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Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum to Open Bakersfield Sound Exhibit

HOLLYWOOD - JUNE 5: Musician/actor Dwight Yoakam (L) and country western music legend Buck Owens attend a ceremony honoring Yoakam with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame June 5, 2003 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Vince Bucci/Getty Images)

The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s latest exhibit will tell the stories of the stars, sidemen and songwriters who created a whole new sound in country music in mid-20th century America. The Bakersfield Sound: Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, and California Country, will open March 23 and run through December 31, 2013.

Narrated by Dwight Yoakam, the exhibit will explore the roots, heyday, and impact of the Bakersfield Sound. The loud and stripped-down radio-ready music is most closely identified by the work of Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. The exhibit will include more than 100 artifacts and a generous amount of audiovisual material.

“We are incredibly excited to explore the Bakersfield Sound story,” Museum Director Kyle Young said. “It’s an epic tale, born in the Great Depression, set two thousand miles from country music’s epicenter, and populated by a remarkably talented and tight-knit community of musicians who came together to invigorate and reinvent country music as they knew it. These colorful artists infused their work with an aural intensity and independent spirit, in the process creating a sound that reverberates through country music to this day.”

The Bakersfield Sound began during the Great Depression when Bakersfield’s cotton farms and oil fields attracted a mass migration of Dust Bowl refugees from Oklahoma, Texas and Arkansas. Buck Owens moved with his sharecropping parents first to Arizona and then to Bakersfield in 1951. Merle Haggard’s family, driven from their east Oklahoma farm, lived in an old converted railroad boxcar when Merle was born in a Bakersfield hospital on April 6, 1937.

The exhibit will explore Bakersfield’s club scene in the 1940s and 1950s when the city’s plethora of dance halls and honky tonks provided a refuge for the overworked. It will also spotlight Bill Woods, known as ‘The Father of the Bakersfield Sound,’ as well as “Cousin” Herb Henson, Ferlin Husky, Billy Mize, Fuzzy Owen, Bonnie Owens, Jelly Sanders, Jean Shepard, Red Simpson and Lewis Talley.

One of the recurring themes of the exhibit is the connection between the artists making music during the time period, epitomized by the careers of Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. As they became stars in the 1960s, their careers and personal lives were woven together with not only each other but virtually all other major figures on the Bakersfield scene. They scored nearly 60 No. 1 hits between them and created a body of work that continues to influence artists today.The exhibit will also focus on the Bakersfield music business and the importance of Capitol Records and producer Ken Nelson.

Grand opening weekend will be highlighted by a panel discussion on March 24 featuring  Dallas Frazier, Don Maddox, Rose Lee Maphis, Buddy Mize, Jean Shepard and Red Simpson. Later that afternoon, all of the panelists will participate in a concert headlined by Red and backed by West Coast bandleader and guitarist Deke Dickerson and other noted musicians from Tennessee and California. Other opening weekend programs include a Bakersfield Sound book discussion, a film screening and an instrument demonstration.

The exhibit will be accompanied by a 96-page companion book, The Bakersfield Sound: Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, and Califonia Country. The book will include essays by California-based music journalists/historians Scott B. Bomar, Randy Poe and Robert Price as well as dozens of archival photographs and images of many of the artifacts included in the exhibit. The book will be available in the Museum Store and at www.countrymusichalloffame.org.

For more information on the exhibit and a complete list of events taking place during opening weekend, visit www.countrymusichalloffame.org.  

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