Country artists gather to honor Merle Haggard
April 20, 2017
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The Kern County Museum hosted the Haggard Boxcar Festival on April 9 with the grounds inside the museum providing a venue for live country music performances. Several performers and bands were playing among the historical homes and buildings. A center stage in front of a grassy area was used to host performances such as country music performer James Carothers and groups like Merle Haggard’s sons, Ben & Noel Haggard. Ben & Noel performed on stage with Merle’s original band The Strangers.
Several other musical performers and bands were set up to play directly on the porches of the historical homes or in front of the structures located on the museum grounds. The festival drew a sizable turnout of all ages. Joe Schaffran brought his daughters, Bettie and Mable, to the enjoy the festival.
“I want them to enjoy and appreciate music that has local roots in Bakersfield,” Schaffran said.
Margaret Billy, who has been a fan of Merle Haggard since she was a kid, traveled all the way from Arizona to attend the Boxcar Festival. Anna Reading-Carey has been a country music fan her whole life and spent the day enjoying the music and getting autographs on her guitar and other objects.
Several dignitaries and political figures, such as Bakersfield mayor Karen Goh, were on hand to mingle among the music lovers. Several professional entertainers made themselves available to meet and greet fans, such as country music singer Rudy Parris, who joined the cast as a contestant on the NBC show “The Voice” in its third season.
Parris performs a wide variety of music but counts the music of Merle Haggard as having a huge influence on him. On his debut album, “Makin’ My Way” from Warrior Records, Parris performs country music in the style of local legends like Haggard and Buck Owens. He recorded his album at the Capitol Records recording studios in Hollywood.
“We recorded in the same room that Buck and Merle recorded many of their hits in,” Parris said. “He explained the importance of being able to continue making music in the sound and style of local music legends like Haggard. “He was my main influence. If it wasn’t for Merle Haggard, I wouldn’t be singing. I had no interest in singing, but when I was about 18 years old, I was at a party. It was late and somebody had put on his album. His voice came emanating out and it was a magical, life changing, moment for me. I asked a friend who the singer was. They told me his name is Merle Haggard and that the song was called ‘Misery and Gin.’ I listened and it was like the whole world closed off. It was just me and Merle Haggard’s voice. Right then and there I told myself that I had to learn to sing like that.”
The Haggard family, boxcar, home was open for tours during the festival. It is newly restored thanks to support from the Cynthia Lake Charitable Trust. As the musical performers were playing at their different locations throughout the museum, a long line of people enjoyed the live music while they waited to see the boyhood home Haggard. Museum staff and curator of collections Lori Wear escorted people through the home while explaining the history of the Haggard family house.
According to Wear, the Haggard family house was converted into a home from a 1910 Santa Fe railroad refrigerator car. The Haggard family boxcar home was moved to the Kern County museum in July of 2015. Wear explained that converting train cars into shelters was not an uncommon thing to do during that time period. During the 1930s, California was dealing with the effects of the Dust Bowl in the Oklahoma region of the country. Large populations of people were moving to California and the Kern County area in search of work. With a shortage of housing, many families turned to unconventional methods for shelter.
“The Haggards knew a lady from church with a boxcar for sale on her property at 1303 Yosemite drive in Oildale,” Wear said. “The lady asked James Haggard, Merle’s father, if he could convert it into a house so that she could sell it for a profit. James went home and talked to his wife, and Merle’s mother, Flossie Haggard about it. They went back and asked if they could buy it instead. The church lady sold it to them for $500. It took the Haggard’s about four and a half years to pay off that mortgage.”
Historical architect specialist Taylor Louden has been working on the Haggard family house for nearly a year. Louden said that the boxcar had been picked up by a crane at the Oildale address on Yosemite drive. It was placed in the museum at a spot that Merle Haggard had picked out himself a year earlier in 2014. Merle and his older sister, Lillian, were part of that move.
“They rode in Merle’s tour bus behind the flatbed trailer that had the boxcar on it,” Louden said.
The original two wings thatMerle’s father James constructed had to be dismantled, Louden explained, “because they were considered to be too deteriorated to preserve and move.” Louden said that after the boxcar was placed at the museum, he and his team were tasked with using the surviving materials to inform how the home looked originally.
Most of the construction inside the actual boxcar is original material, although some aspects of the home had to be constructed anew. Louden explained that the pitch of the roof and the roofing material was reconstructed to match the original look. Inside the home, the top wallpaper is contemporary, but in some places, the layers beneath the wallpaper are exposed to reveal several layers of wallpaper on top of newspaper over the original boxcar.
Attendees to the boxcar music festival were treated to an entertaining day of music and culture influenced by the Bakersfield sound as written about by local ‘Bakersfield Californian Newspaper’ journalist Robert Price who was also on hand to enjoy the day’s entertainment. Music lovers got to spend the day surrounded by historical, local, architecture. Guest were provided access to the museum grounds along with plenty of food, drink, and craft vendors. With what appeared to be a successful turnout, Kern County Museum is sure to continue to host fresh and entertaining events.