This summer a total solar eclipse had us all looking to the skies — after taking proper precautions, of course — for a glimpse of that awesome celestial body that keeps us in motion.

The local entertainment scene blazed a somewhat less epic path in 2017, but it was noteworthy nonetheless, with a number of exciting additions coming to Bakersfield's recreational, dining and musical landscape.

No need to put on those safety glasses — we'll guide you through the year that was.

Cheers to cinema updates

Although the idea is nothing new in bigger cities, Bakersfield joined the ranks this year of higher-end movie theaters that offer fancier concessions, adult beverages and, most importantly, an elevated viewing experience. 

Currently Bakersfield AMC 6 on California Avenue is the only theater offering alcohol. The theater, which was last known as a "dollar movie" venue, transformed earlier this year into a luxury movie house, with plush, power-reclining seats.

Set to open this spring, Studio Movie Grill was the first to be approved to sell alcohol, receiving its permit in March. Rising from the husk of an abandoned grocery store in northwest Bakersfield, the theater will feature 10 auditoriums with reserved seating in plush recliners fitted with buttons that allow guests to summon servers for food and drink orders.

Reading Cinemas also applied for a permit but efforts were stalled last spring by the need for further clarification concerning the scope of planned renovations to the theater. The theater at the Valley Plaza Mall recently stepped up its concessions with burgers, sandwiches and fried side dishes.

Haggard's boxcar finds home

Country legend Merle Haggard's childhood home was restored and ready for display at the Kern County Museum. The opening, followed by the wildly successful Haggard Boxcar Festival in April, which drew 1,600 people and brought in around $20,000, marked the end of a four-year journey to preserve the boxcar.

Tireless supporters Glenda Rankin and her sister, Dianne Sharman, lobbied to move the 1935 structure — then a gutted structure behind a house on Yosemite Street in Oildale — to the museum in 2013. The Kern County Museum Foundation accepted, contingent on the success of a massive fundraising effort to restore the singer's childhood home.

It was moved in 2015, and restoration was in full swing in 2016 under architect George Taylor Louden, funded by a charitable trust created by Cynthia Lake.

The completed project was officially unveiled April 9, just days past the one-year anniversary of the country legend's passing.

Haggard will receive further honors in 2018 in Music City. Developers Bill and Shannon Miller, who previously co-founded museums for fellow country greats Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline, will open the Merle Haggard Museum and Merle's Meat + Three Saloon this summer in Nashville.

Have you seen this sign?

A Bakersfield July usually has people talking about escaping the heat, so it seemed fitting that's when news took off about a missing artifact of local history: the historic Trout's nightclub sign.

Thomas Rockwell, the longtime operator of the bar, posted a Facebook message in May announcing it had been taken down for refurbishing. (Efforts to reach Rockwell for a story on the subject earlier this year were unsuccessful and his Facebook page has since been deleted.)

The sign was determined missing as of June when a listing agent for the building's new owners reported it gone. A police incident report was filed in July regarding the missing sign.

Social media was abuzz with speculation and the conversation continued when a local business, Willis Design Studios, created a T-shirt depicting the missing sign on a milk carton.

Still no word on its whereabouts. The whole story remains a bit fishy.

Museum musings

The Kern County Museum had a busy year, if only in changing letterhead. After eight months operating as Kern Pioneer Village, a move spearheaded by then-executive director Zoot Velasco, the facility returned to its original name in April with a slightly revised logo.

Confusion among some donors and the general public in part fueled the decision, as some found it hard to reconcile Kern Pioneer Village with the Kern County Museum Foundation, which manages its operation.

The museum parted ways not only with the new name but also with Velasco, who served as CEO for eight months.

Velasco, who moved to Bakersfield from Fullerton, remains active in the community, bringing Bakersfield its first Ted touch — the TEDx Bakersfield conference on Sept. 21 at Ovation Theatre downtown.

Mike McCoy, a Kern County native and career educator, was named the museum's new executive director this summer and started Oct. 1. Since then he has overseen the October re-dedication celebration for the Let Sing Gong Temple, once located at 18th and R streets and relocated to the Joss House in the museum’s Pioneer Village.

One new draw already on the books for 2018 is the Pizza and Beer Festival, which will take place Jan. 20.

We'll be checking in next month with McCoy and the museum for addtional updates.

Regardless of the name, it was a busy year for the museum. Other noteworthy news included the opening of its Gallery and Welcome Center, featuring cool informational pods on local topics like oil and mining, migration and agriculture, in February; the debut of the Haggard Boxcar Festival in April, drawing hundreds to see the country great's restored childhood home; and the opening of the Tejon Ranch Gallery, which will provide a place to display the facility's thousands of historic photos, in September.

Stefani Dias can be reached at 661-395-7488. Follow her on Twitter at @realstefanidias.

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