The city gained fame in the late 1950s and early ’60s for the Bakersfield Sound. The sub genre of country music—described as a mix of twangy guitars, drums, fiddle, and steel guitar—was a defiant reaction to the string orchestras and the polished sound of albums being recorded in Nashville during this time.
Oil is what drew people here at the turn of the century. It’s what kept the Okies here fleeing the Dust Bowl in the 1930s. And when they came—nearly doubling Kern County’s population—they brought their hillbilly music with them.
Displaced and impoverished, they sang around campfires in work camps. They held dances in Farm Security Administration settlements. They opened cheap beer joints—later called honky-tonks—whose house bands bean to play a different kind of country music: electric, danceable, swinging.
Music became the region’s second natural resource. Performers such as Lefty Fizzell, Wynn Stewart, and Ferlin Husky ignited a national buzz around Bakersfield.
Many musicians and entertainers were involved in making the Bakersfield Sound a global phenomenon, however none were more well-known than Country Music Hall of Fame members Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. Both artists cut their teeth at the bars and honkytonks around Bakersfield before gaining international prominence.
Owens would go on to have a extremely successful entertainment career, charting 21 number one hits including “Act Naturally” and “I’ve Got a Tiger By the Tail.” Owens also spent nearly 17 years co-hosting the popular country-themed variety TV show Hee-Haw.
Haggard, in trouble with the law in his early days, rose to fame with songs like “Okie From Muskogee” and “The Fightin Side of Me” among his 38 number one songs. Both artists have local streets named in their honor.
Perhaps the most popular artist aside from Owens to be influenced by the Bakersfield Sound is Dwight Yoakam. In 1988 Owens and Yoakam collaborated on “The Streets of Bakersfield,” a duet which became Yoakam’s first number one singles hit. Yoakam’s album, Dwight Sings Buck, is a tribute honoring the legacy of Owens and his lasting impact on country music.
Opened in 1996, Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace is a must see for visitors to Bakersfield. The all-in-one restaurant, museum, and music venue spotlights the rich history of the Bakersfield Sound and the career of Buck Owens. The Palace is home to countless items of memorabilia from Owens’ early days to his time as co-host of Hee-Haw and his final years as a living legend. Until his passing in 2006 Owens would perform each weekend to fans that came from across the globe to pay homage to the star.
Many of today’s biggest country stars interrupt world tours to play the intimate 550-seat venue. Visitors can experience live entertainment and dancing every Tuesday through Saturday night. The world famous Buckaroos entertain guests most Friday and Saturday evenings and occasionally are fronted by Buck’s son, Buddy Owens.
The Palace is regularly nominated for Nightclub of the Year by the Academy of Country Music. In 2005 country superstar Garth Brooks proposed to then country singer girlfriend Trisha Yearwood on the Palace stage.
For a comprehensive history of the Bakersfield Sound, a visit to the Kern County Museum is essential for visitors. The permanent exhibit is located inside the main museum building and features costumes, instruments, and memorabilia related to country music in Bakersfield.
Where to Stay: Bakersfield River Run RV Park, Orange Grove RV Park, Bakersfield RV Resort
Streets Of Bakersfield
I came here looking for something
I couldn’t find anywhere else
Hey, I’m not trying to be nobody
I just want a chance to be myself
I’ve spent a thousand miles a-thumbin’
Yes, I’ve worn blisters on my heels
Trying to find me something better
Here on the streets of Bakersfield
—lyrics by Dwight Yoakam; vocals by Buck Owens and Dwight Yoakam