The sudden relocation by one of the country’s most eclectic music festivals may have given Kern County its biggest surprise moments in sometime, but it was not enough to overshadow the achievements from an overwhelming number of local creatives.
Here's a look back at the year in The Lowdown.
Lightning in a Bottle, Buena Vista Aquatic Recreation Area: When rumors began swirling that the Lightning in a Bottle festival had eyed Kern County as its new home, you could hear the jokes from all sides almost immediately. "Can you say Fyre Festival?" was among the most common (and tiresomely repeated) jabs in reference to the fraudulent 2017 music festival that inspired not one, but two documentaries.
Given the scramble to relocate the LIB festival from Lake Bradley in Northern California to Kern County, it was easy to see how one might see the parallels between the two.
Thankfully, that was not the case. Not even close.
After facing the scrutiny of county agencies, the creative power team at Do LaB, the Southern California-based art/music event company known for its massive Coachella art installations, built a groundswell of support from the community to get the green light and move. Not only was the massive weeklong music, art and wellness event in May an overwhelming success, with thousands mindfully converging in the name of fun and freedom, it also helped inject new life into the aquatic area. Proving critics wrong, Lightning in a Bottle returns to Buena Vista May 20 to 25. A boost for the economy and our reputation. Can you say, bravo?
Garth Brooks, Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace: Billed as a show for “KUZZ radio contest winners only,” the monthlong hype surrounding Garth Brooks’ “Dive Bar Tour” Aug. 15 stop at the Crystal Palace was inescapable with grandmas and grandkids feverishly vying for a chance to win. I admit I tried and didn’t win (boo.) In the final days leading up to the show, Bakersfield felt like the country music mecca it’s always prided itself to be if not for a few hot August weeks.
BEST LOCAL MUSIC
“Tsunami Soul I,” Hate Drugs: Released in January, the follow-up to the band's 2017 album “Tsunami Soul II” is the perfect dream pop project bookend for one of Bakersfield’s best, and hardest-working, indie acts. "Both albums were designed to be listened to as part of a meta cohesive work of art while retaining their autonomy as individual phases of a cycle,” lead singer David Caploe said of the album project. The band toured in support of the album for most of the year even releasing the four-song EP “2014” in November.
“The Soul Chance,” The Soul Chance: After singles out on the Obeah/Going Underground Records label imprint teasing the duo's vintage style reggae soul, which evokes the sounds of 1960s Jamaica, vocalist Nico Collins and guitarist-producer A.J. Brewer, along with backing band, put the finishing touches on their full-length album in September, with cover art by acclaimed Bakersfield artist El Oms (Omar Juarez).
“Once Upon a Time in Bakersfield,” Andres: Shedding his superhero tights for a vintage "The Music Man" look, energetic singer-songwriter Andres Aparicio picked up where last year’s amazing “Heroes, Villains, and All That Jazz,” left off with another collection of personal, self-effacing hometown stories put to song in October. His accompanying video shorts on YouTube are also worth a look.
“Crite Year,” Crite: Part rapper, event producer and community-conscious radio personality, Winston Crite Jr. managed to introduce himself to the city through an intense promotional album release campaign that culminated with a big party, “Crite Nite,” in July at Elements Venue. Premium tracks: “Done,” “Slick Talk" featuring Tricey and “Off" featuring J-Rich.
Honorable mentions: Western Medicine, The Jay Smith Group, Contranistas, La Marcha and Stoneflys all released new music throughout the year available for listen and download at most music streaming sites.
BEST LIVE SHOWS
Ghost at Rabobank (now Mechanics Bank) Arena: Swedish horror metal rockers Ghost combined the spectacle of a proper rock show with Andrew Lloyd Webber “Phantom of the Opera” flair and debuted the new EP “Seven Inches of Satanic Panic” without a single protest from local evangelicals at the Sept. 13 show. Amen.
Los Lobos at World Records: Still touring with all original members, the band sounded right at home in the intimacy of World Records theater with its exceptional acoustics on April 12. The group played a hearty helping of selection from their soundtrack to Mexican-American life in all its beauty, struggle and pachanga. At one point I even found myself dancing in the aisles with my wife. Orale.
Smokin’ Armadillos at Fox Theater: Selling out two nights (Oct. 4 and 5) at the Fox in front of a rabid crowd of longtime fans, the Smokin’ Armadillos reunited for the band's first live shows since 2005. Not often mentioned in the same breath as Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, the group deserves to be recognized for its contribution to the historical fabric of Bakersfield country music.
Honorable mentions: Eugene Moles and Bakersfield Music Hall of Fame, Lewis Black at The Fox, Adema at The Well, El Tri at Fox Theater and Ghostface Killah at La Movida.
LOCAL MUSIC VIDEOS
Indie music videos got a boost from local artists bringing back the classic MTV short-form style to promote their songs and accompany their creative vision this year. The following is just a sample of some of this year’s batch, all of which can be found at YouTube.
“Wicked Game,” Art and The Resistance (directed by Dstructive Filmz): This local cover joins a lengthy list of tributes to the original 1989 Chris Isaak hit. For the video, the band can be found hanging and rockin’ out with friends and family inside the recording chamber at Triple Seven Studios in Bakersfield.
“Payaso,” Wilfredo Cruz with Viento (filmed and directed by Amy Janelle): Performing a tune originally recorded in 1971 by late Puerto Rican salsa singer Raphy Leavitt, Cruz stars in this telenovela-style short tale of love gone bad that also features SoCal actress Christina Jardine.
“California in My Mind,” Truxton Mile (directed by Ernie Vasquez, Smash Cut Films): These country brethren filmed a love letter to the Golden State and our hometown at various locations known for California dreamin’.
Keep supporting your local artists and we’ll see you in 2020. Godspeed.