For music enthusiasts, Bakersfield is much more than an agricultural hub. The Central Valley city—and in particular, Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace—is the home of a whole music genre. It began in the 1930s, when the Dust Bowl drove farmers from Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado and other states to California, and they brought with them their own country-based music aesthetic. Honky-tonk bars started springing up around Bakersfield, and in the late 1950s and ’60s a few local musicians—namely Texas-born Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, whose parents had come from Oklahoma—popularised a more rocking, less-produced style of country music that became widely known as The Bakersfield Sound.
Buck Owens didn’t just shape the sound that has influenced generations of country and rock musicians, from Creedence Clearwater Revival to Dwight Yoakam—he also created a vibrant musical monument to preserve it. In 1996, Owens opened the Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace, a 550-seat music hall, bar, restaurant and museum. Located just off US Highway 99 in the heart of Bakersfield, the Palace transports visitors to a film-set version of the Old West (think archetypal Western shopfronts with swinging saloon doors, a sheriff’s office and even a jail) and offers a full calendar of raw-country musical acts.
Some of the biggest names in country, from Willie Nelson to Brad Paisley, have given impromptu performances at the Palace, and on any night of the week you’ll find patrons two-stepping or line-dancing the night away, dining on homely cuisine like chicken fried steak and mesquite-wood-smoked rib eye, and perusing the immense collection of music memorabilia. (The real showpiece hangs above the bar: Owens’ 1972 Pontiac convertible with bullock horns mounted on the bonnet.) You can also rub elbows with Owens’ greatest musical influencers—including Elvis, Johnny Cash and Hank Williams—who are immortalised as life-size bronze statues.
California’s heartland offers up one of the state’s most authentic and sensory-rich experiences, a chance to see—and taste—the state’s bounty at every turn. Follow oak-shaded country roads to farm stands overflowing with fresh produce, and meander along wine trails to some of the state’s most productive vineyards and low-key tasting rooms.
Peaches, plums, apricots, and tomatoes—just some of the ultra-fresh produce you will find at farm stands throughout the valley.
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