Haggard hits nostalgic notes at Lerner Theatre
Posted on: 08/06/12
By TIM HARMON
“We’ve been lied to.”
The 75-year-old Haggard seemed to undercut that statement as he led his band through an enjoyable hour-plus of classic country music.
His voice is still strong.
His wit is still sharp.
He still handles his Fender Stratocaster as if he were born riffing leads.
But there was a deeper theme running through the evening and its music.
Behind the white beard, the shades and the gray fedora, Haggard is a world-class nostalgist.
He writes and sings and ultimately invites his audience back to a time when “country” was a different kind of music, and the world was a different kind of place.
Haggard’s band, The Strangers, backed him with a river of honky-tonk sound. His youngest son, Ben, provided solid lead guitar, and Norman Hamlet was outstanding on steel guitar.
On Sunday, Merle did nothing to settle the long-running question of whether he was serious or tongue-in-cheek when he wrote his best-known song, “Okie from Muskogee.”
“I wrote it,” he told the audience, “æ’cause it needed to be written, and I was the only one that knew that.”
Fort-three years after its release, Haggard’s signature song still works as a good-humored caricature of the ’60s. The “hippies” who burned their draft cards may long ago have made peace with the folks who “wave Old Glory down at the Courthouse,” but the song conveys that era’s cultural divide as well as any book, photograph or movie.
Haggard hit many wistful notes in a fast-paced tour of his decades of hits.
In “Are the Good Times Really Over for Good?” he sang:
“I wish a Ford and a Chevy
Would still last 10 years
Like they should.
Is the best of the free life behind us now?
And are the good times really over for good?”
After he sang “Thirty Again,” he joked about life after 50. That song begins:
“Youth should be saved for the last,
But it’s wasted on the young and the fast.”
Late in the concert, Haggard asked the crowd, “Y’all miss Johnny Cash?” and then, “for all the ex-cons in the house,” he launched into a persuasive rendition of Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues.”
It was that kind of night for a very appreciative audience. Recalling simpler times when the length of your hair defined your politics. Playing the country music you used to hear in pool halls and smoky bars but rarely on prime-time TV. Honoring such giants as Cash, Willie Nelson (“Back to Earth”), Kris Kristofferson (“A Moment of Forever”) and Hank Williams (Haggard’s daughter, Dana, sang a lusty version of “Lovesick Blues”).
And seeing a giant — Merle Haggard, a legend who’s still making good music.
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