BAKERSFIELD — Buck Owens and Merle Haggard--the heart and soul of West Coast country music and two of this city's favorite sons--played their first joint concert in 25 years Friday. They gave the hometown crowd a show for the country music history books, with more than enough rewards to overshadow the long evening's deflated ending.
Wasting no time once he hit the Kern County Fairgrounds stage, Owens and his band, the Buckaroos, conducted a tour of his imposing repertoire. His catalogue contains many of the most skillfully written hits in all of country, and several songs gained special significance in the local surroundings.
It was, however, an off-night vocally for Owens, 65, who frequently stretched for notes and complained, albeit good-naturedly, about the strain.
If Owens' songs show the craft of country songwriting at its best, Haggard's embody the songwriter's \o7 art\f7 at its peak.
Even more than Owens' set, Haggard's seemed custom-made for the night and for the town. Haggard, 58, moved from richly detailed songs espousing the virtues of small-town living and honest work to numbers about the fate that often befalls people whose actions come up short of their ideals.
The Haggard-Owens collaboration that was to be the crowning glory of the night instead brought things to a grinding halt, because of video considerations. Shooting a live video of a new song Haggard wrote for the occasion, "Beer Can Hill," Owens, Haggard and guest Dwight Yoakam performed it a numbing six times.
They put the show at least partially back on track with the closing all-star performance of the song everyone had been waiting for. Owens' "Streets of Bakersfield" was spruced up for this night, too, with a new verse Owens added for the event.