It always comes back to Elvin Bishop.
Pat Evans, the owner of World Records, long wanted to bring music to Bakersfield. Evans, who had spent his life going to life-changing concerts like Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Tom Petty, dreamed of bringing memorable shows to his home.
Evans was watching a performance in 1998 where Bishop dismantled his seven-piece band and invited a young girl onto the stage. Bishop handed his guitar to the girl and guided her through the motions of playing the next song. This feeling is what Evans aimed to capture with his shows; he wanted a more intimate and richer musical experience for audiences.
In January 1999, Evans started his No Stinkin’ Service Charge Blues Series with Little Charlie & the Nightcats. The goal of this series was to have no secret charges and affordable drinks. Evans never set out to get the biggest names for the show; he wanted artists that would deliver meaningful experiences.
“Something I learned quickly: The artists that play smaller venues appreciate the people that give them their livelihood,” Evans said. “There’s something special about them. They give it their all. They have to create a back and forth with the audience.”
With the segmentation of music genres, Evans wanted music that had a universal appeal. Something with its hands in every genre.
“Blues is the foundation for all American music. Let’s do the roots of everything,” Evans said. “It’s such a rich part of American culture. Most of these artists started as rock 'n' rollers that get hooked on blues.”
By 2001, Evans had booked Bishop to play the 12th show in the blues series. The prolific blues musician and his Big Fun Trio Band have made several appearances in Bakersfield since and are now returning for the 100th show in the No Stinkin’ Service Charge Blues series on Feb. 8.
Bishop’s music career started when his transistor radio in Oklahoma picked up a blues radio station from Arkansas. He realized that his favorite blues records were recorded in Chicago and wanted to immerse himself in the music. He moved to the Windy City in his teens on a physics scholarship to the University of Chicago.
He would go on to be inducted into the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame in 1998, the Blues Hall of Fame in Memphis in 2016 and was in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of The Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Bishop has had an extensive career. He’s the first to joke about how long he has played music.
“It’s been 114 years. But I’ve been playing since the '60s,” Bishop said. “If you do it all that time and don’t improve, shame on you.”
Bishop doesn’t know what attracted him to the blues. It was almost a supernatural calling. He won’t tell anyone what music to listen to but he can guarantee that people will enjoy watching him perform.
“Why do you fall in love with a certain woman when there are a million out there?” Bishop said. “It hit me like a bolt of lightning.”
For the series, local acts open for the touring musicians. Matt Sarad — a lifelong member of the local music scene — performed with David Zent as an opening act for Roy Rogers' show last year. The duo performed Beatles songs and eventually the entire audience sang along, Sarad said.
Music happens in Bakersfield because of volunteers, Evans said. His vision has stuck to its roots since 1999. No distracting advertisements surrounding the stage taking attention away from the music, entertaining acts that have fun with the audience and, of course, no stinkin' service charges.
“We rely on friends — in a way we’re like Elvin,” Evans said. “We found a way to live our lives. Our concerts have a different feel. It’s relaxed. You get to take a step outside of life for a while.”