Magnificent Show by Merle

As sometimes happens in our technologically imperfect world, my blog from yesterday reviewing Merle Haggard’s Monday concert at the Cascade Theatre somehow oddly disappeared off A News Cafe. Our gurus are still searching for it.

Anybody who writes for a living (or just writes a lot) has experienced something similar. It’s absolutely aggravating, but it should teach us a series of lessons:

1. Always back up your work somewhere else.

2. Save your work often when working in a writing program.

3. Back up the information on your hard drive (which I still need to do).

4. Learn patience when you lose something. It’s not the end of the world to rewrite (though it sure seems like it sometimes).

Anyway, back to the Haggard concert.

Though I’m quite certain the review I wrote yesterday was one of the most brilliant works of literature in recent memory, I won’t attempt to completely redo it. But here’s a little of what I was trying to get across:

There was something so stripped down, honest and emotionally connective about Haggard’s set. The sold-out show was a benefit for the Northern California Veterans Home and it generated about $15,000 for the cause. It was also Merle’s first concert in his hometown since recovering from his recent bout with lung cancer.

web_bw_merle-gc2 “Sing Me Back Home,” which I had mentioned Monday as my favorite Haggard tune, was particularly powerful. It’s a song that really stretches his vocal range and he played it slow, singing and reaching for the notes with a sincerity that game me goose bumps. The harmonies from his band members were beautiful on the tune as well.

It was an impressive effort by Merle’s band, the Strangers. Regular drummer Biff Adam was out with an illness (the band wasn’t sure if he would be well enough to return for the current tour), but rhythm guitar player Tim Howard covered on drums and did an amazing job. Howard has experience: he played drums with the group that backed Chuck Berry at Win-River Casino a few years back.

Rolling Stone Magazine called Merle’s band “the longest-running, most exciting band in country music, a wiry, daredevil outfit that specializes in a swinging hybrid of country and jazz.” I sure wouldn’t argue with that.

Longtime steel player Norm Hamlet still plays incredible (love him on dobro). Scott Joss always finds inventive, wickedly cool lines on his fiddle. Doug Colosio is the best honky tonk pianist you’ll find around the region. Kevin “Cab” Williams locks the whole vibe down with his bass.

It’s the first time I’ve seen Merle’s 17-year-old son Bennie Haggard play guitar. He’s stellar. His electric guitar lines are inventive, yet still true to the original parts. He plays with a maturity well beyond his years.

And Merle just remains a marvel at age 73. His voice got stronger as the evening proceeded. His tunes, so honest and brilliant, seem to have an extra depth and impact considering our current national economic struggle. Just listen to the words of tunes like “Are the Good Times Really Over for Good,” “Workin’ Man Can’t Get Nowhere Today,” and “If We Make it Through December,” all of which he played Monday night.

Haggard’s banter was hilarious. He dedicated “Ramblin’ Fever” to truck drivers, taxi drivers, musicians and “even hookers.” He stopped “Okie From Muskogee” after the opening line: “We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee.” He said he wanted the band to sound more sincere and spontaneous. “They’ll shake us down before we get to Palo Cedro.”

But Merle was also sincere with the audience. I got the impression he was really enjoying the connection from an adoring hometown crowd.

“This is an honorable town and this is an honorable cause,” he said.

He closed the show with a stirring rendition of the old gospel tune “I’ll Fly Away.”

After the show, the band drove away on an all-night jaunt to St. George, Utah. They sure played a good one in Redding before they departed.

Click here for a slide show.

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
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2 Responses

  1. Avatar Uncle Duke says:

    as a part time writer i know all too well about losing original material due to glitches. you still came out on top.

    sounds like the old guy still has it and i should probably see him next time he performs.

    sounds like a good time to me.

  2. Avatar SpamanandTheDanccer( says:

    Hats off to The Cascade! The sound for this show was perfect!