Jasen Emmons

Jasen Emmons is the director of curatorial affairs at EMP Museum in Seattle. He has curated several exhibits, including Bob Dylan’s American Journey, 1956-1966 and Taking Aim: Unforgettable Rock ‘n’ Roll Photographs.



"Dim Lights, Thick Smoke, and Loud, Loud Music: How the Bakersfield Sound Saved Country Music from Itself "

In the late 1950s, country music went uptown. After years of fan unity, younger listeners had started to stray, listening to rockabilly and rock ‘n’ roll and alarming their elders. Nashville responded with a new, softer sound—sometimes called the “Chet Atkins Compromise” after one of its primary architects—that blurred the lines between country and pop and was designed to appeal to a broader, older audience that no longer wanted to go downtown.

By the early 1960s, an alternative country sound—stripped-down honky-tonk driven by twin Fender Telecasters and 2/4 rhythms with the power of a freight train—emerged in Bakersfield, California, 100 miles north of Los Angeles, originally at the hands of Buck Owens, and later developed by Wynn Stewart and Merle Haggard. Between 1963 and 1974, Owens scored 20 #1 hits and the “Bakersfield Sound” was soon known throughout the world, breathing new life into country music and inspiring everyone from Loretta Lynn and the Beatles to Chris Hillman and Dwight Yoakam.

For this presentation, I’ll draw on EMP’s permanent collection and library to explore the critical elements that made Bakersfield, and not Fresno or Los Angeles, the birthplace of alternative country, as well as the roles of both Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, and how the lessons from the Bakersfield era can be applied to the contemporary country scene.

My Speakers Sessions

Saturday, March 24

4:00pm EDT