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RIFFS, Rants, Raves, Reflections

TIMES STAFF WRITER

County to Youth: Get Lost.

So might go a tabloid headline encapsulating what’s been going on in Orange County these 20 years.

For two decades, high-energy rock ‘n’ roll music--the spectrum of sounds, styles and attitudes that started with punk and developed into “alternative” and “modern rock"--has captured the ears, allegiances and imaginations of tens of thousands of Orange County kids.

Many love listening to it so much that it becomes a defining current in their lives. Some prove so adept at playing it that it makes them internationally famous.

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The outside world has embraced Orange County’s homemade rock ‘n’ roll movement to the tune of more than 28 million album sales in the U.S. alone during the ‘90s.

The Offspring, No Doubt, Sublime, Sugar Ray, Reel Big Fish, Korn and Social Distortion lead the way with an assortment of radio hits and gold and platinum albums. But what’s welcomed beyond O.C.'s borders remains disenfranchised at home.

Consider what happened last month when the Offspring launched a hot-selling new album, “Americana,” with a series of special Southern California concerts. They played three nights in Hollywood at the Palace, then at the Glass House in Pomona and Soma in San Diego, cutting a precise arc around their home county. They could have called it the Eviction Tour. Or maybe the There’s No There There Tour-after literary lioness Gertrude Stein’s pithy dismissal of Oakland as a cultural vacuum.

There really is no Here here for noteworthy Orange County bands and their fans. Oh, No Doubt played two nights at the Pond in ’97, UC Irvine’s Bren Events Center has hosted a handful of shows--a pittance compared to what used to play on campus before university officials declared most brands of alterna-rock “musica non grata” a few years ago--and once or twice a year a festival bill at Irvine Meadows will feature a smattering of local talent playing quickie sets. But there is no adequate, home-like venue in Orange County for acts that have graduated from the grass-roots clubs and gained fame or at least stepped up a rung or two on the ladder of success. Such a place would also serve as a friendly port of call for touring acts that now routinely skip O.C. when they come to Southern California.

When success beckons for O.C. bands, it’s off to Hollywood, Pomona, Riverside or San Diego for their shows. Wedded to an outdated vision of suburban tranquility, Orange County officialdom just doesn’t want the hassle of keeping tabs on a thousand or so excited kids.

The Galaxy Concert Theatre in Santa Ana, which holds up to 650, is a splendid venue that has done some nice alterna-rock shows, but for various reasons too complicated to go into here, it has failed to become the kind of place that most emerging or returning-hero local bands would look to as their home, or that most touring alterna-rockers would regard fondly as an essential port of call.

Orange County’s tradition of official suspicion toward the alterna-rock movement plays a part in that. “We have three or four nights a month that will draw a younger crowd,” said Gary Folgner, the Galaxy’s owner. “If you had it on a steady diet, day in and day out, I doubt it would be tolerated much at all. When you do a show by B.B. King, you don’t get a [police] call. [At aggressive, youth-oriented shows] somebody gets angry, somebody gets testosterone going too much. I don’t think [authorities] would put up with the number of calls we [would] have.”

Paul Tollett of Goldenvoice and Bill Fold of 98 Posse, two of the leading alterna-rock promoters in Southern California, agree that an Orange County venue that could hold 1,200 to 1,500 fans, with no age restrictions, would be hugely successful. Tollett holds out hope that the right kind of venue, properly isolated from residential neighbors, might pass muster with officialdom. Fold thinks the waters have been so poisoned by two decades of venues sprouting up and being shut down--sometimes with justification due to the booking errors or security lapses of underqualified promoters--that even a first-rate proposal by a promoter with a good track record for solid security and responsible booking (i.e., no bands likely to attract a hooligan element) stands little chance.

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“The potential is definitely there, but a lot of [promoters] have shied away, just knowing how the cities react to a bunch of kids,” Fold said. “The long range consequence of a city that doesn’t have a live music venue for an all-ages crowd is kids finding other things to do like drinking and smoking and hanging out in parking lots. It’s very constructive for a kid to go to a show, instead of on a Friday night go to a backyard party and have a keg, and maybe get in a fight, or maybe get shot at.”

Yes, some kids might try to bring the alcohol or drug bash or brawling to the concert. If that is inevitable, parents and officials might ask themselves whether it’s more responsible to keep them close to home, or send them packing off to Hollywood or Pomona. Or whether it’s apt to be worse than what a professional football franchise might bring.

Ultimately, Orange County has to reckon with matters of identity and cultural change. Are we the same tidy suburb that had its sensibilities jolted 20 years ago when kids who were supposed to be motivated achievers started trying on the rebellious attitudes and confrontational fashion statements of punk rock? Or have we grown up enough to realize that we’ve changed into a metropolitan hub--and that our kids have developed their homegrown music into a successful, global industry of its own?

It is shockingly hypocritical that O.C. officialdom, citing the need for economic growth, can contemplate building a new airport, with all the urban disruption and noise that would entail--yet fail to make a place for (much less exploit) a proven growth industry that could bring renown as well as bucks back to Orange County.

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It’s time for O.C. to get over its past of confronting confrontational music confrontationally. It’s time to grow up and accept our youth as they are, not as our outdated ideas from old-time sitcoms and Norman Rockwell paintings tell us they should be. It’s time to write a new headline that reads: County To Youth: Welcome Home.

IN-DEPTH LOOK: For a history of alt-rock scene in Orange County, turn to Page 5.


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