Wednesday, Nov 07 2012 04:25 PM

SCOTT COX: Night at the symphony not just for blue bloods

By The Bakersfield Californian

I went to the symphony. You read that right -- the symphony.

I've always wanted to, but never quite got around to it. I've been to hundreds of concerts -- everything from Elton John to Robert Earl Keen -- and I've found that the more lowbrow the atmosphere, the happier I am.

So how did I, an unrepentant heathen, end up watching the Bakersfield Symphony? Simple. I interviewed John Farrer. Mr. Farrer is the completely brilliant conductor of the Bakersfield Symphony.

I actually asked him what a conductor does. I wasn't kidding. Eric Clapton's band doesn't need a guy waving a stick around. I've seen Lyle Lovett and his Large Band play a whole bunch of times, and they, too, get by just fine without a guy in a tuxedo keeping the beat. So what makes a proper orchestra different? Is it all for show?

Well, instead of calling me an idiot and storming off (which would have been completely justified), he handed me the sheet music to the piece they were currently performing. It was like showing a third-grader who wasn't all that good at math a book on quantum physics. My tiny brain had zero chance of grasping the scope of it. I knew one thing: I had to see this performed in person.

Now, before you rush to some Eliza Doolittle-inspired elitist judgment, bear in mind that I do like classical music. I listen to it fairly frequently, mostly to make me feel smarter. I just never went to hear it played live, mostly out of respect for people who really love this stuff. They should be able to go out and enjoy some culture without worrying about running into people like me. But I didn't care anymore. I was going, and that was that.

The first thing I figured was that you have to get all dressed up to go to the symphony, and believe it or not, I am capable of this when called upon to do so. Still, I didn't know just how dressed up, so I stopped by H. Walker's (a most excellent clothing store), and got briefed by Tracy and Sarah on just how to blend in with the swells. And I looked good. Really good. My wife got all dolled up, too, and she looked almost as good as I did. So off we went.

Overdressed for a rodeo

We got an excellent mortuary-adjacent parking spot and headed across Truxtun for our big night out. The first and most ironic thing that I realized was that while the symphony was playing at the Rabobank Theater, the professional bull riders were performing at the same time at the arena. I had noticed that there were an awful lot of pickups parked out there for a symphony. The lines were distinctly different in appearance. We could see all the fancy people looking at art and sipping wine in the lobby of the theater, and I couldn't help thinking that watching bull riders would be awesome. But I was committed. And overdressed for a rodeo. So into the lobby we went, amongst the art and merlot.

Nothing could have prepared us for the next 20 minutes or so. I didn't know what to say to any of these people. We live in east Bakersfield! We don't have kids away at college, and we don't even own vacation property. As it turns out, none of that stuff mattered at all. Everyone was incredibly nice, without a whiff of snootiness. We were already having fun. The only drawback was that all those people were drinking wine because it was the only beverage commercially available at the venue, and I'm not a fan at all. Next time I'm sneaking in a shot of tequila and a Shiner Bock. I'll bet half the people who give me dirty looks will be secretly envious.

We found our seats and got comfortable, or as close to comfortable as you can get in an auditorium built at a time when the average person was 4 feet tall, with the seats spaced accordingly. A minor quibble. We spotted our friend Donna Fraser, an epic violinist, on stage. We waved at her like you would wave at your kid if they were in a school play, and she waved right back. Another good sign. Then the show started. One lady in the orchestra, which is just an elitist term for band, waited until last to sit down. Must be a symphony thing. Good for her. Then Mr. Farrer came out and climbed up on his box to wield his magic wand. I was expecting him to grab a microphone and yell, "Bakersfield, are you ready to rock?" Not a chance.

Then the music started, and, wow: Those guys are phenomenal. The first thing that got me was the acoustics: Now I see why people spend so much money on audio gear. I always thought it was just because rich people like classical music, and they can afford high-end electronics. But no. They spend all that cash trying to reproduce the sound of a live orchestra. And no wonder. The sound that swells up through the audience, sound produced by real musicians with real instruments, is simply amazing.

Suddenly I was no longer upset that there wasn't a single Gibson Les Paul on the stage. The next couple of hours just flew by. We had a great time. The music was fantastic. The people were all warm, friendly and clearly had a deep appreciation of music. I finally understood the wand thing. And nobody, including me, yelled "Free Bird!" When it was over, my buddy Kevin Bartl and I took our wives over to Muertos for a beer and some wedding cake, which not only go great together but make an unbeatable late-night snack. Plus, when you get all dressed up, you can't just go home.

So I can now whole-heartedly recommend the Bakersfield Symphony to everyone. I know I'm going back as often as I can. You should, too. It's fun to get dressed up, it's world-class entertainment, and you'll leave feeling a little classier than you did going in. You'll meet some wonderful people, and you'll have a week or so to start sentences with, "My wife and I attended the symphony Saturday and ..."

Scott Cox is a local radio host, whose show airs from 3 to 6 p.m. daily on KERN-AM, 1180.

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