The Bakersfield Sound: Does the legacy continue?


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 The Bakersfield Sound, in many ways, put our city on the map. Country musicians, Buck Owens and Merle Haggard were responsible for coming up with a unique sound that had never been done before. But, what is the Bakersfield Sound? I’m not sure that there is a definitive answer for that.

However, Wednesday evening, many gathered at the Metro Gallery in downtown Bakersfield to reminisce on the influence of the Bakersfield Sound and what it sounds like today. Is the legacy of Owens and Haggard living on?

Moderated by Robert Price of The Bakersfield Californian, several experts joined him to discuss where the Bakersfield Sound has been and where it’s going. Among those experts were Jim Shaw, Buckaroo band member for Buck Owens and manager of Buck Owens’ Production, Jennifer Keel, singer and local economic development official and Matt Munoz, Bakersfield musician and entertainment writer.

In the mid ’60s and ‘70s, the Nashville sound was changed forever, thanks to guys like Buck Owens and Merle Haggard.

Shaw explained it as “smoothing out” what the record labels and producers were doing in Nashville studios, even comparing it to the Beatles. It opened the door for many other artists to follow in their lead.

Keel described it as “innovative” and “maverick,” also noting that it “doesn’t sound like Nashville and the rest of the world.”

“You can feel the emotion of the hardworking people,” Matt Munoz added. They were hard workers but also partied hard, and wanted to share their stories.

Has the Bakersfield Sound changed the culture, though?

“It gives Bakersfield a sense of place,” said Keel. People travel from all over the world to visit the Crystal Palace for a weekend; it’s something that is part of our culture in town.

Munoz stated that there seemed to be “a lot of reverence” for Buck, and that he’s hip all over the world.

The Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville opened an exhibit about the sound and the impact it has had on country music, and having visited, I can attest that it did us proud. Nashville appreciates the uniqueness that we have; they romanticize what the “Streets of Bakersfield” are really like.

But, the big question, is the Bakersfield Sound still alive today? That’s hard to say. Although, there are some younger artists around town paying homage to artists who paved the way, new artists haven’t continued writing or playing new material. It’s a different world than it used to be. Most of our local groups aren’t branching out beyond the Bakersfield border.

If there was one thing that was decided, it’s that “there is a sense of place that other people don’t have.”

Following the panel, questions were opened up to the audience and a reception shortly followed after.

The event was hosted by Zocalo Public Square, which hosts free and public events and is an “innovative blend of live events and humanities journalism.”