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.
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.
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.
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”).
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 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.
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?
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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