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Sun Theatre Set to Rise on Pop Landscape

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Beatles sang about fixing a hole where the rain gets in. The Sun Theatre, Orange County’s newest, glitziest pop concert club, aims to fix a perennial, gaping hole in the county’s network of music venues and lure big-name touring acts that often have skipped Orange County because there was no suitably sized place to play.

The Sun, scheduled to open Sept. 2, is a hangar-like, yellow and tan concrete box in a corner of the parking lot at Edison International Field of Anaheim. Having cost its owner, Ogden Entertainment, $15-million to build and equip, the Sun previously was Tinseltown Studios, an entertainment novelty that flopped when the public shrugged at a fantasy format in which patrons got to pretend they were stars at an Oscar-like awards ceremony.

Now the stars will be real.

Styx, the 1970s-vintage rock band, will open the Sun, followed by Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd on Sept. 3 and country music star Dwight Yoakam, Sept. 9. The three acts typically play much larger venues than the Sun, which holds 1,200 people for most shows. The capacity is 1,600 if all tables and seats are removed, said Ron Drake, the Sun’s general manager, and 1,014 if there is table seating only, with no standing room.

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That’s enough to give the Sun, which offers meals along with music and drinking, a free, virtually unrivaled rein in Orange County to book any acts that figure to draw more than 650 fans and fewer than 10,000.

The Sun’s other bookings so far are Ten Years After on Sept. 16; the Young Dubliners, Oct. 1; and Robert Palmer, Oct. 3.

“It’s the mid-[sized] venue Orange County has been screaming for,” said Ken Phebus, the Sun’s concert director.

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Until last week, Phebus, 52, was concert director for both the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano, a position he’d held for 14 years, and its sister club, the Galaxy Concert Theatre in Santa Ana.

With no significant competition in Orange County, the 492-capacity Coach House and the 650-capacity Galaxy became known as small clubs that occasionally could land Goliath-sized acts such as Miles Davis, Carly Simon, Tom Jones, Little Richard, Beck, Jethro Tull, Willie Nelson and the B-52’s.

Now, Coach House and Galaxy owner Gary Folgner acknowledges he will be the underdog in bidding for many of those acts, which can sell more tickets at the Sun, or play a single show there rather than two shows at his clubs.

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“The Coach House has enjoyed being the only game in town, and as a result has gotten acts that maybe should have played larger venues, but there wasn’t another option for that market,” said Chris Goldsmith, an agent for artists including John Lee Hooker and Robert Cray. “There will be more of an opportunity [in Orange County] for artists who couldn’t find a niche in between Los Angeles and San Diego.”

“I see this as a positive for Orange County, from the fans’ standpoint and the artists’,” concurred Jonathan Levine, another agent.

The venue’s ceiling is about 45 feet high; the blue-carpeted floor rises in five tiers along a gentle slope, with no sight-line obstructions between the stage and the seats set up at the club’s long, rectangular, white-clothed tables. The lighting rig seems more suitable to a small arena than a concert club; on the stage, which is 4 feet high, the Art Deco-ish set for the Tinseltown show has not yet been struck.

For fans, close proximity with big names will not come cheaply: Tickets cost $65 for Lynyrd Skynyrd, $52.50 for Yoakam and $50 for Styx--comparable to what the Coach House, the Galaxy and the county’s leading country music venue, the Crazy Horse Steak House in Santa Ana, have charged for their biggest-name attractions. Those three established clubs have free parking; Sun Theatre parking costs $5, which rises to $7 on nights when Edison Field has an event.

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