Wednesday, Dec 26 2012 02:58 PM

SCOTT COX: My standing ovation for live shows

By The Bakersfield Californian

Well, it's time to look back fondly on the year that was 2012. And, as always, the first batch of highlights that occur to me happened on concert stages around town. Here's a fairly comprehensive list of what I saw and loved, in no particular order:

My favorite concert of 2012 was definitely Merle Haggard at the Crystal Palace. I hadn't seen Merle since he went through a few health problems, and I was hoping he was back to his old self. Not only was he looking and sounding great, we got to hang out for a little while after the show and catch up. He was in an excellent mood and obviously enjoying playing for people again. Plus, I got to hang out with my pals Ray McDonald and Monty Byrom, and I had better seats than Sheriff Youngblood. Score.

Another big night at the Palace was when Eddie Money did a show for the Mended Little Hearts Foundation. The band they put together was top- shelf. It was great to see Byrom, on guitar, get to showcase his skills on all those great Eddie Money songs. And Eddie was, well, money. It was a great night. The sheriff had better seats than I that time, but I didn't pay to get in.

Pat Evans from World Records brought us several great shows, starting with Tommy Castro at the DoubleTree. If you're a fan of electric blues, you loved this show as much as I did. Later in the year, we had the B-Town Blues Festival at Cal State, always one of my favorite shows of the year. Coco Montoya was predictably excellent, as was Eric Sardinas, who plays slide guitar at ludicrous speed. But I really wanted to see Ana Popovic, whom I personally consider to be the finest female blues guitarist Serbia has ever produced. I'd never seen her play live, and I know that these days, engineers can make anybody sound good on a record. I was worried she'd be the Danica Patrick of the blues -- all sex appeal and not much talent -- but she brought plenty of both.

Speaking of Cal State, the Bakersfield Jazz Festival provided a bunch of highlights, but saxophonist Maceo Parker stands out as the baddest cat on the stage this year. It's an epic event, and we're lucky to have it.

The Fox featured Chris Isaak, Peter Frampton and ZZ Top. I'd never seen Isaak before, and really wasn't a fan, but I was a believer by the end of the show. That guy can sing. Frampton did what Frampton does: helped us all relive those days when we wore out our vinyl copies of "Frampton Comes Alive." Dude still has all his skills intact, and he rocked the house with barely more hair than I have. And as for ZZ Top, well, they're ZZ Top. I've seen them play in four different decades, and they just keep getting better. And they played a bunch of stuff from their new record, which is outstanding.

The Bell Tower hosted Laurence Juber, who's played with everyone from Al Stewart to Paul McCartney. He was stunningly good, and the acoustics in that place are beyond belief. And they had desserts! Juber was the third show in a series of three, but I missed Peppino D'Agostino and Doyle Dykes. I won't miss another if they do it again.

As far as you can get from the atmosphere of the Bell Tower is Julie's Branding Iron out in Oildale. Whether it's Tanner Byrom and Friends hosting Blues Night, or one of their Sunday cattle call shows -- which bring in the best musicians our town has to offer -- it's always a great hang. I plan to go a lot more in the new year. You should, too.

Not quite Oildale, but close, was Village Fest, and, as always, it had some truly great shows. Foster Campbell and Friends featured some of our most talented local musicians, and they had the crowd jumping with their old school R&B revue. And it had cowbell. I left that show just in time to catch a bit of Mento Buru. Those guys are always a blast to watch, but at this event they always seem to take it to 11.

On the subject of outdoor festivals, we were lucky enough to catch Soulajar at the Tehachapi Food and Wine Festival, and they were the highlight of the evening, which is saying a lot when compared to the food, wine, and weather up there.

Another huge highlight was Kinky Friedman at Prime Cut. When I was in Texas last year, I told Kinky that he should swing by Bakersfield if he went on tour in 2012. I was pleasantly surprised when he called me a few months ago and told me to find a venue for him. Not asked -- told. A really neat bunch of people showed up to hear a true Texas legend sing songs and tell tales.

A great addition to my concert calendar this year was a visit to the Bakersfield Symphony. I still haven't gotten over how incredible an experience that was. From the music itself to the acoustics, it was a great evening. I'll be back for more of that, and I hope to see you there.

Another great violinist, one who has never played with the symphony, but should, is my pal Charlie Daniels, who played a huge show at the fair this year. That old man loves his job, and it shows. He considers playing his music for people to be a real honor, and he loves playing here. We had a blast, and I discovered a drink called a "Lime-A-Rita." Excellent summer concert beverage.

If I had to pick the most sonically perfect event of the year, I'd have to go with the Band of Heathens at the Palace in August. I've seen them in several venues in many states, and I can't think of a better band to see play live.

Well, that's the best of 2012 to the best of my recollection. I'm pretty sure that I forgot some stuff, and equally sure that I'll be reminded all about it as soon as this goes to print. But here's what I can say for sure: We are lucky to live in a town with a vibrant local music scene. And we should all resolve to get out and enjoy more of it in 2013. From blues to country to classical, Kern had it all

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