BY ROBERT PRICE Californian columnist email@example.com
NASHVILLE, Tenn. --
Red Simpson meant it in his comically self-deprecating way, but he managed to accidentally put his finger right on the theme of the night. He and his band had just blasted through a rollicking rendition of "Highway Patrol," and the standing-room-only crowd at the Country Music Hall of Fame was roaring in approval. "I'm glad it's over, too," Simpson announced, deadpan. But he played another song anyway.
If there was ever any animosity between Nashville and Bakersfield, America's two foremost country music capitals during the 1960s, it was essentially deemed "over" this week -- and, to borrow Simpson's words, everyone's glad it's over, too.
With the grand opening of the Hall of Fame and Museum's new 21-month-long exhibit, "The Bakersfield Sound: Buck Owens, Merle Haggard and California Country," the Nashville music establishment -- or the closest thing to it -- essentially opened its arms to its impetuous little brother, the Dust Bowl-bred, Telecaster-driven music of the southern San Joaquin Valley. The exhibit, 18 months in the making, officially opens today.
It is with little doubt the finest, most complete, most entertaining tribute to Bakersfield music ever assembled. From the legacy of L.A.'s post-war music scene and Bill Woods' Pied Piper-like recruitment of talent to the southern valley to the importance of latter-day practitioners like Dwight Yoakam and Brad Paisley, the interactive exhibit is a faithful documentation of Bakersfield's role and significance in the evolution of American music.
Hundreds of special guests got a sneak preview Wednesday night, among them Michael, John and Mel Owens; the widow (and a son) of late, great Owens' sideman and harmony partner Don Rich; and the relatives of such Bakersfield Sound luminaries as Jelly Sanders and Wynn Stewart. Simpson, the 78-year-old Bakersfield singer-songwriter who memorably recorded "(Hello) I'm a Truck" and wrote Merle Haggard's "You Don't Have Very Far to Go," performed two songs with Deke Dickerson and Kenny Vaughan: In addition to "Highway Patrol," he sang "Bill Woods from Bakersfield," his tribute to the man widely acknowledged as the Father of the Bakersfield Sound.
Museum members got an early look at the exhibit Thursday night. The museum is likely to host a succession of Bakersfield-themed special events before the exhibit closes in December 2013. Next up, on April 11, will be a panel discussion with three of Haggard's closest associates: longtime business partner Fuzzy Owen and band members Don Markham and Norm Hamlet. Museum officials are quietly hoping the band leader, too, will appear, considering he will be in town for a performance at the Ryman Auditorium that evening.