Merle Haggard Show Sold Out

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It’s good to see that tonight’s Merle Haggard concert at the Cascade Theatre in Redding is sold out. Haggard is waiving his fee to make the show a benefit for the Northern California Veterans Home. That’s a nice gesture by our famous Palo Cedro neighbor.

As I’ve covered the arts for more than a decade here in the north state, I’ve found it’s an interesting relationship we have with Merle. A lot of people who’ve lived here awhile will tell stories about him — some flattering, some not so flattering, some hilarious, some matter-of-fact.

Most people realize he’s a star, but many don’t have a concept of just how big. Beyond the lifetime Grammy Award, dozens of No. 1 hits and Country Music Hall of Fame stuff, there’s a global understanding in music that this man possesses an amazing songwriting gift. He’s got the respect and admiration of Bob Dylan, and that might be all you have to say.

But he’s also a human being, flawed in many ways like all of us. So when I hear a story that paints him in a negative light, I always think about how celebrity can be a curse and that a prophet will always struggle in his or her hometown.

Nevertheless, beyond Haggard’s genius as a songwriter is his physical voice, which I believe is the best in country music. Beyond that, he’s an excellent musician. Beyond that, he’s got a wicked great band that includes our friends like fiddle player Scott Joss, pianist Doug Colosio, bassist Kevin Williams, and Merle’s teenage son Benny, who is emerging as an excellent guitarist.

In honor of tonight’s show, I’m picking my top five Merle Haggard tunes. (I could probably go top 10 or 25, but we’ll just keep it simple at five. Please feel free to add your own.)

5 – “Irma Jackson.” People know “Okie From Muskogee,” but they don’t often know the same man wrote this lover’s lament about an interracial relationship.

4 – “Footlights.” A fabulous tune revealing the other side of being a performer — “Tonight will kick the footlights in again/Try to hide the mood we’re really in/Might not put on that ol’ instamatic grin.”

3 – “Big City.” Those first two fiddle notes just send me in this coolest of shuffle songs. “Turn me loose, set me free,” indeed.

2 – “Mama Tried.” Merle jumped a lot of freight trains in his youth. Then he wrote an amazing song about the impulse to do such a thing.

1 – “Sing Me Back Home.” Johnny Cash encouraged Haggard to not shy away from his prison past. I view this simple portrait of a death row inmate’s final walk as one of the greatest, most beautiful songs of all time.

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is a journalist who focuses on arts, entertainment, music and the outdoors. He is a songwriter and leader of the Jim Dyar Band. He lives in Redding and can be reached at jimd.anewscafe@gmail.com
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8 Responses

  1. Avatar Terry Husa says:

    Jim,

    Sing me back home is my favorite–Also, his impression of Marty Robbins is awesome—

  2. Avatar Charlie says:

    I have to agree. I was unable to go to this performance but I love Merle Haggard and his music. I am good friends with the children of Wyvon Alexander who used to tour and sing with Merle Haggard in the early 80s. Not only is Merle a talented musician and songwriter but he has always encouraged and helped other musicians in the business.

  3. Avatar Budd Hodges says:

    Jim…Hag is one of our north state treasures. I've been to three of his concerts and he leaves you wanting more.

    My son had breakfast with him just recently at Lulu's and I used to play his hits on KCLM Country in the 70's.

    This man set the standard for country artists.

    Keep on keepin' on, Hag !

    • Avatar Les Harper says:

      Budd:

      You probably don't remember me but I worked at KCLM as a weekend jock in the summer of 1976 along with a fellow by the name of Jeff Knott. It was my first job in radio and learned very quickly how to become a personality having to talk after every song which were about 2:30 minutes long. Mike DeMarco was the PD, with Joe LaLonde in the AM, you mid-day's and Jim Dowell in the PM. Great station, great times. A few years later (1986) I was driving through Alturas and heard you on KCNO.

      As for me, I've been out of radio for about 15 years after stops in San Jose at KEEN, KPLS/Santa Rosa and Q105/Sonoma County.

      Take care.

      Les Harper

  4. Avatar Jan Gandy says:

    The last time I saw Merle's concert in Redding at the Cascade I was embarassed. People kept shouting out to him — telling him what to play, interrupting. It ruined the concert for me and I don't think he was happy either. He had wanted to play some of his new music, which I wanted to hear, but people were so rude insisting he play "their" song that he finally gave up.

    I have been at other events in Redding, at the Cascade in particular, and the Convention Center where audience members have shouted out comments or requests. What happened to audience courtesy? Ushers used to tell people to leave when they interrupted a performance. What's happened?

    I hope tonight's audience is polite and let's Merle put on the show the way he had it planned.

  5. Avatar Russ says:

    1. Today I Started Loving You Again

    2. Sing Me Back Home

    3. Make Up and Faded Blue Jeans

    4. I Won't Give Up My Train

    5. Are the Good Times Really Over

    6. The Way I Am

    7. Big City

    8. Natural High

    9. Kern River

    I knew I couldn't pick 5.

  6. Avatar Chere McMillan says:

    All of the above, plus
    1) Fightin' Side of Me
    2) Red Bandana

    He is one of a kind. His music and his voice are amazing.

  7. Avatar Kay Dunn nee Coleman says:

    We still love him here in Southern California too

    Kay Dunn nee Coleman a old classmate of Merle,s