Fountain Spotlight: Peter Bayne and that “Bakersfield Sound”

Peter Bayne is a composer and award-winning sound designer. At the Fountain, he designed sound for Coming Home, Opus, A House Not Meant to Stand, and Bakersfield Mist.

Did you enjoy creating the sound design for Bakersfield Mist?

Designing the sound for Bakersfield Mist was a blast. I was only sort of aware of the character of country and western swing that Bakersfield is known for. I really enjoy any design where I can sink my teeth into a genre or regional style of music that I don’t already have an affinity for, or for which I’ve already built up a sound library.

When the audience first enters the theatre to see Bakersfield Mist, as they take their seats they hear a “Bakersfield radio station” with local news, the weather report, and country music. Audiences love it. How did that concept come about? 

We were hewing close to naturalism in terms of the set and costumes, so it was important (with one major exception) to have the audience feel, as they enter the theatre, transported to this trailer park and this feel of an oldies radio station playing classic Bakersfield Sound era records. So we had to make it from scratch, and I had to put on my best “country oldies radio DJ voice” which was as humbling as it was fun.

Was it hard to create that long opening “Bakersfield radio” sound scape?

Finding these records was hard. With the exception of stuff by Merle Haggard and Buck Owens and a few others, many of these old records are out of print. I was fascinated as I dug through all this incredible material.  The musicians in Bakersfield (many of whom had left Nashville trying to get out of that increasingly corporate scene to get back to their roots), found Bakersfield to be the ideal small dusty western town, with many clubs and recording studios; it was like a big old country music family sprouting in the middle of nowhere. This sense of closeness, of communally mixing together a very Californian blend of proto rockabilly grit and toughness which made using this music a no-brainer as the perfect foil for the character of Maude Gutman, a rough and tumble, tumbler always filled, ex-bartender with an enormous heart. And an enormous mouth.

Do you enjoy working at the Fountain?

Doing this design was so smooth in terms of implementation partly because it wasn’t a hugely heavy sound show, but also because it’s my 5th show at the Fountain, a theatre that took a chance on me when I first moved to Los Angeles from Boston, and a theatre that has let me do my thing artistically, but has pushed me to refine and refine and refine even after things are sounding pretty good. They do quality well, every time, and in Bakersfield Mist they’ve got a really special home-grown piece that is truthful and funny and enjoyable to watch.

And listen to, as well!

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