I'm too young to have gone to the Big Fresno Barn Dance (I call the old Fresno Barn), but I've heard of its history and lore all my life. The building probably won't be standing much longer because of its dilapidated condition. The roof is clearly sagging, but I'm sure that the roof isn't the worst of the problems that makes it unsafe to even go near the building. I believe that the old Fresno Barn was once the home stage for Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys when he was based in Fresno (1945 - 47).
Bob Wills was one of the biggest entertainers in America and the best musicians in the country followed him wherever he was based, so it significantly enhanced the talent pool in the Central Valley and many historians credit Bob Wills for the early roots of the Bakersfield Sound. He clearly was the primary influence for the two most famous artists associated with Bakersfield Sound... Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. Hag still includes Bob Wills songs in his concerts. The location of the old Fresno Barn is somewhat desolate. That part of Shields avenue is not busy, so it feels like a deserted and lonely ghost town, but the spirit of what it once was remains. It feels like hallowed ground to me when I stand and look at it from off the road. All the great Country artists of their day played there, but knowing that among them were also the elite artists like Hank Williams sr., Bob Wills, Merle Travis, Hank Snow, Ray Foley, Tex Ritter, and Ray Price have been on the stage of the old Barn makes it almost sacred to me. I usually wonder if Merle Haggard has his tour bus driver roll by to see if it's still standing whenever he is performing in our area.
I'll admit to growing up never wanting to be in the Beatles or Rolling Stones... I dreamed of being a Stranger, or Buckaroo. So my attachment to that old building probably goes a little deeper than most of the world that passes by it not even knowing that Joe Maphis performed "Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (and Loud Loud Music)" in that building on his Mosrite guitar, a song he wrote, that has now been recorded by countless artists and the best descriptor of the Bakersfield Sound than anything you will find in a book. Junior Bernard, Don Rich, Maddox Brothers and Rose, Johnny Russel all were there and probably roamed around the property when it was a jumping place. I'm baffled that there isn't common knowledge of the Old Fresno Barn's rich history its historical significance to this are and to Country music.
They called it Nashville West in Nashville because it was on the schedule of every Country artist when they played the West Coast. That Old Barn had around 2000 people show up for their dances! You would think it would be easier to find information about it, but it just isn't so. That said, I did find a gold mine of information on a Web site titled "www.corralitoshistory.com
" which is a site that provides historical information about the town of Corralitos in the Santa Cruz mountains. Incredibly, they have devoted a section of their site to the memories of Dave and Vi Stogner. Many people might remember Dave Stogner as a heavyweight in the Western Swing era, but he also was somewhat of the manager of the old Fresno Barn Dance. His band, Dave Stogner and the Western Rhythmaires became the house band at the old Barn in 1951, and he booked all the talent there and other valley venues. Dave Stogner seemed to be a detail oriented person and the detail he provides in the memoir is unequaled in anything else I have ever found anywhere other than from the oral history of the people I knew and would talk about the old Barn.
I was fortunate to know Harley Huggins and he took an interest in me because I was church musician. Harely passed away before my interest in the great Bob Wills and the Old Fresno Barn began to grow and I regret not being a better listener when he would share his glory days. However, Dave Stogner's memoirs are so vivid in their description that my regret about not being a better listener as a kid is all but faded away. If you are interested, start in chapter 3, go down mid-way on the page, and you will find incredible information about the old Barn. Here is the URL http://www.corralitoshistory.com/daveStogner_03.html
You might have to past it into address bar if it doesn't appear as a hyperlink. I'm also attaching a picture I took of the old Barn not too long ago.