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Vince Gill’s tour with pedal steel master Paul Franklin will hit a number of cities, but there was only one location the pair ever considered for Oct. 25’s opening night: Bakersfield.
That’s because the set list for the shows includes many tunes from the pair’s stellar new album, Bakersfield, which features the longtime friends paying homage to the music of two of the California town’s musical legends, Buck Owens and Merle Haggard.
“It’s an honor to open the tour here,” Paul told Country Weekly a few hours before the show as he and Vince relaxed in a luxurious room on the second level of Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace, a music hall Owens opened in 1996, a decade before his death.
Though their concert took place at the nearby Rabobank Arena Theater and Convention Center, the pair wanted to make the Bakersfield stop special. They bussed in select press from Los Angeles and held a Grammy Museum-sponsored Q&A about the music and what it meant to them at the Crystal Palace before everyone headed to the concert venue.
“The response of the people here [in Bakersfield] has been great,” Vince said. “They feel appreciated. Everyone I talked to here, the press, they feel it’s been really uplifting for their community,” he said of the album and the tour.
That appreciation was evident at the concert. For what Vince predicted would be the only time, Paul, Vince and Vince’s crackerjack band played the Bakersfield album in its entirety. “There’s a lot of great history in your town and it has not gone unnoticed by us onstage,” Vince said.
In the nearly three-hour show, filled with a number of Vince’s hits as well as hilarious and often poignant stories about his upbringing, Vince ended the first half with Bakersfield’s opening five tunes, and then shortly into the second half of the evening, he and the band returned to the album to play the remaining five.
Vince took particular delight in introducing Todd Brumley, the son of Tom Brumley, who played steel guitar on a number of Owens' tunes, including “Together Again,” one of the evening’s many crowd pleasers. Also receiving huge cheers from the audience were Merle Haggard’s “The Fightin’ Side of Me” and his “The Bottle Let Me Down,” which Vince called “the greatest drinking song ever written.”
As thanks for the recognition Vince and Paul’s project has brought to the town, Bakersfield mayor Harvey Hall presented the pair with keys to the city, thanking them “for bringing back the Bakersfield Sound.”
Vince held up his key and cracked up the audience by adding, “I’m going to see if this works.”