Anaheim Denies Permits for Benefit Concerts at Fire Site

Times Staff Writer

Steve Ayotte's co-workers at Big John's Billiards and his friends among the Orange County music community thought that a pair of benefit concerts to pay him tribute and raise money for his funeral might help relieve some of the shock of his death last weekend in an accidental fire that destroyed the restaurant and nightclub.

But they won't happen, at least not as originally planned, because Anaheim city officials refused organizers permission to hold any events at the site of last Sunday's disaster.

Anaheim code enforcement supervisor John Poole said the burned-out restaurant and nightclub, which sustained damage estimated at $800,000, would be unsafe and cited complaints registered by neighbors about the potential noise as the reasons city officials denied special event permits.

"It's a very good idea to have the benefit for the man who died in the fire," Poole said, "but they need to hold it somewhere that is safe and where the event is permitted.

"We suggested that they have it in a facility that is already enclosed. Anaheim Convention Center has facilities, and there are other facilities for rent in Anaheim and surrounding cities."

Jim Palmer, Big John's former booking agent, said he had lined up Firehose and several other Southland rock groups to participate in one benefit to raise money for Ayotte's funeral, which is scheduled Sunday.

An employee of Big John's, Ayotte was sleeping in the building when it burned down early last Sunday morning. (Anaheim fire investigator Mike Feeney said Thursday that arson has been ruled out but that the incident is still under investigation.)

But Palmer added that Ayotte's family has since arranged to pay for the funeral, so that there is no longer a need for the fund-raiser.

At the same time, Ayotte's co-workers were planning another concert as a musical tribute Saturday on the lot where what is left of Big John's sits.

In light of the city's denial of special event permits, the organizers said they still hoped to have some sort of concert on Saturday, but as yet they had not found a location.

"If we can't have it at that location, we'll move it," said Sherra Ewing, a Big John's employee. "We don't want to let Big John's end like that."

Meanwhile, several concerts that had been booked at Big John's for coming weeks have been moved to other locations. The Arizona-based Meat Puppets will play the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano with Firehose on Feb. 7.

Specific dates will be announced shortly for the Reivers show that has been moved to Bogart's in Long Beach, and the Joneses, who will perform at Night Moves in Huntington Beach, now the only club in Orange County regularly booking local bands that play original music.

Palmer also said he hopes to book some small-scale shows at the Sports Cafe in Westminster. The cafe's owner, Jeff Lambert, got in touch with Palmer and offered the facility after reading about the Big John's fire and the loss it represented to Orange County's original music scene.

Coach House owner Gary Folgner also said he will discuss with Palmer the possibility of giving local bands more opportunity to perform at his popular concert club.

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