I went to Merle Haggard's show at Wichita's Cotillion tonight. It was a little under a full sell-out, which was good since I bought my ticket at the door.
Merle is one of the true giants of American music. I was glad I went. It was my first live Merle show. A fellow at the next table said he had 17 Merle albums. I'm close to that--or more, but about half of mine are LPs I bought second hand after the beginning of the CD era. For a while, I went to lots of yard sales and flea markets. I was mainly looking for jazz, but if I found any Merle vinyl in decent shape I picked it up.
Merle has written some great tunes and the audience tonight knew the songs and the lyrics singing along to quite a few. Some of Merle's tunes are solidly in the country genre, but he's written a number that could and should become part of the American songbook. Someone like Kevin Mahogany could do a nice jazz treatment. The Merle Haggard Songbook should be up there alongside Gershwin and Porter.
I had hoped the Kansas City's Iris Dement might be the opening act, but she wasn't. Merle's son Noel did a warm-up set and after a brief intermission, it was time for the Merle show. A credible guy whose name I didn't catch let the Strangers through a mini-set of 3 or 4 tunes.. Then it was time for the master.
Merle opened with "Silver Wing." I didn't write down the set list, but I recall "Mama Tried," "Big City" "I Think I'll Stay Here and Drink" "Rainbow Stew" "I"m a Lonesome Fugitive" "Fighting Side of Me"
The Strangers is/are still an outstanding band. Merle is a great guitar player. And there are two other fine ones in the group. If I heard right one is a Haggard.
Only disappointment were that Merle didn't do an encore, didn't do "Working Man Blues" or any of his recent political songs. And I didn't like the selection of tee shirts on sale. The designs I like are at the on-line store.
Merle didn't come back for an encore, but he did say he was planning on coming back next year.
I'll plan on catching him again.
Here's a fine "Left Side of Merle" stanza from "Big City"
Been working everyday since I was twenty.
Haven't got a thing to show for anything I've done.
There's folks who never work and they've got plenty.
Think it's time some guys like me had some fun.
UPDATE July 3 5:30 PM. Eagle on-line review is here. That was Merle's youngest son, Ben, on guitar. The review is mostly okay, but contains a real howler. Jeffrey Lutz wrote Haggard "had played most of the chart-topping hits he has made famous during the last 40 years." Wikipedia has a list of 38 #1 hits.