There’s always a reason to visit the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum.
For the next two years, one of those reasons is “The Bakersfield Sound: Buck Owens, Merle Haggard and California Country.” This 5,000 square foot exhibit opens Friday, and some 400 invited fabulons got a sneak peak at an opening gala Wednesday evening (3/21).
Staged in the same second-floor space that has held the highly heralded Hank Williams and “Night Train to Nashville” exhibits, this is the brightest lit and most colorful of them all. There are loads of vintage videos, touch-screen displays of recording lore, listening stations and biographical plaques. Maps are used as graphic devices. You are greeted by the spangled costumes of The Maddox Brothers & Rose, “The Most Colorful Hillbilly Band in the Land.” You walk beneath a mini replica of the iconic Bakersfield arch. You enter a rotunda Hag listening room.
There are mini history lessons about the Dust Bowl Migration, central California and honky-tonk culture. Glass cases hold vivid costumes, vintage instruments to drool over, posters, LP jackets, evocative historic photos and lots of other cool artifacts. Dwight Yoakam narrates the accompanying Bakersfield film.
During the opening party, Kyle Young called the Bakersfield Sound, “a new brand of loud, danceable country music.” More to the point, vice president of museum services Carolyn Tate called the party, itself, “a wonderful, wonderful celebration. I think we have the best parties in the world when we open these exhibits.”
You certainly couldn’t quibble about the guest list. Among the first people I encountered were Rose Lee Maphis, Jody Maphis, Lynn Anderson, Casey Anderson, Emmylou Harris, Jo Walker-Meador, Jeff Hanna, Webb Wilder, Jeannie Seely, Dallas Frazier, Harold Bradley and Ralph Emery.
As usual, the food was superb. By the way, if you haven’t done lunch in the Conservatory, you’re missing one of Music City’s grooviest menus.
And you couldn’t complain about the music. The beyond-capacity crowd in the Ford Theatre was treated to a Telecaster tornado courtesy of Deke Dickerson, Kenny Vaughan and Red Simpson.
Star power? The party agenda had that, too. “I think back to the moments when my heart skipped a beat,” said Brad Paisley, paraphrasing a Buck Owens hit title. “One of them was when I moved to Nashville in 1993.” When he completed his first album, Brad sent a copy to Buck with a note saying, “See if you can hear a little of yourself somewhere in here.” Buck asked if Brad was playing all the guitar solos on the record. Brad said he was. Buck said, “Bullshit,” and “Prove it.” So Brad booked a date at Buck’s Crystal Palace nightclub and did. “My second my-heart-skipped-a-beat moment was driving under the Bakersfield sign. I don’t have any idea what country music would be like without these guys.”
Lucky party goers included Kay Smith, Kay Clary, Peter Guralnick, Pete Finney, Don Light, Don Cusic, Donna & Gerald Nicely, David & Susana Ross, David Ezell & Lois Riggins, Rob McNeilly, Robbie Cogswell, Del Bryant, Joe Galante, George Gruhn, Jerry & Ernie Williams, Lon Helton, Frank Mull, Sarah Trahern, Randy Goodman, Nancy Shapiro, Chris Horsnell, Seab Tuck, Clarence Spalding, Earle Simmons, Karen Leipziger, Lori Badgett, Tom Roland and Tom “Batman” Baldrica (so billed at his request).
“There’s a lot to see upstairs – my whole life growing up,” Michael Owens told the merry mob, reminding everyone that his mom, the late Bonnie Owens, was married to Buck Owens and then Merle Haggard. Upstairs in the exhibit, she is referred to as “The Queen of Bakersfield.” “It’s fabulous what you have done here,” added Michael. “Thank you, on behalf of my dad Buck and my mom Bonnie.”
“I’m honored that Nashville has finally seen fit to give honor to this music,” added Brad Paisley. Amen, brother.