King, scheduled for the Kona Kai Club on Sunday for two shows starting at 7 and 9:30 p.m. Also on the bill that night will be Bobby “Blue” Bland and Albert King.

Berman said tickets to both shows previously purchased for the Hot Summer Sounds series will be honored at the new facility. Tickets will also be on sale this week at all Teleseat outlets and at the Kona Kai Club on the days of performance.

PLAYHOUSE: The La Jolla Playhouse has set a final performance of the Stephen Sondheim-William Furth musical, “Merrily We Roll Along” for July 7 at the Mandell Weiss Center for the Performing Arts on the UC San Diego campus. A benefit for the Playhouse, the performance will be priced at $65 per ticket. Sondheim and director James Lapine are due to fly in from New York for the event . . . Speaking of the Playhouse, artistic director Des McAnuff will be speaking of the Playhouse--and no doubt of his Tony Award-winning stint as director of Broadway’s (formerly La Jolla’s) “Big River"--at 5 p.m. Saturday on Gloria Penner’s KFMB-FM radio talk show. The McAnuff interview will repeat at 11 p.m. June 24 and at 2:30 p.m. June 25.

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ARTBEATS: When the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith pays tribute to Joan B. Kroc (founder of the Joan B. Kroc Foundation and owner of the San Diego Padres) tonight for her philanthropic and charitable contributions, there will be two surprise show business guests at the banquet. Burt Reynolds and Sid Caesar, special friends of the honoree, are slated to join the 600-plus guests at the Hotel Inter-Continental for the presentation of the “National Distinguished Community Service Award” . . . Meanwhile, actors Patrick Duffy and William Shatner--among others--are slated to show off their saddle horses Thursday at the Del Mar Fair’s Saddle Horse Show, which runs through Saturday, with performances at 1 and 7 p.m.


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