In reviewing the Orange County pop music scene recently for Calendar, members of the local music community offered a wide range of responses on a variety of issues. There was, however, one subject that nearly everyone mentioned: the county's lack of a mid-size concert facility.
That's a topic that is particularly ripe for discussion during the winter months, after the county's two outdoor amphitheaters have closed and when original music is once again limited to a few clubs with capacities of 300 or less.
With a population of more than 2 million, many musicians and pop music fans continue to ask, why doesn't Orange County have at least one hall comparable to such Hollywood locations as the 1,200-capacity Palace or the 4,400-capacity Palladium?
In 1985, for every new or experimental group, such as 10,000 Maniacs or the Jesus and Mary Chain, that came to such small clubs as Safari Sam's in Huntington Beach, there were others, including the Replacements and the Cult, that bypassed Orange County on their Southland swings because there were no rooms that could handle them.
"Safari Sam's is great, but we couldn't do the Replacements there because there'd be 500 people waiting outside," said independent concert promoter Ed Christensen, who booked the Replacements' show at Fender's Ballroom in Long Beach in December. "Most of the people, probably 75% of the ticket sales, for Fender's shows come from Orange County. I think Orange County can support five or six clubs of (a capacity of) 500."
Christensen, who has also booked shows recently at the San Juan Creek Saloon in San Juan Capistrano, added that one of his goals for 1986 is to find or open a larger facility in Orange County and book some of the acts that don't play here now.
Some observers of the music scene even went as far as to say that one new facility of the proper size would be the single most important addition that could be made for Orange County's pop music scene. "A 1,500-seat club would overnight change it," said Mike Jacobs of Jacobs & Associates management and consulting firm.
"There are bands here that will do real well in El Toro, for instance, but if they try to go up (to Los Angeles) and play Madame Wong's, they might draw only three people. Then it's a stiff gig and Wong's doesn't want to book them again," Jacobs said. "They have no way to grow if they can't be seen on their home turf. But finding a room in a city that's open to doing it is going to be a tough nut to crack."
Others agreed that local government's frequent opposition to rock music clubs of any kind is a major obstacle.
"I think there's some kind of discriminatory police action against clubs playing new music," said C. P. Welch, owner of Atomic Records in Huntington Beach. "Is it just a coincidence that those clubs featuring new music are the ones always being investigated and cited? That says much about the personality of the Orange County community and police actions in general."
To others, however, the even more pressing problem of opening a mid-size club here is profitability.
"If there is room for improvement in Orange County, it's for something like the Palladium down there during the school year," said Steve Rennie, vice president of Avalon Attractions, one of Southern California's two largest concert promoters. "But even as well as we've done (booking shows) at the Palladium during the rest of the year, from about June until the end of September it is basically dark a lot."
In addition, competition from the Greek Theatre and Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles "makes the guarantees at the Palladium seem pretty paltry," Rennie said. "You've got the same situation in Orange County. With two or three buildings starting their seasons in March and running through November, there's no way a 6,000-seat place can compete with Irvine Meadows and Costa Mesa (Pacific Amphitheatre).
"There's just not room for everybody," Rennie said.
Those who echoed Rennie's feeling that a mid-size facility isn't likely to open soon in Orange County said the No. 1 reason is that the amphitheaters gobble up most of the performers who would probably play such a club, using them as opening acts for superstar attractions. In addition, the amphitheaters will frequently book headlining acts capable of drawing as little as 3,000 or 4,000.
"We came up with our Meadows Terrace setup where we sell just the orchestra and loge sections--about 6,100 seats," said Jeff Apregan, director of operations at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre. "I consider that to be a mid-size concert facility. So we can do jazz acts that sell about 3,500 to young rock acts that might sell 5,500 tickets. We have that flexibility. In the course of a whole season, you get to the point where you run out of superstars and you want to book people even though they won't sell it out."
Added Jim Guerinot, a booking agent for Avalon, which books Irvine Meadows shows: "The great thing about Irvine Meadows is that we can do 4,000 and it's not bad; it's not embarrassing for the acts. But there is also room to do more if it works out. The Palladium stops at 4,400 and if a band can do more than that, it just means you get kids waiting outside who can't get in."
One option for promoters during the amphitheaters' dark months has been college gymnasiums. But there were very few concerts during 1985 at UC Irvine and only a handful at Cal State Fullerton. Saddleback College hosted a few jazz concerts in its 700-seat McKinney Theatre in recent months.
"Administration types often pooh-pooh the idea," said Guerinot, who also has booked shows at both UC Irvine and Cal State Fullerton. "A lot of college people haven't done it since Jackson Browne and Linda Ronstadt (in the early 1970s), and they aren't exactly charging out to do it."
For those who say a mid-size facility isn't feasible because there aren't enough bands to fill it year-round, some say the answer is more creative thinking.
"A club doesn't necessarily have to be limited to live music," said Lance MacLean, who is the director of program services for the Associated Students of UCI and is in charge of concerts at the university. "On nights when they didn't have concerts, they could have video dances, show alternative cinema. . . . They could do a combination of things at the right facility. It would just take a little creativity."
While there was much debate over whether Orange County will get a mid-size concert hall in the near future, most agreed that such a facility is a necessary component of any fully developed music scene.
"Eventually," said Jacobs, echoing the sentiments of the majority of those interviewed, "somebody is going to open a club between the (275-capacity) Golden Bear and the (18,000-capacity) Pacific Amphitheatre, and they're going to clean up."
SUE ME SUE YOU BLUES: Agent Orange is back in the courtroom, but this time it's not the Vietnam defoliant that's the subject of litigation. The Fullerton-based trio Agent Orange has filed a suit in Orange County Superior Court claiming that Los Angeles-based independent label Posh Boy Records and its owner Robbie Fields has never produced accounting reports or royalty payments for the group's 1982 album "Living in Darkness" and its 1983 "Bitchin' Summer" EP.
The suit alleges breach of contract and asks that the Posh Boy's rights to all Agent Orange material be rescinded, along with Agent Orange's original recording contract with the label. The group is also asking for a permanent injunction against Fields to prevent him from proceeding with licensing the records to another label, Suite Beat, for re-release. The group claims that the re-release of those older records will be damaging and create confusion among the public because the band is preparing a new album, due in February, under a recently signed deal with Enigma Records. A hearing on the injunction request is scheduled for Jan. 15.
Fields said Tuesday that he was "very surprised" by the suit but added: "I'm listed as producer of the album and very proud of my contribution. So I plan to defend my rights to the hilt." Fields disputed allegations that the band members were never paid and that they never received any accountings, saying: "I gave accountings to them three times." He also said he paid the group two advances totaling about $4,100 between 1980 and 1982.
"I've been trying to settle with them for years but they have ignored all my attempts to do so," Fields said.
LIVE ACTION: Jack Mack & the Heart Attack returns to the Golden Bear in Huntington Beach on Jan. 10, followed Jan. 11 by Dave Mason. . . . Shattered Faith will play Safari Sam's in Huntington Beach on Thursday. Black Flag will be at Safari Sam's on Jan. 13. . . . Honk will perform Jan. 12 at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa.