Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Merle Haggard remembered

Merle Haggard, seen her performing in Anaheim, CA, on April 11, 2013.
Photo: Kelly A. Swift
I am still in shock after hearing the news earlier today that the world has lost true country music legend Merle Haggard. I was a huge fan of the legendary artist, who died earlier today (April 6, 2016) on his 79th birthday.

I was able to review him a number of times, including most recently at 2015's Stagecoach Festival in Indio, CA. You can read my review of that show here. You can read a story about his life posted on the Orange County Register Web site here.

But for a more full appreciation of how amazing Haggard was as an artist (especially in concert), read my full-length reviews posted below that appeared in The Orange County Register in 2013 and 2011. A special thank you to Kelly A. Swift for her wonderful photos she took at the performance on April 11, 2013; a special thank you to Bob Steshetz for the use of his amazing photos taken at the concert in May 2011:

Merle Haggard leaves 'em cheering in Anaheim

Merle Haggard performing at
City National Grove of Anaheim
on April 11, 2013.

Merle Haggard

Where: City National Grove of Anaheim
When: Thursday, April 11, 2013

Orange County had two chances to catch Merle Haggard on Thursday night.
The California native's initial appearance came when he threw out the first pitch at the Angels game against the A's.
But that was quickly overshadowed by Haggard's winning 70-minute concert across the parking lot at City National Grove of Anaheim.
Performing 20 songs spanning his 50-year career, the 76-year-old country legend brought his real-life inspired stories of love, loss, incarceration and mortality (he successfully battled lung cancer last decade) to a thrilled audience. The show's rewarding mix yielded cheers, sing-alongs, applause aplenty and tears from those around me.
Supported by a fantastic seven-member band, including his talented son Ben on lead guitar and two additional female singers, there was nevertheless no doubt that Haggard led the charge.
He sang and played his electric guitar with a confidence and skill that was never short of inspired, and his rich baritone connected from the first lines of "Big City," growing increasingly powerful as he tackled more nuanced material.
"Silver Wings" found his voice blending with the others in the group, and he further weighed in with a guitar solo that flowed gracefully into an arrangement featuring his pedal steel and fiddle players.
It wasn't until he had performed the first four songs of his set before he properly paused to chat with the crowd: "Good evening. Thank you very much. My name is Merle Haggard." The last line elicited as many cheers as some noteworthy songs still to come.
Merle Haggard in concert in Anaheim
on April 11, 2013.
The set was weighted heavily in favor of the many hits he scored on country radio in the '60s-'80s. "Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Star," "Daddy Frank (The Guitar Man)," "If We Make It Through December" and "That's the Way Love Goes" were energetically offered with arrangements that breathed additional life into the material.
"I Think I'll Just Stay Here and Drink" featured a gleaming, speedy solo from Ben Haggard before Merle played a decidedly rawer one of his own. A bit later "If I Could Only Fly" featured Hag's most tender vocal, the ballad casting an emotive spell in the large theater.
The maverick also showcased his skills on fiddle during "Working in Tennessee," the title cut from his latest album, as well as on the bluegrass-flavored "Take Me Back to Tulsa."
After performing his most iconic hit, "Okie from Muskogee," Haggard sat down and ended the magical concert with another title track, the reflective piece from his 2010 album "I Am What I Am." Midway through it, he put aside his guitar and quickly left the stage, leaving his band to finish it off to still more resounding cheers.

Merle Haggard delivers true country in Anaheim


Merle Haggard

Where: City National Grove of Anaheim
When: Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Merle Haggard performing in Anaheim, CA, on May 11, 2011.
Photo: Bob Steshetz
Although Merle Haggard’s concert at City National Grove of Anaheim on Wednesday night (May 11, 2011) lasted just over an hour, it is likely few in the near-capacity crowd felt cheated.
After all, the 74-year-old California native sang with an affecting authority that eludes most artists his age, thrilled the audience whether playing tasty licks on his Fender Telecaster or his fiddle, and led his trusty band the Strangers through more than a dozen of the best outlaw country classics ever written.
As modern country music becomes more polished and generic (think Rascal Flatts or Carrie Underwood), the power of Haggard’s music continues to grow and sounds better than ever. It certainly did Wednesday night: Opening with his ’80s hit “Big City,” his setlist featured a breathtaking mix of uptempo Western swing (“Working in Tennessee”), singalongs (“Okie from Muskogee,” “The Bottle Let Me Down”) and tearful ballads (“If I Could Only Fly”).
Haggard in concert in May 2011.
Photo: Bob Steshetz
And while it came as little surprise that classics like “Okie” and “Mama Tried” elicited cheers, it were the unlikely moments that ultimately made the concert far more than a mere nostalgia trip. His vocal delivery on “Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Star” was beautiful, his baritone mining the deepest of emotions; his guitar work on “Silver Wings” and “If We Make It Through December” was unexpectedly stunning for its simplicity and sway.
Haggard’s backing band was also fantastic, notably his son and lead guitarist Ben Haggard, whose fiery fretwork provided another dimension to Merle’s sound. The concert closed with the title track off his latest disc, last year’s wonderful look at his own life, the sparse I Am What I Am. The audience drank it all in, knowing this was a night of music making to remember.
Opening the show was Noel Haggard (another son), who performed a solid five-song set of Bakersfield-style traditional country. His strong voice drew easy comparisons with that of his dad, and his brother Ben helped power the short set along with more thrilling guitar work.
Photo by Bob Steshetz, for The Orange County Register.

Reviews by Robert Kinsler

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