Author: Martin, George

A Bakersfield Survival Guide

For various and sundry reasons I had not previously attended a Great 48 Winter Jam before. But this past summer was notable for a combination of babysitting responsibilities and conflicting band gigs and other commitments, which meant I missed Plymouth and Hollister and the fall campout, so I really wanted to get a little picking in before spring.

It was a really fun weekend for me, but alas my poor wife’s asthma did not do well in the Valley air pollution. I had hoped that air conditioning would filter the outside air and the hotel would be a safe zone, but that turned out not to be the case. First problem was that the Doubletree is an upscale joint with down comforters and down or feather pillows -- both of which spark allergies. By the time we figured this out it was the middle of Thursday night and rather late to ring up housekeeping.

Next morning we did call and the hotel quickly sent up some synthetic pillows and a blanket and we stashed the offending down items in the closet.

Food was problem No. 2. For about six months we have given up meat and dairy products in our diets. Barbara actually did this, while I ate turkey at Thanksgiving and Christmas and fell off the veggie wagon at various holiday parties, social events and board meetings of an NGO on which I serve. Even so my cholesterol level is down quite a bit, my blood pressure has improved and I lost 15 pounds without really being on a diet.

I’m pretty good about sticking to what I call “the vegan thing” at home because we just don’t have any meat, eggs, butter or milk in the house. I had thought I would order eggs at the Doubletree and skip the bacon, but it turned out the “eggs any style” on the menu included the bacon, and I just couldn’t bear to tell the waitress not to bring it. And there was butter on the toast, and of course the eggs. I don’t miss beef all that much but I do really miss eggs, butter and bacon.

We got a tip to a place nearby called the Garden Spot (corner of Truxton and Oak Streets) that had a great salad bar, very similar to a Fresh Choice restaurant, but apparently not a chain. They did have one meat dish each day but we stuck with the greenery. I was feeling pretty high and spiritual but by evening I was hungry again, the restaurant downstairs was closed and the Southwest Bluegrass Association hospitality suite had a table full of big old pizzas.

Well, says I, I can be a vegan again on Monday.

I recommend the Kern County Museum, which is maybe a mile away from the Doubletree. As we approached we saw a three-story building that had once been the Kern County Chamber of Commerce. We assumed the museum was inside, but it was not so: the museum was behind it, a village-size assemblage of historic old Bakersfield buildings.

It seems like every time they were going to build a new road or some big project in town, any historic building in the way was simple trucked over to the museum. There are a couple of historic homes one can tour, plus an old church, a fraternal hall, a harness shop, horse barn, rail station, a big steam engine, some more modern rail cars, and a large exhibit on oil production.

We wandered around for a couple of hours and didn’t see all of it. Inside the old Chamber of Commerce building is an exhibit on the Bakersfield Sound with photos and memorabilia of Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, TV personality Cousin Herb Henson and a bunch of the musicians who made that wonderful twangy music.

Missing, alas, were Joe and Rose Lee Maphis and Larry and Lorrie Collins -- country rockabilly pioneers of the 1950s and ’60s.

Holding the jam in Bakersfield did allow a bunch of Southern California pickers to show up. There were a couple of hella good banjo pickers up from down south; the kind of chaps who can throw in fancy melodic licks at will. Really impressive.

If you didn’t go to Bakersfield but are going to Grass Valley, be sure to check out Rockyneck Bluegrass Band at the Vern’s stage. They won the band showdown and did it without even having a banjo in the band. Really outstanding musicians.

Back home, Barbara’s asthma is somewhat settled down and I am attempting to lose the three pounds in three days I gained on bacon and pizza. Had beans and greens and polenta for supper last night.

And no bacon this morning.

Posted:  1/12/2012

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