The vast interior of California is split down the middle by the Sierra Nevada (Spanish for “snowy range”), or High Sierra, a sawtooth range of snow-capped peaks that stands high above the semi-desert of the Owens Valley. The wide San Joaquin Valley in the west was made fertile by irrigation projects during the 1940s, and is now almost totally agricultural.
The flat, colourless oil town of BAKERSFIELD is the unlikely home of the country’s largest community of Basque descent, and one of the liveliest country music scenes in the nation. During the late 1950s and 1960s it become known for its distinctive “Bakersfield Sound”, a far less slick and commercial affair than its Nashville, Tennessee counterpart, epitomized by the gutsy honky-tonk of local artists such as Merle Haggard and Buck Owens. Even today the city serves as something of an alternative to the glossy country pop coming from Tennessee, and Bakersfield’s honky-tonks are jumping every weekend night, when Stetson hats and fringy shirts are the required apparel and audiences span generations.