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Still Legendary: The Music Scene of Bakersfield, California

Bakersfield has long been renowned as the home of country legends like Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. Dwight Yoakam further immortalized the city with the song “Streets of Bakersfield,” followed by the Vince Gill album titled “Bakersfield.” So what’s all the country music fuss about? In short, it’s about the historic and legendary Bakersfield music scene that grew out of music created by Dust Bowl migrants. For a great night out and music with an edgier more honky-tonk sound than straight-out-of-Nashville, check out these Bakersfield hot spots.

Trouts

Rockwell at Trouts- Photo by: Robert Bejil
Rockwell at Trouts- Photo by: Robert Bejil

Trouts is another strong music venue, scruffier than the Crystal Palace, but with an equally large stage. This spot is adults-only and geared toward drinks and beer rather than dining. This venue also gets the crowd on its feet and dancing on two dance floors with a range of local and national acts stopping by to play. Trouts has been around since 1931 and is long and well known for encouraging and preserving the Bakersfield Sound. It’s also somewhat of a museum, with historical memorabilia, photos, and videos on display.

Like the Grand Old Opry in Nashville, Trouts hosts the local artist showcase and television program The Rockwell Opry. Trouts calls itself the “leading institution” for preserving the Bakersfield Sound, and with a variety of entertainment from live free music to dance contests and karaoke, they may not be wrong.

Buck Owens Crystal Palace

Flickr/Sarah Murray
Flickr/Sarah Murray

Buck Owens himself may be gone, but his musical legacy lives on with his Crystal Palace performance hall and restaurant, built in 1996. Local acts, national touring musicians such as Tanya Tucker, and Owens’ iconic band the Buckaroos all perform here; the audience listens, dances, line dances and dines on fare like chicken-fried steak and ribs. An all-ages venue, diners, dancers, and listeners alike all have plenty of room by the cavernous main stage to cut loose. With restaurant-style seating, friendly waitresses, and a plethora of great performers, this is the spot everyone from families to singles can enjoy and dance a two-step. The second floor houses a small museum of music memorabilia for exploring as well.

Ethel’s Old Corral Café

Dancing at Ethel's - Photo by: Julie Jordan Scott
Dancing at Ethel’s – Photo by: Julie Jordan Scott

Ethel’s Old Corral Café is perched on the edge of town with an old fashioned rustic wagon on its roof. This is a homey dinner and dancing spot boasting reasonable prices and solid local acts to get guests up and kicking their heels. Come here for old-fashioned pork chop dinners and cutting edge local acts like “South,” dubbed the number one band in the Bakersfield Valley. For quieter fun, every Thursday is acoustic night, featuring Americana sounds and country folk among the genres.

The Rustic Rail

The Rustic Rail - Photo by: The Rustic Rail
The Rustic Rail – Photo by: The Rustic Rail

The Rustic Rail is another local Bakersfield mainstay with dancing on a well-worn wooden dance floor to live music on the weekend. Formerly a Southern Pacific Railroad freight house, the historic location includes photos and historic memorabilia. Painted barn-red on the outside, the acoustics are great inside for listening to a wide variety of musical acts. Look up while you dance – hanging from the ceiling are train lanterns, old cowboy boots, and spurs.

Riley’s Tavern

Riley's Bakersfield - Photo: Julie Jordan Scott
Riley’s Bakersfield – Photo: Julie Jordan Scott

With two dance floors and a reputation for making strong Cactus Coolers, Riley’s Tavern is another swinging local spot for live music from hot local country bands like the Barnyard Stompers.

Next: 12 Best Clubs to Catch Country Music in California

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Still Legendary: The Music Scene of Bakersfield, California