COMMUNITY VOICES: Bakersfield’s front row seats to filmmaker Ken Burns’ ode to country music

By Jordan Escobar, Children’s Services Manager at ValleyPBS, and Karen Zuber, SVP/Bakersfield Market Manager at Bank of America

This article was originally published on

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“It’s about those things that we believe in but we can’t see, like dreams and songs and souls,” said Merle Haggard on country music.

On July 26 and again in September, Bakersfield will receive a nod as the West Coast’s country music capital. “America’s storyteller” – acclaimed documentary filmmaker Ken Burns – will make his first ever Central Valley debut at the Fox Theater later this month to offer us a sneak peek at his upcoming “Country Music” series, spotlighting the influence and strong legacy the Bakersfield Sound, Merle Haggard and Buck Owens had on this important musical genre.

We’re honored to help the community relive this important piece of Bakersfield history in a couple of ways. First, we provided an opportunity for Bakersfield youth to audition for a chance to perform at the Fox Theater when the Ken Burns’ Country Music Roadshow makes its stop here. The auditions occurred a few days ago and we are happy to see the future of country music in Bakersfield is in good hands. Wait until you hear the winners!

But perhaps more importantly, PBS and Bank of America are proud to once again have invested in Burns, along with his longtime creative partners and Emmy Award-winning team – writer and producer Dayton Duncan and producer Julie Dunfey – on this documentary series. Helping to illuminate the diverse experiences and perspectives that shape America is one way we can build a deeper understanding of our shared history, spark dialogue on complex issues and shape stronger communities.

Eight years in the making, the eight-part, 16-hour series that debuts Sept. 15 on PBS stations, will provide a glimpse into unforgettable stories of struggle, hardship, joy and triumph that, ultimately, unite us as Americans.

But first, at the Fox Theater on July 26, Kern residents can hear directly from Burns, Duncan and Dunfey about their reflections on the Bakersfield Sound. This sub-genre is a defiant, rock and roll-tinged reaction to the string orchestras and polished albums emanating from Nashville during the 1950s and '60s. Leading the global spread of the Bakersfield Sound were our very own Owens and Haggard, Hall of Fame performers who started in our local bars and honkytonks.

Today, this sound lives on in country music stars like Dwight Yoakam, and non-country artists including The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and the Eagles. It’s no understatement to say that the importance of country music to Bakersfield is forever cemented in the global appeal of songs and artists, and, happily, in this upcoming documentary as it celebrates our nation’s heritage, the strength of diversity and music’s power to unite, inspire and ultimately tell deeply human stories.

Take this opportunity to enjoy some great music and be proud of our own special place in country music history. For residents in Bakersfield and surrounding communities, it’s time to celebrate how music brings people together. We look forward to a magical evening at the Fox Theater in a few days.


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