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The Mark Twain of the Santa Maria Valley

How a teacher is elevating voices through music and comedy in California

“In Nashville you heard country in church, in Bakersfield you hear it in the bars,” says Andy in our recent Zeitgeist Radio interview. “I'm so fascinated by a time in 60s in the valley.”

Andy’s journey is fascinating. From initially loving Funk and Rock, he eventually ended up in Country. Specifically, though, he loves the Bakersfield style of country music.

“The Bakersfield sound is not covered as much as the Nashville sound,” he says.

If you’re looking for a new playlist, listen to this episode. Andy knows his bands, especially smaller local groups.

What are the elements of Bakersfield country music?

Well, start off by naming some names.

Buck Owens. Merle Haggard. Dwight Yoakam. Heard of em?

Cultural melting pot

The Central Valley of California is a cultural melting pot. You have white folks, sure. But there is a large Hispanic population, lots of folks from Asia, and some Native people as well. “That's where art comes from, a mix of cultures,” says Andy.

One of the biggest influences on Bakersfield country is from the Hispanic culture. These guys are bigtime cowboys, and hard workers. In their off time, they love music and even get a little sappy. “Country guys are all nasaly,” says Andy. “Mexican music is croony, big voices.”

Add some pedal steel (look it up) and you’re looking at a distinctive sound!

Local, local, local

Andy loves local; in fact, I recommend pulling up a map when you listen to this episode! He talks about people and cultures from these tiny towns in the area I guarantee you haven’t heard of.

“I'm trying to be the Mark Twain of the Santa Maria valley,” says Andy. By this he means there are so many stories to be told, and so many voices he doesn’t see out there. He loves history, and he loves music: “I think there's a lot of history out there that hasn't been covered.”

Andy has several projects brewing. He writes songs about local legends and tall tales. He performs with his friend Jeff as Cowboy Jeff and Andy. Each has their own persona they’ve adopted and they come up with skits in addition to their music.

And finally he has a podcast, the Cowboy Jeff and Andy podcast, where he interviews folks and tells stories from around the valley, from cowboys to farm workers.

Kids and politics

These projects are great on their own, but they’re really spurred by Andy’s work as a teacher in Santa Maria, where an estimated 50% of workers are undocumented. Being a good schoolteacher in places like this is tricky: how do you teach kids about Government when ICE could come at any time and take them and their parents away, to a place they’ve never been, yet immigration is harder than ever to achieve? “There's kind of this undercurrent of racism that is in our politics, and, and it's really hard to not talk about that,” Andy says. Local politics become really important, as you see the effects of “an estimated” 50% of families not getting a vote.

Andy doesn’t approach this from any party line. He just teaches kids. He sees what they’re going through, and we discuss their capacity for hard things. He doesn’t sugar coat for them, because he knows they see the struggle more than most folks in America. “Kids need a little of the dark and light,” he says.

But you know what he believes they need above all else? ART.

Andy fights hard in his community for funding for the arts. There’s just not very much there. He does what he can: “I put a ukulele in a kid’s hand and it's a miracle. The lights go off.”

This is part of why his mission is focused on the local. “There's a lot of strength in the small town,” he says. He believes in elevating those voices and making life a little more enjoyable for the kids.

Check out the Cowboy Jeff and Andy podcast:

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