Bakersfield Sound

In the 1950’s and 60’s Bakersfield became an unlikely birthplace for a new sound—The Bakersfield Sound

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.

Buck Owens Crystal Palace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Buck Owens Crystal Palace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Buck Owens Crystal Palace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Music became the region’s second natural resource. Performers such as Lefty Fizzell, Wynn Stewart, and Ferlin Husky ignited a national buzz around Bakersfield.

Buck Owens Crystal Palace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Buck Owens Crystal Palace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Buck Owens Crystal Palace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Buck Owens Crystal Palace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Buck Owens Crystal Palace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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. 

Buck Owens Crystal Palace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Buck Owens Crystal Palace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.  

Buck Owens Crystal Palace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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. 

Buck Owens Crystal Palace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to Stay: Bakersfield River Run RV Park, Orange Grove RV Park, Bakersfield RV Resort

Worth Pondering…

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

Find the Unexpected in Bakersfield

We went to Bakersfield to tour the home of the Bakersfield Sound

It might make sense to begin a story about RVing to Bakersfield with a disclaimer or two. We do not know anyone in Bakersfield, no family members who invited their relative down for a visit. The motorhome did not break down as we were making our way to the Coachella Valley.

We went to Bakersfield for Bakersfield.

Buck Owens Crystal Palace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

And at Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace just off Highway 99—a long, flat highway packed with cars and other RVers speeding to places perceived as bigger and better—we found ourselves among people who came to Bakersfield for the same reason we did: to tour the home of the Bakersfield Sound.

Buck Owens Crystal Palace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The Crystal Palace is a country night club that was owned and operated by Buck Owens, a honky-tonk guitarist and singer who moved from Texas (by way of Arizona) in 1950 when he was 20 and had dreams bigger than the truck-driving career he’d landed. Like the oil town he’s helped enhance the reputation of, Owens suffers some misperceptions of his own.

Buck Owens Crystal Palace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Such as the one that his main contribution to the entertainment industry consists of his 17-year tenure as co-host of “Hee Haw”. There’s a whole lot more to Buck than those TV years joshing around with banjo player Roy Clark and a certain woman known for her dangling price tag.

The songs he made hit have been covered by the Beatles (“Act Naturally”) to Ray Charles (“Together Again”).

Buck Owens Crystal Palace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Musicians including John Fogerty, Jerry Garcia, and Emmylou Harris have cited him as a major influence. His stretch of 15 consecutive No. 1 hits between 1963 and 1967 was unprecedented on country charts. Most significant, perhaps, he’s credited with giving rise to a new kind of country—the hard-driving, bare-bones honky-tonk style that came to be known as the Bakersfield Sound and spawned a fleet of successors, namely Merle Haggard and Dwight Yoakam.

Buck Owens Crystal Palace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Buck opened his Crystal Palace, a $6.7 million nightclub and restaurant, in 1966. To be honest, the place is less palace than Disney-Does-The-Old-West. Outside, the peach-colored building is lined with signs like “Telegraph Office” and “Lulu’s Millinary”.

Inside, 646 seats at long tables surround a stage and scuffed dance floor.

Buck Owens Crystal Palace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Exhibit cases walk you through artifacts of Buck’s career from his 1966 induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame to his Pontiac signed by Elvis Presley to a number of black-and-white glossies of Buck: There are signed photos from Presidents Nixon and Reagan.

Is there any other kind of music?

Buck Owens Crystal Palace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Heck no—not as far as Bakersfield is concerned. Country music is the town’s trump card, the thing locals point to with pride when the rest of California dismisses their city as a good place to fuel up, maybe buy a coke and some fries and get back on the road.

Buck Owens Crystal Palace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace corrects the misconceptions about Bakersfield and eliminates the need for disclaimers of any kind. It memorializes not only Buck by Bakersfield’s music history, a history that runs rich as the oil beneath the thirsty-looking plains surrounding the town. The two are linked. Oil is what drew people here at the turn of the century. It’s what kept the Okies here during the depression years. And when they came—nearly doubling Kern County’s population—they brought their hillbilly music with them.

Bakersfield River Run RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

For RVers like us, Bakersfield is an excellent RV adventure destination with three 5-star, big-rig friendly RV parks and resorts.

Located one mile from the Crystal Palace, big-rig friendly Bakersfield River Run RV Park is a well-maintained facility with 123 sites including 31 pull-though and 46 river view (back-in) sites, wide paved streets, compacted gravel/sand sites, concrete patios, and large grassy area. 50/30/20-amp electric service, water, sewer, and cable TV (84 channels) are centrally located. Wi-Fi internet works well from our site (#50); no problem locating satellite. Back-in sites to the Kern River are 65 footers. The park also has a recreation room with a fitness center, computer work stations, and laundry facilities. Ample shopping including Costco are located nearby.

Benji’s French Basque Restaurant © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

On our way back to our home-on-wheels, we treated ourselves to some amazing food at Benji’s Basque Restaurant, conveniently located two blocks from River Run RV Park. Bakersfield is home to the largest collection of Basque restaurants in the U. S. Numerous Basque restaurants offer traditional Basque experiences, carrying on the traditions of their ancestors. A Basque meal is served family style with hearty courses and meat (often lamb) or seafood entree.

Benji’s French Basque Restaurant © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

We ordered the Set Up and a excellent choice it was for our first Basque food experience. The soup, pinto beans, and salsa brought out to be mixed at the table in accordance with our wants was the first. The cabbage filled soup along with French bread was delicious. We were served the salad next. The fresh garden lettuce and sliced tomatoes were heartily dressed and delicious as was the pickled tongue.

Everything was delicious. We rolled out full of amazing food. Would visit this diamond again.

Worth Pondering…

Streets Of Bakersfield
Hey, you don’t know me, but you don’t like me
You say you care less how I feel
But how many of you that sit and judge me
Ever walked the streets of Bakersfield?
—lyrics by Dwight Yoakam; vocals by Buck Owens and Dwight Yoakam