Even for a last-minute town, we were still in shock when Neil Young announced in late April that he was getting the band back together — Crazy Horse — for just five shows in the Central Valley. In a year that brought us a hot new pastime, new restaurants and entertainment venues, new festivals and renewed interest in a growing segment of downtown, that classic rock surprise really rocked Bakersfield's world this spring. Here's a look at the entertainment and diversions that lifted our spirits in 2018.

Hey hey, my my

Despite telling Rolling Stone earlier this year that he had no plans to reunite with Crazy Horse, Neil Young kept fans on their toes with a late April announcement that "the horse is out again." Tickets for the announced two gigs at Bakersfield's Fox Theater and three before that at Warnor Theater in Fresno sold quickly with some prime seating being offered for as much as $720 a seat on secondary markets.

With an enthusiastic, live rehearsal feel, the local shows delivered for fans. There never was an explanation of this mini-tour but that's par for the course for the somewhat elusive musician.

Also high on local music fans' top shows list this year was Jack White's performance at Rabobank Arena on Aug. 18. Along with a killer concert, the event was notable as one of the biggest shows to come to town with a no cellphone policy. Attendees had to drop those devices in a locked pouch supplied by the company Yondr for the duration of the show. (Phones could be accessed once outside the “phone-free zone.")

More musicians and comedians are employing similar bans, some to keep low-grade footage from leaking or just to encourage audiences to focus on enjoying the moment rather than capturing it.

Country also hit the stage this year with Bakersfield's spiritual son, Dwight Yoakam, playing a soldout show at the Fox Theater on Dec. 3. And Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives kicking off the year with a performance Jan. 18 at Buck Owens' Crystal Palace.

No stranger to Bakersfield — and its Sound — Stuart told The Californian he's always due for another visit.

“Bakersfield is just one of those places where I feel like it’s a spiritual hotspot that I have to come by and touch down at least once a year and then I’ll feel like I’ve done something."

Let's all go to the movies — in reserved seats

When Studio Movie Grill opened in northwest Bakersfield this April, it ushered in two big changes in the average movie-going experience: full-service dining and reserved seating. Guests could enjoy full meals or just stick to classic movie snacks, all ordered from servers available throughout the movie.

The Dallas-based chain was also the second in town to serve alcohol, following in the footsteps of the remodeled AMC Bakersfield 6 on California Avenue. 

Meanwhile Maya Cinemas opened a new theater in Delano, ending a 10-year dry spell for local moviegoing in the town. The chain also completed a $6 million remodel of its Bakersfield location with plush Palliser recliner seating and the ability to reserve seats. 

Previously offered only for Maya's D-box seating and the IMAX theater at Reading Cinemas Valley Plaza 16, assigned seating is now available at all local theaters, which has yielded a mixed reaction. Pro tip to avoid any drama: Buy tickets in advance online or show up early to have a box office attendant help you select your optimal seat.

Sweet on this pickle

Pickleball has been in Bakersfield for a couple of years now but it truly started to take seed in 2018. 

(For those who may have passed on the pickle thus far, the game has been around since the mid-1960s, offering a cross between tennis, ping-pong and badminton.)

Competitors flocked to Bakersfield Racquet Club in February for the first Coconut Cup Pickleball Tournament. More than 100 players vied for top honors on the club's two dedicated pickleball courts. 

The club, which also has a lower-price pickleball membership, hosts Kern County Pickleball Championships in the fall.

Players found a new spot to play when the Greenacres Pickplex opened in July at Greenacres Community Center and Park. The $30,000 project converted the former tennis courts into smaller play areas. It was quickly put to use in August, hosting the first Pickleball City Challenge against Santa Clarita.

Festival season

Bakersfield is nothing if not a town that appreciates a good festival. We've got plenty of strong contenders, including the Greek Food Festival, Country and Craft Beer Festival, Macaroni and Cheese Festival, Kern County Latino Food Festival and Menudo Cook-off, Bakersfield Wing Festival and the VIP itself, Village Fest.

This year there were some new fests on the scene. The slightly underwhelming Pizza and Beer Festival headed to the Kern County Museum in January for two days of unlimited beer samples and pizza. (Props to Milan's Market for offering the only truly fresh slices from its wood-fire oven.)

Wine in the Wild replaced the Beastly Ball as a fundraiser for California Living Museum. The June 14 fundraiser allowed guests to view exhibits and enjoy small bites from Chef’s Choice Noodle Bar, Eureka! Burger, Kern River Brewing, Padre Hotel and more along with craft beer and wine. 

The Bakersfield Craft Beer Festival moved to its new home at Imbibe Wine and Spirits Merchant on Oct. 7 thanks to owner David Dobbs, one of the founders of the event formerly held at Cal State Bakersfield. 

Craft beer fans also braved the June heat at the Downtown Craft Beer Festival, which took over the streets at 20th and G. A lot of fun in its first year, this event will be worth revisiting when it works past its growing pains.

Adieu to Amestoy's

Speaking of festivals, the Chile Verde Cook-off may need to find a new home in 2019 if Amestoy's on the Hill closes before March. The 70-year-old east Bakersfield bar will definitely close sometime next year, according to proprietor Mike Miller. The business, which was closed briefly by the health department for a rodent infestation in October, has faced even greater pests: criminals and vagrants who make it hard to conduct the daily operations of keeping folks lubricated and enjoying life. Here's hoping that something can go in its stead. At least we know the neon sign is safe: When news broke that the bar would close, the community rallied to ensure the sign will find a permanent home at the Kern County Museum's neon courtyard.

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

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