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Bakersfield, CA: Country Music and Cultural Festivals in the Central Valley
With a tough Western character and a conservative population, Bakersfield showcases a different side of California. The city’s history is defined by gold, oil, and agriculture. But Bakersfield has moved beyond its workaday beginnings and now offers travelers an engaging experience.
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Settled during the Gold Rush, Bakersfield and the Kern River Valley soon became known for black gold and oil derricks. The lucrative oil fields here attracted legions of Dust Bowl refugees during the Great Depression. Rough and defiant, this hardscrabble group helped to create Bakersfield’s unique personality and distinctly gritty style of country music: the Bakersfield Sound. Local singers Buck Owens and Merle Haggard stoked a vibrant country music scene here in the dance halls of “Nashville West.” You’ll still encounter the Bakersfield Sound (and line dancing) at venues like the famous Crystal Palace.
But Bakersfield is much more than country music. The downtown is in the process of being fully revitalized with new restaurants, upbeat clubs, and restored theaters. Wander through the gallery-rich Arts District and catch a film noir screening at the historic 1930s Fox Theater. Shop for retro-glam treasures at Antique Row. Connect with Bakersfield pioneer and musical history at the Kern County Museum, which features 56 historic buildings in a shaded setting. Step inside a log cabin from the 1800s and a gas station from the 1930s.
Indulge in a vast array of cuisines at local restaurants, including Basque specialties like oxtail soup – Bakersfield is home to the largest Basque community in America. Celebrate Basque, Scottish, Indian, and Greek cultures at numerous ethnic festivals throughout the year. The popular Jazz Festival lights up the campus of California State University in Bakersfield every May. Watch high-octane auto races at the Bakersfield Speedway and see concerts and circuses at Rabobank Arena.
Situated right off Interstate 5 between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Bakersfield is an interesting and accessible destination for travelers.