In this file photo, Merle Haggard and his converted boxcar home are seen just before it was moved from Oildale to the Kern County Museum.

Gilroy has the Garlic Festival. Elko has the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. Key West has Hemingway Days. The Black Rock Desert has Burning Man. 

Bakersfield? We're working on it.

Marketing folks will agree that a nationally recognizable festival, sanctioned by a city or not, can be a boon. Not just to a region's tourism bottom line, but to its overall image as well.

Calaveras Jumping Frog Festival, anyone? Thanks to Mark Twain and a savvy group of long-passed locals, much of the world has actually heard of little Calaveras County (population 40,000).

We keep trying here. Remember the Carrot Festival? Jim Darling's idea had promise but, let's face it, carrots just aren't particularly sexy — nothing personal, Mr. Bolthouse — and it petered out in 1988 after two valiant attempts.

Remember the Nut Festival? Sheryl Barbich and I — well, mostly Sheryl and Beth Brookhart Pandol — were in on the ground floor for that one, and it drew reasonably good crowds for three years before, in 2016, the Kern County Museum folks figured their time was better spent on other pursuits.

The Bakersfield Jazz Festival has established a niche, but the world has plenty of jazz festivals, and I don't know that ours brings home a lot of hotel tax dollars.

Now we have another candidate — a unique one at that — and I'm hoping it has staying power. 

The second Haggard Boxcar Music Festival takes place Sunday at the Kern County Museum's Pioneer Village, and it just might have legs.

The festival grabs the coattails of the late, great Merle Haggard, as substantial a set of coattails as a gritty city like this one could ever hope to catch hold of. Merle is the kind of figure who inspires outright devotion well beyond the confines of his hometown, so the possibility of tourism dollars is realistic — if not this year, then one day.

The festival, which will feature a performance by two of Merle's sons, Ben and Noel Haggard, is built around the iconic onetime family home — the railroad boxcar that Merle's father, James, converted and expanded into a modest home back in the 1930s. Merle was around long enough to see it moved from its moorings on Oildale's Yosemite Avenue to the Kern County Museum, where it's currently the star in residence.

Sadly, Merle wasn't around long enough to watch the application of the final coat of paint.

More than 2,000 people turned out to honor Haggard last year, so hopes are high for Sunday's reprise.

In addition to Ben and Noel Haggard, the mostly Bakersfield lineup has the ageless Tommy Hays, along with Kim McAbee, Drew Harness and Theresa Spanke, Monty Byrom & the Byrom Brothers, and many others.

I can personally vouch for the Haggard brothers' opening act. The Bakersfield Music Hall of Fame enlisted me as a front-row judge — the audience got a good, long look at my bald spot in back — to help choose the Haggards' warmup act. Our panel of four selected Josh Aigner of, wow, Bodfish, whose influences run the gamut from Led Zeppelin to traditional country. He's good.

With any luck, the Boxcar Festival will pick up where 2015's one-and-done 99 Music Fest left off. That collaboration of local sponsors, including TBC Media, brought in Texas Americana legends Ray Wylie Hubbard and James McMurtry, plus Byrom, Truxton Mile and others. Alas, the pieces just weren't there for a sequel.

Here's hoping the pieces are there for a third Boxcar Festival in 2019. This city needs an event that attracts statewide notice — something that is uniquely Bakersfield, something that speaks to an authentic aspect of our history and culture.

Should the organizers step outside of Bakersfield to find the festival's headliner next year? I think it's worth a discussion. The Bakersfield Sound, of which Haggard was a central element, has traveled well over the years and many, many commercially successful musicians cite Haggard as a primary influence.

That's worth celebrating every bit as much as the homegrown talent we've got now.

Contact The Californian’s Robert Price at 661-395-7399, rprice@bakersfield.com or on Twitter: @stubblebuzz. His column appears on Sundays, Wednesdays and Saturdays; the views expressed are his own.

(1) comment


We always have the downtown area and Oildale if box car doesnt work out. Definitely entertaining.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.