Roger Daltrey to play the OC Fair, for charity

Roger Daltrey doesn't perform at fairs. Usually, anyway.

Saturday’s concert at the Pacific Amphitheatre will be his second such gig in a career spanning 50 years. The first was in Minnesota in the 1990s. The details escape him, he said — it's been so long.

Hardcore fans tend to flock to theaters and arenas, regardless of whether it’s a solo program or a tour by the Who. Fairs are a strange sort of fun because you can never be sure what you’re going to get, Daltrey admitted.

What about the OC Fair urged him to sign up, then?

“For a charity, I’ll play anywhere,” he responded.

The charity in question is Teen Cancer America, Daltrey’s pet project for the past two years. He spent a decade prior to that laying the groundwork in the United States.

“It’s just an anathema to me that, in this day and age, people in the medical community haven’t come to terms [with the fact] that teenagers are very different from children and adults,” he said, frustration rippling through his voice. “They get very different diseases, react very differently, need more psychological help and very little is done. It’s my aim to change that.”


The kids are all right

Daltrey is leading from the front, hoping that American bands will put their strength behind this initiative for adolescents ages 13 to 23. His goal is to highlight this demographic, which is otherwise erroneously swept into the categories of children or adults, he said.

What he calls the “cheaper end of care” is pegged to the construction of hospital units with professional services, specialized nursing and a teenage-friendly environment. Cautioning that he could discuss this topic for hours, Daltrey noted that one in every 360 boys and 420 girls is diagnosed with rare, aggressive strains of cancer. Late diagnoses and isolation make it worse.

In the past 25 years, the England-based Teen Cancer Trust has relied on the help of Daltrey and bandmate Pete Townshend, establishing more than two dozen wards — similar to dormitories — that create a venue for similarly stricken young patients to be in each other’s company.

Such facilities are met with enthusiasm by medical personnel and ailing adolescents, Teen Cancer America chair Rebecca Rothstein remarked. The teenage wings are a step up for many who have undergone treatment under the old system.

A believer that the best therapist for a teenager is another teenager, Daltrey, 69, recounted conversations with parents whose offspring struggled to express themselves. Add a cancer diagnosis to the mix and they go entirely inward, which he deemed “horrendous.”

“This isn’t a cupboard in a side hallway — there’s MTV,” he noted. “They can cook and be together. They can just be teenagers.”


Call it a bargain

In Costa Mesa, $1 from each ticket sold will be donated to the Who Cares Foundation, which funds Teen Cancer America’s efforts. Having forayed into the UCLA Medical Center, Daltrey is now looking to help other Southern California hospitals with oncology services for youths.

Originally, Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek was scheduled to take the stage. When the 74-year-old passed away in May, OC Fair entertainment director Dan Gaines immediately honed in on his friend, Daltrey.

“We felt that Roger taking the date might be a way to pay homage to Ray,” Gaines said. “Also, I believe Ray's death resulted after a long battle with cancer. Since Roger's concert will benefit teen cancer research, we felt that this was also a meaningful link between Ray and Roger.”

The father of an 11-year-old girl who is crossing her fingers for a Daltrey rendition of “Behind Blue Eyes” — which the Who singer said is often mistaken for a Limp Bizkit original — Gaines also noticed a man in his 80s scooping up tickets. “Who wouldn't want to attend?” he asked, seeing as this is potentially a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many locals to catch a glimpse of the music icon and sing along to Who hits.

This won’t be Daltrey’s only Orange County appearance, though. Scott Hays, a host of “The Friendship Show” on KX 93.5 FM, will interview him and Rothstein at 9 a.m. Saturday.


The song is not over

The musician, who is fresh on the heels of a successful “Quadrophenia and More” tour with the Who across Europe, revealed that he enjoys every moment singing, even if being on the road tends to resemble “Groundhog Day.”

Proud of the Who legacy, Daltrey thinks back to postwar England when food was rationed, forcing him to build several guitars for his band. Whether he begged, borrowed or stole bits of wood, he never questioned his profession as a singer. Simply put, nothing else interested him after a televised Elvis Presley performance when he was 11 .

When asked about the source of the band’s name, Daltrey quipped, “I was just mucking around one night. It sounded stupid, so I thought, ‘That’d do.’”

Having gone to school with Townshend and bassist John Entwistle, Daltrey considers drummer Keith Moon the final piece of the Who puzzle. He likened the group’s first performance together to watching a jet engine come to life, adding, “Certainly, if we ever had a chance of making it, that was the moment I knew it.”

Daltrey is grateful to Townshend, the Who’s principal songwriter and only other surviving original member, for crafting songs that, although not easy, were a joy to sing. The rawness that shimmies through their music is well matched by the timelessness of the lyrics.

Despite a Kennedy Center honor and a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's loudest band, Daltrey is committed to leading a normal life, which, he said, includes taking out the trash.

Amid the laughter that welled forth, he admitted to feeling like the same person he was before embarking on a journey that few have experienced.

“You do all this in your life, but inside you’re the same person you were when you started,” he reflected. “You’re still trying to do the best you can with what you’ve got. If you ever sit back and think, ‘God, I’ve made it,’ it’ll all be over.”

If You Go

What: Roger Daltrey Charity Concert to benefit Teen Cancer America

Where: Pacific Amphitheatre, OC Fair and Event Center, 88 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa

When: 8:15 p.m. Saturday

Cost: $44.20 to $77.85


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