Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson - The Greek Theatre - October 7, 2011
Better than...Elton John and Billy Joel.
What does Stetson cologne smell like? I've never actually smelled it, but I'm certain Merle Haggard embodies everything the average man is trying to portray when he sprays it on. Meanwhile, The Hag would never wear fucking cologne.
Merle Haggard is a man's man of classic country music who'd eat Keith Urban for lunch, and piss on Honky Tonk Badonkadonk if he could. He's an outlaw. (No really, he did time in San Quentin.) Or, at least he was. Now he's a bit on the elderly side, maybe less spry than once upon a time. But there are some artists you go see not for commotion and fanfare, but to simply be in the presence of greatness, and last night's performance with Kris Kristofferson was exactly that kind of show.
Kristofferson actually took the stage first, all on his own, and kicked things off with a quiet ballad he dedicated to soldiers overseas. He then humbly introduced Haggard as the "star of the show," and his partner in crime swaggered on stage with his band The Strangers.
Haggard and Kristofferson took turns playing lead and singing backup on each other's songs, and Kristofferson seemed pleased to play second fiddle as the crowd hooted and hollered over Haggards hits. But it was more so Kristofferson's performances that made me sit up and pay attention. He's a Carole King type who, in addition to what he's recorded, has written dozens of songs for other artists. ("Me and Bobby McGee" being the most famous. He tenderly referenced his old flame Janis Joplin when he performed it last night.) Kristofferson's voice is decent, but his lyrics are at a Bob Dylan level of poetry.
Merle Haggard's teenage son Benion was also in the house, who plays guitar in the band. Merle deferred most of his guitar solos to the young Haggard, maybe because little Ben is kind of a boss. He had the poise of a veteran on stage, and seemingly effortless technical perfection. Proud papa beamed over his "baby boy," and Kristofferson noted "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree."
Randall Michelson/Greek Theatre Benion Haggard
But Merle Haggard still was, of course, the center of that universe, and the audience got what they came for. His songs covered the four major food groups of his fanbase: the workin' man, the drunks, the jailbirds and of course, the pot smokers. One guy in the front row saved what was apparently a massive blunt for "Okie from Muskogee," and pretty much fog-machined the stage in a matter of seconds. Benion giggled.
The Crowd: A mix of Black Crowes and Deadwood types. Honorable mention to those who arrived on horseback. (That really happened.)
Random Notebook Dump: Sit down, lady in front who only stood up to dance during the Johnny Cash cover. In case you didn't notice, this is a Merle Haggard concert.
Overheard in the Crowd: I'll never smoke weed with Willie again.
Set list below.