Buck Owens' Crystal Palace is a live venue and music hall that opened on October 23, 1996. It honors the career of Buck Owens, host of the popular variety show Hee Haw between 1969-1986 and lead singer of the Buckaroos, a Grammy-winning country band that pioneered what came to be known as the Bakersfield Sound. The venue offers memorabilia and exhibits related to Buck Owens's life and the history of country music, as well as a nightclub, restaurant, and bar. The museum portion is displayed in glass cases around the first floor.
Alvis Edgar Owens, Jr., was born on August 12, 1929, to a sharecropping family in Sherman, TX. At the age of 3 or 4, he announced that he wanted to be called Buck, the name of the family's donkey. The name stuck. His family moved to Mesa, AZ, during the Great Depression, where he learned how to play the guitar in his teens. At the age of 16 he started playing music at honky tonks and on the radio with his friend Theryl Ray Britten. He married Bonnie Campbell at the age of 19 and they had two sons before moving to Bakersfield, CA, in 1951. They would later divorce in 1953, but remained on good terms.1
Bakersfield had attracted a sizable population of Dust Bowl migrants in the 1930s, and had a robust country music scene. Owens quickly became a regular at a number of clubs in Bakersfield, but his home base was The Blackboard. His exposure in Bakersfield led him to playing guitar on a number of Capitol country records in the 1950s, as well as writing songs other groups recorded. He was signed by Capitol Records as a recording artist in 1957.2 He teamed up with musician Don Rich in 1959 and things took off from there. They formed a band in 1963, that in the early years included a young Merle Haggard, who named the group the Buckaroos. In 1960, Billboard named him the Most Promising Country & Western Singer.3 His first #1 was Act Naturally in 1963, leading to a string of number one singles. He and his band reached peak popularity in the mid 1960s into the early 1970s.
Besides writing and performing, Owens owned Blue Book Music, a publishing company for his songs, and purchased four radio stations, including Bakersfield country station KUZZ. From 1969 to 1986, Owens co-hosted Hee Haw, a popular television variety show that featured comedy sketches and the Buckaroos as the house band.
After his friend Don Rich died in a motorcycle accident in 1974, Owens was hit hard, and a lot of the fire he had for writing and performing was, in his words, gone forever.4 He continued to perform, but struggled on the country charts. In 1980, he went into semi-retirement. He had a resurgence of popularity in 1988 when he teamed up with Dwight Yoakum for a duet of Streets of Bakersfield, which Owens had recorded in 1973. It reached #1 on the Billboard Music Charts in 1988.5
In the late 1980s, Owens came up with the idea of building the music hall that would become the Crystal Palace. The venue's design resembles an Old West town with a variety of storefronts featuring photos and memorabilia from Owens's life. Ten bronze statues paying homage to significant musicians like Garth Brooks, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, and Hank Williams, are scattered throughout. The bar features Owens's 1972 Pontiac convertible with steer horns on the hood, silver dollars embedded in the dash, and cowboy-related images hand-tooled in the leather seats.6 As well as Owens's regular appearances before his death in 2006, a number of famous performers have graced the stage since the Crystal Palace opened in 1996, including George Jones, Merle Haggard, Brad Paisley, The Dixie Chicks, Clint Black, and Willie Nelson. Owens died on March 25, 2006, of an apparent heart attack shortly after performing at the Crystal Palace, but his legacy lives on in the 550 seat venue and museum.