Sunday, August 24, 2014

A Humble Legend

I'm not much of a concert-goer. In my youth I attended several Hank Jr. concerts, along with a sprinkling of others, but that was a couple decades ago.

My iPhone has a mix of songs and artists. On it you will find artists such as Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, 'Til Tuesday, The Bangles, Sinead O'Conner, Hank Jr., Jerry Lee Lewis, Eric Church, Jason Aldean, Rolling Stones, Pearl Jam, Prince, Miranda Lambert, Eagles, Johnny Cash, Alan Jackson, Nirvana, Carrie Underwood, Pistol Annies, .... you're beginning to get the idea?

Add to that list, Merle Haggard. When I was a kid, we listened to Merle Haggard and Charlie Pride on 8-track in the Ford LTD all the time. I still love his music today.

in concert at Mississippi State University
Merle Haggard and The Strangers
A few months ago I was watching one of the music awards shows and saw Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, and a couple other legends do a song together. Honestly, it wasn't their best (but then most of the live songs fail to live up to their studio versions). I remember thinking what a shame it was that a lot of younger people probably heard them singing and wondered why they were up there. They probably had no idea how different music would be now without those men.

I looked at my wife and told her it would be nice to see Merle Haggard in concert while he's still with us. I never imagined I would get the chance. Then, a month or so later I saw a tweet by Merle's son, Ben, who plays lead guitar for The Strangers (Merle's band), announcing Merle's new schedule. I said to myself as I clicked the link to his website, that if he came within driving distance we were going. Imagine my surprise when I saw that the first date on the tour was at Mississippi State University in Starkville, Mississippi. That's about an hour and thirty minutes from our house.

I bought tickets the day they went on sale.

Going to the concert, I really didn't expect much. Merle Haggard is, I believe, 78 years old. I didn't care if his voice sounded the same. I just wanted to see him live.

My wife admitted on the way to Starkville that she really didn't know any Merle Haggard songs. She went because I wanted to go.

The picture above shows Merle and his band onstage. I won't lie to you and say he sounded like he did forty years ago, but he did sound good. He did a good set. He was funny. He was polite. Polished, from decades of practicing his craft. One thing that surprised me was the number of young people I saw there (though it was on a college campus). What surprised me more was that I saw the young men sitting in our vicinity snapping pictures, tapping their feet, and giving every indication that they enjoyed the show.

I loved every minute of the concert. Every second. Every time Merle began a new song I hoped it wouldn't be the last, but of course it couldn't last forever.

As the lights came up and he ended the show, the audience stood and thanked him with vigorous applause. That's when Merle Haggard showed how truly great he is. With a very soft and humble tone he said, "Thank ya'll for standing. That was nice."

I'm not one who gets star struck. I've never wanted to go backstage and meet an entertainer, but I left the auditorium that night knowing I had just stood in the presence of greatness. I would have given almost anything just to shake his hand, but that was not to be, so I walked back to the car with my wife, thankful for the experience. My wife left a fan. She bought one of his CDs and kept saying how much she enjoyed the show.

Merle Haggard is a legend, yet he spoke to his audience like it was he who was thankful to be with us.

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